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Roaring Fork graduates plan for college in a pandemic

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Instead of walking across a stage, Lucia Penzel, 18, graduated high school from inside her car. She is one of the many members of the Class of 2020 whose education has been turned upside down by the coronavirus, having to finish senior year online and begin college in a time of widespread uncertainty. 

“My friends and I were talking, and we think since we don’t really know what [college] is like, we won’t be too bummed out or feel like it’s too different,” Penzel said. “It’s not as bad [for us] as it is for the people who’ve been there and experienced the regular college life. We know nothing else, so I think it will still be different and exciting.” 

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The lack of federal guidelines has led to a patchwork of different college plans for reopening. 

Madison Thompson, 18, plans to attend Western Colorado Community College in Grand Junction, which is part of Colorado Mesa University. Her school is planning to have in-person classes up until Thanksgiving break, and then move classes online for the remainder of the semester.  

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Mesa is paying for each student and faculty member to take a COVID test when they arrive on campus, Thompson said. Masks are required inside any building, but they can be taken off outside as long as people are six feet apart. 

“The bigger classes they’re going to do online, but they’re [trying to] limit the class size so that they don’t have to do as many online,” she said. 

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Penzel plans to attend Colorado College in Colorado Springs. The college plans to do a staggered reopening of campus, inviting freshmen back in August but having all other students take their classes online until the end of September. If students leave the state for break, they are not allowed to come back.

Just last Thursday, CC announced its plans to test all students once they arrive on campus. “We have to be immediately tested, and then quarantine up until you get your results back,” Penzel said. That means you can only go into your residence building, you have to wear a mask, and you can’t leave campus, she explained. 

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Caroline Wisroth, 18, plans to attend Marquette University in Wisconsin. Her school is doing a hybrid model, with large lecture classes online and smaller classes, like labs, in person. 

“We have to wear masks 24/7, unless you’re in your room with just your roommate, but if anyone else is in your room you have to wear masks,” Wisroth said. “We have to have a thermometer and an asthmometer at school, and we have to take a COVID test five days before we get there to go. They also have empty rooms so if you do get Corona… you [can] quarantine yourself.”

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All three say their schools have changed their plans for reopening many times. “[Mesa was] saying that it was going to be in person all year, and then that changed as COVID went on,” Thompson said.  

But even with precautions in place, some students aren’t convinced schools will be able to reopen safely. “I just feel like we’re going to get there, and it will be fine, we’ll have our classes, and then people will start getting sick,” Penzel said. “Then they’ll be like okay, it’s time to go home.” 

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“I have a very strong feeling that we’re all going to get there and something [will] happen, and we’re going to… get sent home,” Wisroth added. 

Even still, none of them decided to defer their enrollment a semester or year. 

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“There’s not a job that would really make sense for me [to have] for that amount of time,” Wisroth said. “So [my parents] just said let’s give it a shot, and if it doesn’t happen then it doesn’t happen.” 

“I just didn’t want to wait and not do anything, because there’s not a whole lot we can do on a gap year right now. I’m just ready to leave the house and leave this town, even if it’s just for a little bit,” Penzel said. 

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For now, all three students are scheduled to move in the coming weeks, unless plans abruptly change again. “It’s all going to be crazy, but [we] can’t do anything about it,” said Wisroth. 

“I would just say make the best of it, and realize that we’re all in this together,” added Thomspon. “Just enjoy as much as you can.”  

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