Since mid-March, we’ve learned much in a short span about ourselves and our communities. Beacon’s students, families, and employees showed that perseverance combined with patience is an indomitable force more than equal to the most uncertain and anxious of times. We also realized through our use of remote learning to complete the spring semester that any technology-enriched “new normal” for Beacon cannot supplant the centrality of Beacon’s hallmark — our “high-touch,” personalized approach to instruction and services on campus.
The COVID-19 emergency tested the fabric of Beacon and all American higher education as never before. I believe that we measured up remarkably well individually and as a community united. We now are called — even as we take the unsteady early steps to define and navigate a “new normal” — to fix our vision and courage on setting an uncompromised course. And so, this communication will address an ambitious future: Beacon’s, yours, and ours together.
This letter includes two important announcements: (1) a decision on the summer and fall calendars, and (2) the College’s efforts to enhance academics and our “high-touch” residential undergraduate community.
The summer and fall academic calendar: The previously announced summer session dates stand as originally scheduled (the summer session and career immersion programs conclude on August 18). After careful review of guidance and evolving models from health and higher education communities, the College’s on-campus fall semester classes will begin August 20 and conclude just before Thanksgiving.
Students will physically depart campus for the Thanksgiving break by Saturday, November 21. Our collegians will complete the final week and two days of the semester (November 30 through December 8) participating in classes/projects/exams remotely as faculty conduct courses, monitor student progress, and evaluate final course projects/examinations via Canvas, the College’s new learning management system (LMS).
Students will return to campus in January 2021 for the start of the spring semester. The College views this modified calendar as the most sensible move from the perspectives of health, safety, quality, and cost (for which room and board adjustments have now been budgeted) — see attached announcement of the updated summer and fall semester 2020 calendars.
The College’s Efforts to Strengthen the Beacon Experience:
The ancient Greek maxim to “Know Thyself” rings truer than today than ever, especially in higher education. If the national emergency from which we are slowly emerging had a proverbial silver lining it was that the societal “hard-stop” we experienced also compelled people and organizations to reflect on and rethink the priorities, habits, routines, and structures that define our everyday life and work.
While many colleges and universities have settled on delivering their academic programs digitally, Beacon — in “knowing” itself and its students — will advance its high-touch mission with a keen “sense of place” rooted in tradition, best practice, and technology-enhanced (not technology-dominated) instruction and support. This dovetails nicely with the College’s mission to bolster the Beacon undergraduate experience for new and returning collegians this fall:
- We are devoted to the proposition that any “new normal” should not impact the build-out of a welcoming liberal arts campus. Thus, our plans continue undeterred to christen in 2020 the new residence hall and dining commons. Simultaneously, the College this summer is dedicating resources to expand the sports/fitness corridor adjacent to Meadow Street into a fenced and illuminated venue for basketball, beach volleyball, and other amenities.
- The College labored during the campus closure to create more robust and accessible traditional classroom and remote learning. To this end, Beacon accelerated the implementation of the Canvas LMS that will support the College’s future academic offerings, commencing with the fall 2020 semester. Canvas’ strength — as proven by its ubiquity among American colleges and universities — is its intuitive ease of use and capacity to elevate the delivery of structured content.
- Our Community has prioritized the safeguarding of our students’ health and welfare as an enduring responsibility, not simply as a concession to a “new normal”: In late March, the College established a Working Group staffed by members of every feature and function of the College charged with planning oversight to protect those on campus — our collegians and employees — and to anticipate the “new-era” contingencies that could alter campus-based life now and in the long term.
Today, the College is open and practicing social distancing, appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) use, hygiene, and frequent cleaning of offices and public spaces based upon recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Florida’s public health officials. We also are taking full advantage of Beacon’s contractual on-campus service relationship with our local hospital, the Leesburg Regional Medical Center — recently merged into the nationally regarded University of Florida Health System. As expert guidance evolves with time and experience, so too will Beacon’s policies and compliance.
As of July 1, we do know that our policies and procedures for students and employees are scheduled to include pre-arrival surveys and COVID-19 testing upon arrival on campus, orientation and continued training on social distancing, hygiene, and related protections. It will also involve reconfiguring classroom and all campus spaces to meet social distancing and gathering size requirements and new mechanisms for reporting and monitoring any illnesses, as well as, initially, limiting off-campus exposure.
Beacon is securing and storing necessary PPE, including masks and gloves. Moreover, the College will surpass basic public health general campus standards by integrating air scrubbers and ultraviolet cleaning systems into our facilities and designating three apartments as isolation spaces for students exhibiting flu-like symptoms and/or fevers.
Prior to students arriving in July and August, faculty and staff will be educated on the College’s protocols and expectations — an ongoing process that will continue throughout the academic year. Remain informed about Beacon’s campus policies and protocols by regularly visiting the College’s homepage.
We are thinking of you and your future and how we will make the journey before us together — assuredly with safety in mind, but also with your unaltered success crowning Beacon’s ambitions for you. We all miss you. Let no amount of time or distance from campus ever allow for a moment’s doubt of this certainty.