The most important thing any of McCook Community College students will learn this year began when they arrived on campus.
"We wear masks so we can stay open," said Kelly Rippen, MCC Vice President. It's a message that has been repeated in the weeks leading up the start of fall classes Sunday and a message that was repeated frequently during staff preparation days, student move-in days and new student orientation. Reading, writing and arithmetic have been joined on campus by "masks, social distancing and disinfecting."
While everything is measured differently in a pandemic year, fall enrollment at McCook Community College is down about 11 percent, but Brooks Hall will be full this year, and officials are optimistic that enrollment might edge up to normal levels, in what for everyone involved, is a far from normal year.
RIPPEN SAID college staff continue to work closely with state and local educational and health agencies to remain on top of the latest issues that affect MCC.
"Our COVID-19 response team is in constant contact with other agencies making sure we have the most up-to-date and detailed data to help us make informed decisions," Rippen said. "I think that is one of the strengths of a smaller college -- or a 'First Choice' college as we say here at MCC -- is that we are set up to be more adaptable and can react and implement changes more quickly if we need to."
For students that means MCC will try and be more flexible and responsive to their needs.
"If there is an in-person class on our schedule and a student prefers it on-line or via Zoom, our faculty and staff are working with students to do everything possible to come up with the right solution."
MCC staff have stepped up the disinfection schedule and many instructors will be doing more between-classroom "wipe-downs" this year.
"We understand in a year when this country has experienced such uncertainty that it's hard for parents to drop their freshmen off anywhere that isn't home," Rippen said, "But we're going to do everything we can to keep our college as safe as we can."
THROUGH THE TEST NEBRASKA PROGRAM, in partnership with Community Hospital, all students, faculty and staff will be given the option for COVID-19 testing Tuesday, and MPCC will continue to look for testing options throughout the semester. Student athletes will all be tested and coaches will conduct temperature checks at meetings, workouts, and practices.
Of the 40 international students hoping to enroll at MCC this fall, 10 may need to delay their arrival until spring semester due to travel restrictions, the others were required to quarantine for two weeks prior to the start of school. The college has reserved off campus housing units to serve as quarantine spaces for any students who may test positive or become exposed to COVID-19.
Numerous safeguards were implemented to protect students, employees and the public from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. During move in day, all students were contacted before their arrival on campus to make sure they were not running fevers, or showing symptoms of COVID, and had not been exposed to someone with COVID nor asked to quarantine. Move-in times were staggered by appointment times to restrict the number of students to a few at a time.
Once at the college, the Brooks Hall dining hall, lobbies and lounges were reconfigured to promote social distancing. Signs reminding students to social distance, wear masks, wash hands frequently and stay home if sick are posted throughout all buildings on campus.
Students will be required to wear masks covering their mouths and noses in all indoor public areas of the college when six-feet of social distance cannot be maintained. That includes commons areas, restrooms, elevators, hallways, lobbies and outside. Dining on campus will be one of the exceptions, however, students will be encouraged to eat in their dorm rooms. Guests will not be allowed to join them there.
Protective plastic shields were added to MCC's Welcome Center, advising desks, library and other locations where there might be frequent face-to-face conversations.
THE COACHES OF MCC'S SIX SPORTS are taking leadership roles, according to Rippen, along with their athletes in making all the health requirements become the norm. "We all understand what's at stake, nobody wants to see another sports season cancelled."
Of the six MCC sports teams only men's golf will compete this fall, and even that will look different with a schedule that will reduce travel and condense the fall season from a six-week schedule to a four-week schedule and that includes a pair of duels with Easter Wyoming, just three conference tournaments (all one-day tournaments instead of two). The only regular season home MCC athletic event this fall will be the Region IX golf tournament Sept. 18 at Heritage Hills Golf Course. Also as many as six MCC student-athletes are coming back for a "second" sophomore year thanks to a ruling from the National Junior College Athletic Association allowing students in sports that were cancelled to come back and complete their eligibility.
Because so many of the athletic teams won't compete until the spring MCC has "front-loaded" student activities so there will be more events in the fall to keep students engaged.
While MCC is down about 18 full-time students this fall, Rippen said there was a bigger push this year for students to enroll in the days leading up to the start of classes. Judging from the late registration rush, she and other college officials are hopeful that the final numbers may help push final enrollments higher or equal to previous years.
"We are a better college for what we've been through for the past five months, we've learned a lot, we've made some changes and in the end I think we're better equipped to meet the needs of our students," Rippen said.