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Area high school seniors remain committed to their choice colleges, despite COVID-19

Area high school seniors remain committed to their choice colleges, despite COVID-19

Gracie Waldron is senior class president of Sheehan High School. But maroon and gold are not the only school colors Waldron has worn throughout her academic career.

She also grew up wearing green and white.

Those are the school colors for Michigan State University. Two of Waldron’s uncles graduated from there.

And she is planning to join her uncles when she enters Michigan State next fall as an incoming freshman. But whether Waldron’s college career officially starts at home in Wallingford, in front of a computer, or in a physical classroom at the East Lansing, Michigan, campus has yet to be determined.

Officials leading Michigan State, as with many colleges and universities across the country, have yet to decide whether to reopen campus next fall. Officials at the university, whose enrollment consists of more than 39,000 undergraduate students, promised to announce an official decision by early July.

Concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19, the pandemic that led to the shutdown of college campuses and school buildings since March, weigh on the minds of Waldron and other high school seniors.

At the same time, students appear eager to start the next phase of their education.

“I’m looking forward to the experience of being in another part of the country,” Waldron said.

So far, the experience has been different.

“Our orientation has been online,” Waldron said, adding the decision was made a month ago.

“That’s going to be hard, not knowing anyone and not getting to meet people until classes start.”

Waldron will begin her studies at MSU with an undecided major. But she plans to study physiology and eventually become a physician assistant.

In past years, Sheehan High School seniors would wear college sweatshirts on May 1, showing where they intend to be in the fall.

This month, because Sheehan students weren’t in the building, members of the senior class decided to use the school’s Instagram site to announce students’ decisions.

In-state reopening

In Connecticut, a subcommittee of the state’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group recommended colleges and universities plan for a phased reopening, which would begin over the summer.

The phased reopening requires each institution to file reopening plans with the state Department of Public Health. The plans detail how officials will repopulate campuses and monitor health conditions to detect coronavirus infections. If the virus is detected, the plans outline how officials would contain its spread and shut down if necessary.

Administrators of local high schools don’t have official tallies for how many graduates will attend college in the fall, and how many have opted to attend in-state colleges and universities, versus out-of-state colleges.

Trevor Messina, a Southington High School senior, said his plans to attend the University of Connecticut — where he will study music education — remain unchanged.

“I have worked too hard to not go to my top school,” Messina said. “No matter what, on or off campus, online or in person, I will be a proud Husky.”

Messina said he is not aware of any peers who had planned to attend out-of-state colleges changing their minds.

College-bound seniors have other concerns, aside from COVID-19.

“I think some concerns for not just our seniors, but seniors across the country, are money, safety, and missing out on the experience,” Messina said.

Jennifer Straub, principal of Maloney High School in Meriden, said if students are more driven to attend school closer to home this fall then they would have in years’ past, those decisions are most likely based on cost and affordability. Other programs that guarantee students would be able to transfer credits from community colleges into four-year schools are also appealing to students.

“I think more than COVID, affordability and those kinds of credit transfer programs are what drive kids to be closer than home,” Straub said.

Institutions, like UConn, have pushed back their commitment dates to June.

“A lot of schools want to do everything they can to help students make an informed decision,” Straub said.

In recent weeks, Maloney staff sent out surveys to students to find out whether their plans may have changed since the pandemic began. So far more than half of those surveys have come back.

Straub doesn’t have an official tally on whether plans have changed since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Anecdotally, I can tell you, for the most part our students seem to be sticking with their original plans,” Straub said.

Emily Nash, a Cheshire High School senior, is excited to make the roughly three-hour and two-state trip next fall to set foot on the tree-lined campus of the University of New Hampshire, in Durham. She plans to study social work.

UNH is planning to resume in-person instruction, according to a notice on its website.

Nash said when she visited campus last fall, her decision was made.

“It was just exactly what I had pictured for college,” Nash said.

Next fall may bring a mix of online learning and limited in-person class time, so Nash and other incoming UNH students may have to wait for the fully immersed college experience.

“I think the plan is giving the option to students how they want to go about their fall semester — staying home and doing online classes, or being on campus and staying in your dorms,” Nash said.

University officials announced plans to reopen in the fall, with details regarding a COVID-19 testing system, social distancing measures and advanced cleaning protocols to come. Officials promised to “follow and adhere to clear public health guidance,” according to a university statement dated May 8.

While parents have expressed some concern about their college-bound children attending college out of state, they also expressed support for their decisions.

Corey Nash, Emily’s father, said he’s “as nervous as any parent would be, of course.”

But, he said, “she’s a smart kid. Her mom and I did a great job raising her. I’m not worried about any of the things she might run into first year, while she’s away from home and in college.”


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