Smart and hard sometimes go together. It is wise to save part of our income for the future. It’s also tough to make sacrifices that put preparation for the future ahead of present needs. It is good for us to eat healthy food. It’s also rough to pass up chocolate chip cookies in favor of steamed broccoli! We’re facing smart versus hard in the new reality of COVID. We are all limiting travel and activities despite our desire for summer as usual. We are learning to include masks in our daily routines to care for each other, even if they are less than comfortable. We can be excited about another school year getting underway, but the return to campus plan will bring students home to a familiar place with a need for some unfamiliar practices. The smart choices we need to make for safety also bring hard choices about the way we navigate that transition.
There certainly are COVID consequences—the temporary loss of the familiar—but there are also a remarkable number of COVID opportunities. We’ve never had a more flexible program for students. Classrooms on campus are being equipped for innovation. If a student is quarantining, live classes will provide the opportunity for synchronous participation and lecture capture. Faculty have had many options for rich technology training this summer that hadn’t happened pre-COVID. Your student support team has reinvented academic, spiritual enrichment, and onboarding programs that include a broader student base than ever before as we hybrid virtual and in-person options. The point is that although we don’t want to discount the real COVID losses, we don’t want to miss counting the gains, either.
One familiar rite of passage that will look very new is our New Student Orientation. Rather than gathering hundreds of students in the auditorium shoulder to shoulder, students will buddy up with their smaller orientation groups in various home-base locations on campus to participate in larger, simulcast programs. That allows us to social distance AND achieve that important sense of community. The innovations happening on campus are nothing short of remarkable.
However, for parents and guardians, New Student Orientation has the potential to represent a loss. If you imagine your student having the traditional college experience you enjoyed, you could have dashed hopes. If you have spent years imagining what it will feel to launch your first college student, well, it won’t look that way. Although, if you are ready to think outside the box, Orientation has the potential to be more personalized than ever before. While parent activities on campus need to be scaled back to accommodate the greater space and safety needs for student orientation, that means UNW won’t be orchestrating the goodbyes to the degree we have in the past. Instead, you have an opportunity to individualize your student’s transition to college in a way UNW could not. You know your student best, so I’m suggesting you use what you know to celebrate this milestone in a way that is especially meaningful for you and your student. We would like to share some ideas for you to simmer on as you prepare a plan for your student’s arrival on (or return to) campus:
Preparing for Launch
- Talk to your student about what they will need to know in order to be prepared to take good care of themselves and others. Your student’s home page on theROCK now includes a wealth of COVID resources you might review together. Our Return to Campus page on the web references many of the same tools. Look for the CAMPUS EXPECTATIONS document for a good summary of how classes, dining, and residential living will look on campus. Examine the FAQs carefully. If you don’t find the answers you are looking for, please let us know so we can expand the resource!
- Design a family back-up plan. UNW will be taking serious precautions but realistically, UNWSP cannot guarantee that students will have zero risk of exposure. Residence life has set aside quarantine rooms as part of the mitigation plan, but we know an ill student would prefer to be home if that is possible. Should your student need to temporarily participate virtually, are you within driving range? If you are at a significant distance or if there are conditions at home that would put others at risk, do you have another option for your student to quarantine comfortably off campus? A colleague of mine with a healthy college student as well as a child at home with a compromised immune system, already has a plan to send her at-risk child to a relative if her college student becomes ill and needs to come home. What’s your backup plan?
- Create a rite of passage at home so everyone can participate. Transition will happen in the planning, the packing, and the parting. The first day on campus is only a piece of the passage. How can you include other loved ones in a ceremony or celebration of this accomplishment on your home turf?
- Put the online Parent Orientation virtual events on your calendar. You’ll find a link on the Parents & Families page on the unwsp.edu website. Plans are still under development so check back frequently for updates.
What can you DO or SAY or GIFT to your student to commemorate their first day on campus? For many students, a reminder of your continued investment in them and their well-being is grounding. Ideas:
- A special photo opportunity will be provided for you at the Parent Relations tent on the green at Orientation. You did it for first day of Kindergarten. Keep the tradition going!
- Write out a prayer of blessing for your student and pray it over them before you take your leave. Write it ahead of drop off so you can take your time. Be thoughtful but don’t worry about it being perfect. You are writing it so you can gift it to your student as a physical remembrance of your words of blessing. A blessing card can be downloaded from the Parents Orientation page of the website if you want help getting started. Copies will be available at the Parent Relations tent during Orientation.
- Choose something together that will go in their room for (residents) or in their car (for commuters) that triggers good memories. A collage of the family for their wall or a symbol that is meaningful for your family to hang from their rear view mirror will remind your student that you are still with them.
- Provide a gift that is a symbol of change. On days that I am taking a new turn, I wear a necklace made from a fork (really!) as a reminder that I am at a fork in the road on life’s journey. Perhaps your symbol of change is a shared verse in calligraphy. Maybe it is a t-shirt with your phone number printed on it! “I believe in you” was a familiar phrase for my kids. Taking that message with them in some form would have been a meaningful encouragement.
What will help you stay connected to your student?
- Make a plan for communicating with your student. That can be helpful for both busy commuters and students away from home in residence. Mine don’t answer the phone but agreed that Facebook Messenger would be a good place for us to share questions or our victory of the day. I like seeing and hearing them, though, and we did reach a compromise for a routine call on an evening of their choice so I could Face Time with them.
- The Parent News e-letter from Parent Relations will include gift package opportunities if you need a little help with an encouragement boost for your student. If you aren’t getting the Parent News email email@example.com and ask to be on the subscriber’s list.
- An old fashioned, hand written note of encouragement can become a treasured keepsake. Perhaps you want to create a whole collection by mailing a card every month to campus (residents) or slipping one in their backpack (commuters) as a surprise.
No one knows what would be meaningful for you or your student the way you do. This year will already live in our memories by virtue of the unprecedented hurdle of COVID. Whether it be a symbol of transition or a new tradition, I encourage you to deliberately create some unique memories for your student that convey your confidence that they will thrive in their collegiate community regardless of the new challenges that life brings their way.