With only a handful of weeks left in the spring semester, Lakeland Community College took a bold approach to supporting its students recently. When the stay at home order from the state was enacted, the college moved swiftly to remote learning to keep the semester on track, but many students suffered in the transition.
As schools, restaurants, and retail stores shut down across the country and the region, many students shut down right along with them. According to Lakeland faculty, many students who had once been active in class, were now not responsive in the online environment and had gone silent.
To counteract the sudden lack of student participation, college employees responded to an SOS "we need all hands on deck" call for help from Lakeland President Morris Beverage Jr. to participate in a never before attempted, large-scale outreach to 1,600 students who were likely at risk of not completing.
"There was no time to wait for them to ask us for help. We had to reach in," said Beverage. "We have a great number of programs, individuals and offices that typically provide support. But, because of the number of students experiencing confusion, fear and uncertainty all at one time, and the unprecedented situation facing us, we needed to take extraordinary action."
The initiative, known as "Enlightened Navigators," was launched April 6. By the next day, nearly 150 employees representing a cross section of college departments, signed on and were divided into 13 groups. Each volunteer was assigned about a dozen students to immediately contact by phone, email or mail.
Some of the issues arising for students included being overwhelmed with children at home while adjusting to online formats, job losses and mounting bills, food insecurities, and even students and family members suffering from/succumbing to COVID-19. Students indicating challenges were then put in touch with specific college resources including campus psychological services, counseling & advising, or The Lakeland Foundation's Immediate Needs Grant available through the financial aid office.
Students have been touched by the increased outreach. "Lakeland has always been amazingly supportive toward students prior to this pandemic and now really stood up during these trying times," said nursing major Juanita Shabazz who eventually plans to pursue a bachelor's degree, and possibly a master's degree in forensic nursing. "You guys have been a huge blessing."
Another obstacle that many students suddenly faced was that of not having computer access or internet access at home. The college's IT department stepped up to acquire additional Chromebooks to lend out to any student who requested one. Students were then able to purchase internet services through Immediate Needs Grants.
"The mental and emotional strain that our students faced was immense and immediate," said Beverage. "But with our navigators taking on this effort, we were able to make a dramatic difference in the lives of our students."