Experiential Education/Remote Advising – A Gap Year’s Approach to COVID-19

by | Apr 30, 2020 | Featured, Gap Year, Staff Blog, Supporting Students

Supporting Students Through COVID-19

It’s safe to say that the past few weeks have challenged everyone’s patience and have pushed people to think creatively to adapt to the restrictions that have been put in place as a result of COVID-19.  At Dynamy, we have faced the challenge of providing students with one-on-one support and structured learning experiences without having the benefit of being able to meet with students in person for Monday Programming workshops or individual advising sessions, and to provide these services in a way that’s consistent with our program’s history and values.

One of Dynamy’s core values is the belief that you learn through direct experience.  Reading recipes in a cookbook is different from actually preparing them, and watching other people drive cars does little to prepare you for taking your road test if you’ve never sat behind the wheel yourself.  In an ideal world, all of our learning experiences would be positive and enjoyable, but difficult situations can foster as much growth as easy ones.

Since our students have been off-site, we have been offering individual advising sessions by phone and videoconference and workshops that students can complete at home while still following through with practicing social distancing.  Some students have had to modify their goals to a new social situation where in-person interactions are far less common than they were at the start of the semester, others have had to temporarily set longstanding goals aside and embrace new ones for the immediate future, and still others have focused on self-care and maintaining the positive habits they had developed while they were living in Worcester.  Regardless of what each individual student’s circumstances look like, they have shown an ability to adapt to their current situation and to look for opportunities to learn from it.

Relationship Building at a Distance

Another core value at Dynamy is the importance of the relationship between staff members and students.  I’m a firm believer that it’s not reasonable for staff members to ask students to do anything that they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves, and earlier in the year when Dynamy was running in a more typical fashion, staff members participated in reflection exercises with students, climbed at the ropes course with them, and did internet searches side-by-side with students if they didn’t have answers to questions that had been posed.

As we’ve shifted towards a remote service model, we have maintained this spirit of collaboration as much as possible.  Students have needed to deal with the frustration of having to end the on-site program at Dynamy early, having to stop working at internships they enjoy, and having to be away from friends.  As information and best practices changed at a rapid rate, students needed to deal with the uncertainty of not knowing what the program might look like as time went by.

Staff have shared similar concerns, and continuing to stay in touch with students who have opted in to remote advising has created opportunities for troubleshooting new difficulties such as problems with registering for online classes and with maintaining structure throughout the day with the limitations put in place on things such as internships and social gatherings.  Normalizing frustrations and modeling how to move forwards in a hopeful manner despite not having certainty about what the future will hold have been other topics that have been frequently discussed between students and advisors.

Since we’ve started remote advising, students have impressed me with their ability to shift their mindsets and take meaningful action to help them work towards their goals.  In Worcester, everyone’s growth looked different, and the same has been true now that students are at home.  Some students have shifted towards finding jobs in their hometowns, some have signed up for online courses, and some have worked on personal artistic endeavors.  Students have stayed in touch with each other and tried to maintain connections as strongly as possible.  It hasn’t always been an easy process, but our students should be proud of how they’ve reacted to the situation and the work that they’ve put in over these past few weeks and will continue to put in over the next few.

Conclusion

Are we doing everything according to the plan that we created at the beginning of the year?  Absolutely not.  Are we finding opportunities to creatively face challenges, learn and refine our methods, and keep relationships central to the work that we do?  I like to think so.  Dynamy has existed for 50 years, and the program has changed over time to meet the needs of the students that it serves, and the needs of the larger community that supports us.  As we continue through the next several weeks, we will remain committed to offering guidance and support to the students that we serve while adapting to the needs of our community, and I have no doubt that our students will continue to grow and be intentional in creating their lives.

Contact us today if you think a gap year or Dynamy might be the right choice for you!

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