By Hannah Lester
Students are buying school supplies, bedding for those extra-long twin beds and all their dorm essentials as they prepare to start or return to Auburn University. Classes will take place both in-person and virtually and the EAGLES program students are excited.
The program was originally created as a two-year plan for students with intellectual disabilities to gain both a degree at Auburn University and learn independent living skills.
The program has now been expanded to include a four-year program, students who live off-campus and even more opportunities for its students.
Of course, everything is different right now, given the coronavirus pandemic and how Auburn University is preparing.
EAGLES students left campus with everyone else in March and said they are itching to get back to school, even if some of their classes are online and they must social distance.
“All of our preparation has centered around following Auburn University’s ‘A Healthier U’ guidelines and protocols,” said Betty Patten, EAGLES program director.
Preparation for the return to school has already started for EAGLES’ students, Patten said. Students have been practicing screening themselves for coronavirus symptoms while at home, which will be required by Auburn University once students get on campus.
“They had to complete a temperature log, that they had to learn to take their temperature every morning and evening over a week period to calculate their baseline temperatures so they can see if their temperature starts to trend up toward a fever,” Patten said.
EAGLES Students will still be living in the dorms, some with their peer mentors. To help ensure safety during move-in, however, there are some changes, she said.
Students will be moving in during staggered times and guests will be limited in the dorms.
There are no classes that students won’t be able to take,” Patten said. Between their university classes and EAGLES classes, the students will have all the learning opportunities they had before the virus.
Josh Reiner, a student in the program, said that it may get confusing at times with some classes being online and some being in-person, however. He’s still excited to come back, especially since he’s missed his friends.
One challenge the program is facing is how to handle employment for the students. Normally the students either hold down a job or intern somewhere, but the virus makes this more difficult.
“I’ve reached out to a lot of businesses and a lot of people just simply are not hiring right now,” said Jessica Milton, an instruction coordinator for the EAGLES program.
Students farther along in the EAGLES program met with Milton over the summer by Zoom to complete job applications, she said.
“We do have five of our students that have already had paid employment set up and we’re really excited about some of those partnerships,” she said. “It looks a little different. For example, we have a student working with WEGL radio and that’s normally, he would go into the studio, but he’s going to work via Zoom to create his playlist.”
Two of the older students in the program will actually serve as peer mentors, or WINGS mentors, for other students.
All but one student will be on campus in the fall. The student who has chosen to learn virtually will still take all of his classes and will even be able to participate in activities by Zoom with the other EAGLES students, Patten said.
The EAGLES program is preparing a social calendar which will include social distanced in-person events and Zoom events, Milton said.
“It’s been a dream for me to go to college for such a long time, since I graduated, and someone helped me find this cool opportunity to go to school, for me to learn, to be independent and job ready,” said Rosa Juan, an incoming student.
All of the girls who are starting in the EAGLES program will be going through recruitment, as well.
Grace Davis said she is excited about meeting new people.
“Not seeing friends,” has been the hardest part of the virus and pandemic, she said.
Quin Thomas said that he’s excited to come back, but not nervous about the virus.
“I’m just living my life and do what I can, keep washing my hands and all that stuff, do all the required stuff, but to me I never worry about anything,” he said.
Reiner said he has not had much trouble following guidelines.
“Always wash your hands and wear a mask wherever you go,” he said. “If you touch a door handle wash your hands right afterward.”
Many parents may be nervous, but not so much as to not send their student, Patten said. The benefits outweigh the risk to these parents, she said.
“A lot of our students have greatly missed interacting with people but they also require a lot of structure and guidance and so it’s very rewarding that we work at a university that safety is the top priority but also recognizing that we are a face-to-face university,” Patten said.
Applications are open for Fall 2021 for future EAGLES students.