xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Coppin State University forges ahead with hybrid learning plan as other area colleges go virtual

In a mostly empty parking lot, Toran Smith unloaded belongings out of his dad’s car with the help of his younger brother, Cameron. The three men had two hours to move Smith, who plays third base on Coppin State University’s baseball team, into his dorm room Sunday to comply with the institution’s reopening guidelines, which allotted each resident a time slot.

Smith, a sophomore from Plainfield, New Jersey, played in just 13 games last season before the coronavirus swept into Maryland and shuttered college campuses, schoolhouses and nearly all other public spaces. He went home to his parents after Coppin State shut down and stayed there for nearly six months.

Advertisement

“At first, no one knew how severe it was — we said, ‘We’ll be back in two to three weeks,” the accounting major said.

Now, as students return to campus, Coppin State bears the weight of keeping its community safe from the coronavirus as some in-person classes and lectures resume. The West Baltimore university is one of the few still planning to start the semester with some in-person classes.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Several other universities in Maryland are preparing to start the year virtually or hold online-only classes until at least 2021, including Johns Hopkins University, Loyola University Maryland and Goucher College.

Just Saturday, as students continued to return to Towson University, the school announced it would hold all classes virtually for the first week after reporting that dozens of students tested positive for COVID-19 this week at its student health center.

Some schools, like Coppin State, have committed to hybrid models with a mix of in-person and virtual classes, partly to preserve some revenue and to meet the demands of students with limited housing options outside campus.

As the pandemic restricts student life, limits the number of people who can live on college campuses and disrupts athletic seasons, universities face budget crunches as room and board cash flow dries up.

Advertisement

At Coppin State, school administrators said they are relying on students like Smith to do their part to mitigate the threat of COVID-19, betting on the school’s small size, a shortened semester and careful planning to avoid a fate similar to others across the country.

Already schools such as University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Notre Dame chose to switch to virtual learning due to outbreaks among returning students.

“We’ve done a lot — they just need to do their part,” said Kevin Pertee, the university’s director of residence life, of students, adding that on-campus dormitories have been capped at 50% capacity to hold about 300 residents total. “If people can do their part, we will be OK.”

Students coming back to live on campus — many of them freshmen, athletes and out-of-state residents — are encouraged to quarantine the next two weeks before classes start, Pertee said. The university requires everyone to wear masks inside campus facilities and encourages the community to practice social distancing and vigilant “hand hygiene” whenever possible. Students had to get tested for COVID-19 before returning, as well.

No visitors will be allowed on campus this semester, which starts Aug. 31 and will shift to entirely online after Thanksgiving break, Pertee added. Most courses will take place online, though some students will have in-person labs or research classes to attend.

But these measures, designed for the campus community to minimize in-person interaction and stave off a major COVID-19 outbreak, will prove effective only if students buy in and agree not to put themselves in potentially hazardous situations outside the classroom, said Aaron Singleton, a spokesman for Coppin State University.

Singleton said other universities that have reopened may not have communicated their expectations effectively enough with their students or might have allowed too many to come back too soon.

“At some of these other colleges, which tend to be in college towns, students go party at fraternity houses or sorority houses or they get close together at an off-campus bar,” he said. “We don’t quite have that here, so we’re optimistic.”

“We’re helping them understand that bouncing back and forth between on-campus and off-campus could be dangerous,” Pertee added.

Coppin State University, a historically black institution, is an affiliate of the University System of Maryland, which also oversees the University of Maryland, College Park as well as Towson University, Bowie State University and Salisbury University. Coppin State’s enrollment typically hovers around 2,700 students, including graduate students, making it one of the smallest schools in the system.

It’s located in West Baltimore’s Mondawmin neighborhood, outside of the city’s most concentrated areas for COVID-19 cases. In the past two weeks, about 57 infections have been reported in the school’s 21216 ZIP code, according to Baltimore City Health Department data. The city, overall, has seen more than 13,000 cases and 419 deaths within its borders since the state began tracking infections in March, with many of them linked to nursing home populations.

For students coming to Maryland from other states, the pressure to stay safe has intensified over recent weeks as the testing positivity rate among people in their 20s and 30s climbed and more universities commit to virtual learning.

Sisters Kyra, 19, and Kayla Welch, 20, came back to Coppin State from the Bronx, where they watched in horror as New York City’s case count and death toll broke records during the spring before stabilizing this summer. Kyra Welch, a new resident assistant, has spent the past several weeks educating herself on Maryland’s restrictions and protocols.

“Being able to stay the full semester is definitely a conversation,” said the sophomore health sciences major, adding that she expects to field questions from concerned parents all year. “I’m a little worried.”

But the Welch sisters said the campus offers more networking opportunities than their home in the Bronx and motivates them to take their schoolwork more seriously. At home, much of their education took place in bed, they said, and their time management skills regressed.

Advertisement

A couple of floors away from the Welch sisters, Toran Smith entered his suite to find a small group of other baseball players waiting for him to unpack. One of them, sophomore Giovanni Canales, from Cranston, Rhode Island, said the coronavirus had virtually disappeared from view in his home state, which was recorded as having a 1.97% testing positivity rate Sunday via Johns Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center, which tracks the rate across the United States.

Advertisement

Canales, a pitcher with freshman status in 2021 due to the interruption of the 2020 season, said he got to play in a college baseball league in Rhode Island over the summer due to the state’s handling of its reopening.

“The only thing that can threaten us here is other students,” said Canales, adding that the baseball team has its sights set on a full season this spring. “I’m making sure I have my mask on because here, you just don’t know.”

As he helped his son get settled, Toran Smith’s father, Sam, said he trusts the team to make sound decisions.

“It’s their responsibility. It’s on them whether they have a season or not,” he said. “How smart are you going to be?”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement