A photo of Narishia Laye in front of a "2020 Congrats Grad" sign.SBVC student Narishia Laye hasn’t had a lot of extra time on her hands since the pandemic started, even as many of her peers became unemployed. As an essential worker, her hours increased through the crisis, making the big challenge of the past two months has been time management, swinging six classes while working fluctuating hours. 

Laye earned her first degree in sociology recently, and set to pick up her second degree in communications in December, all the while volunteering as treasurer of Umoja Tumaini at San Bernardino Valley College. “I wanted to take extra classes just to stay in the loop of school,” said Laye, 23, who intends to transfer to HBCU Grambling University next year. She juggled her responsibilities, but everything was in disarray and the increased technology was stressful. Her own side business to pay the bills, WrappedNRoyalty African headwraps, also suffered when the campus shut down. 

Yet, she said the hardest part has been to see how one on one connections were cut with students and teachers, which made Umoja Tumaini even more vital to get students graduated. “I’d go in early to work or come home late at night, and was like lets get this [Umoja] study session open,” she said. “I knew student tutors on campus who had their hours cut and asked them to come to our study session room to help.” She is proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish during the worst of times, the global pandemic and nonstop protests. The students got through the semester. “That’s exactly what they did,” she said. “We hobbled along. We took our punches and we rolled with it.”

Gwen Dowdy-Rodgers, board president of the San Bernardino City Unified School District, said the district is focused on providing continuity, and wraparound services for the student’s social-emotional connection. When March 13 suddenly came with the shutdown, she said the fast transition was a struggle. “It was our students, and college students. We talk about technology but our students were not able to work on technology from an education lens,” she said. 
Students were accustomed to laptops for occasional use, but all at once the technology was required for educational purposes, she said.

Some schools had prepared students with Google meets and how to turn assignments electronically, but she noted that SBCUSD was fortunate because they’ve focused on closing the digital divide for several years. Getting students quickly reoriented when the virus hit was a big challenge because everyone was in spring break mode and winding down from the school year. They had to kick it back into gear and teach students new habits. Many districts extended spring break. “There was only one week left of school. Seniors were focused on what is my graduation going to look like? This became a ‘restart yourself,’ she said. 

The distance education component and additional resources were available early on, she added, but there was also more attention on getting food to families in need. “We want to do what we can for our students. We know the feeding portion that takes place every day for an entire week has been such a big obstacle for people, and that need didn’t go away,” she said. 

At CSUSB, Dr. Paz Oliverez, vice president of Student Affairs, said they have had to pivot as a division to support students through the virtual transition. The campus had always operated face to face and high touch to bring students into the facilities. She commends her team and staff for being innovative in engaging students, and participation in social media such as getting information out to students via Instagram Live and Zoom. They also have an active online career center, veterans center, center for undocumented and students with disabilities. “We’ve been proactive, student affairs include student life pieces, student union, recreation and wellness centers, the clubs, all of those have been operating virtually,” Dr. Oliverez said. 

Counselors and psychological services also host virtual online programming, workshops and group counseling, along with individual support through phone or through the internet. Adjusting to the virtual environment was rough at the start of the quarter, she said. Before the virus hit, some of the mental health workshops only drew a handful of students. “One of their first [online] workshops about 80 students attended. There is definitely a significant increase,” she said. 

Through the end of the quarter, she said they are supporting student employment. Finances are another huge factor, particularly at CSUSB where 80% of the students are PELL eligible students. Many of their students rely on employment through the campus to make ends meet.

Moving into the school next year, she said students can continue to seek employment opportunities and check in with the campus career center. “A lot of things have closed, they may be looking for alternatives. We know there’s a whole industry of online work opportunities. They can access all that information on our website and get connected,” she said. 
Article from the Precinct Reporter