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COVID -19 and the Community Service Program
Fatima Sohani

The reality that in-person classes were suspended for an entire month hit the student body like a ton of bricks. Some students were elated at the prospect of sleeping in and working in their pajamas, while others were concerned about standardized testing and final exams. In this frenzy, Baylor tutors, RESPECT scholars, and faculty members who serve as leaders in the program were left wondering about exactly what would happen to the RESPECT Scholars Program.

Julia Flack ‘21, who has spent three years in the program as a tutor, remarked that she “looks forward to seeing [her] scholar each and every day, so it’s hard when [she doesn’t] know how she is doing.” Flack feels that “this pandemic has placed a huge strain on a program that means so much to Baylor students and the scholars” and shared that “it was really hard to abruptly leave without getting to say good-bye or set up a plan for how we can stay in contact.” Flack said that she knows some tutors and scholars have kept in contact with their cellphones, but Flack’s scholar, Amarianna, is only in first grade, meaning Flack hasn’t been able to talk to her since the program began its break. “It’s just concerning to me not knowing how she is. I wish I was with her right now reading a book about sharks and laughing with her to stay calm, but I just have to hope that she is able to continue work at home.”

The program’s site leaders were just as surprised as the tutors about the sudden break. Alyssa Kim ‘21, who serves on the RESPECT Leadership Board as a site leader for Westside, says that she “still [remembers] the Wednesday before all of this happened.” “When the other site leaders and I arrived at the center that day, a lot of the scholars came up to us and asked, ‘Why are you guys here today? I thought you guys weren’t coming anymore.’ And, we replied, ‘Of course we’re here! We’re here for you every day and want to be with you.’ Turns out, that Wednesday would be our last day at the center until who knows how long.”

Similarly to Flack, Kim mentioned that communication with the scholars can be difficult, and that she finds herself wondering “how all the scholars, especially the younger ones, are handling/dealing with this situation” and “constantly [worries] about how they’re doing.” Evelyn Ludwick ‘21 serves on the RESPECT Leadership Board as a site leader for Carver, and she commented that “adjusting to these new limitations placed on us by school closure is difficult for everyone involved” and that “getting out of the routine of seeing our hard-working scholars every day has been so difficult.”

“The work that we did every day in tutoring to provide our scholars with care and learning opportunities is somewhat limited by assuming that we can go to our centers to spend face-to-face time with them,” Ludwick said. The spread of the coronavirus, she feels, “is all too powerful in that it can bring our efforts to a stammering halt.” Many tutors and scholars have done their best to stay “in contact to continue providing support and love.”

Elin Bunch ‘09, Director of Community Service at Baylor, agreed with the students that the break has created its challenges. “The beauty and strength of the Scholars Program is in the relationships formed between scholars and their Baylor student partners. Being away from one another makes maintaining those mutually meaningful relationships more difficult.” She further stated that “many of our scholars do not have access to the online learning resources being used to facilitate and enrich distance learning.”

Bunch also made sure to comment on some of the positives. “It’s been incredible to hear from parents, scholars and tutors over the past week the ways they are staying in touch with one another— FaceTime help with homework, phone calls, texts. The relationships have definitely proven strong enough to span this time apart.” Bunch also expressed that the spread of the virus has “reminded [her] how dedicated and hardworking teachers are; most of our scholars have received packets of work for these weeks and their teachers are staying in close communication with their students.” The YMCA and Hamilton County Schools have also been working together to provide lunches and snack packs to students in the community.

Flack said that adjusting to the new school system hasn’t been easy, but she acknowledges that she’s lucky when it comes to the impact of the virus. “It’s really easy for us to get sad when we realize we might not have prom, but it really puts things into perspective when I think about how some of our friends and community members might not have access to basic necessities.” Kim expressed a similar sentiment, stating that she believes “the most we could do is being there for one another but also looking out for others.” Kim explained that she understands that nobody “likes this ‘social distancing’ that we’re being told to do” but continued by saying that “honestly, that’s exactly what we should be doing. The faster we can flatten the curve and get rid of COVID-19, the faster we can see the scholars again and get back to our normal lives.”

“Hopefully,” Kim added, “we get to all congregate together soon and celebrate the scholars’ hard work this year at the Scholars Banquet.”

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