Homeward Bound: XU’s return to campus plans

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As cliché as it may be, the University will forever be our second home. With the abrupt transition from face-to-face classes to online learning, students have grown to long for XU. The question remains, when can we expect to go back?

The new reality
The new normal is the new reality that everyone has to adjust and adapt to, and XU President Fr. Mars Tan, S.J. has been handling the necessary plans for the University. At present, things are still uncertain. However, a Strategic Plan had been crafted in 2019. “In preparation of the centennial year, there is a need to revisit the plan and make necessary adjustments to it given the impacts of the pandemic crisis on the school, mode of learning, the facilities and the skills of human resources,” he reveals. New changes and innovations are about to be made to adapt to the new normal, and to provide holistic quality education to the students, aiming for nothing but excellence despite the pandemic.

Re-equipping 2021
Several months into the pandemic, XU has faced major changes where the dependence of technology is necessary for maintaining quality education. In this new modality, XU is on the “right track”, Vice President for Administration Edison B. Sasoy mentions. However, the new normal has gradually challenged the teaching process of the faculty members in terms of the deliverance of content creation and incorporating it with the Learning Management System (eLearn). Each department is required to develop a “Primer for Flexible Learning Delivery” where standardizing content is the next target to further enhance the learning process of the students. Tan mentions, “The academic will remain to be the priority for the second semester as XU keeps on improving the instructional design and delivery of online education to the students.”

Aside from this, many students have struggled with complying with their course requirements due to the lack of laboratory work in their given courses. In accordance with Section A of COVID Advisory No. 7 issued by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), “mass gatherings are prohibited”. At present, the Academic Council is reviewing the lab courses as XU continues to comply with government regulations. The logical plan is to do the laboratory activities at home without the use of expensive equipment, but if it cannot be done, the University must continue to follow Local Government Unit (LGU), Department of Health (DOH), and Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) regulations. “In other words, kung dili siya i-allow, dili nato ma-offer ang mga laboratory na course,” Sasoy informs. Nonetheless, some curricular activities such as recollections will be offered online.

In addition, regarding the missed units brought by the limited study load for the 1st semester, the colleges are preparing for catch-up plans for the students. Vice President for Higher Education Dr. Juliet Q. Dalagan mentions, “One strategy is to allow students to have an overload. For the second semester, students have the option to enroll a max of 24-27 units. This is part of the catch-up plans.” Alongside the upgrades of the administration and academics, XU upgraded its health service assistance. Health Services Office Director Dr. Augusto C. Guitarte Jr. is ready to accommodate medical and dental consultations online. They still issue Medical Certificates for any occupational clearance XU employees and students may need, and cater to inquiries over phone calls, Facebook, and through email.

Recouping
With no options but to survive, XU continues to strive for quality. After having to furlough employees due to decreased enrollment over the past semester, XU still guarantees to extend assistance through continued Grant-in-Aid for employees’ children and remains diligent in providing their monthly rice budget. For scholars, Tan plans to restructure scholarship programs to accommodate more financially-challenged but deserving students.

As we expect the continued flexible learning in the next semester, the University now has plans for students experiencing internet connection problems. XU may allow them to be on campus, as per advisor’s recommendation, to make use of the campus Wi-Fi connection. Reasonably, the entrance fees were reduced and will allow the reimbursement of the expenses for unused facilities to help families who were mostly affected by the receding economy.

The recent semester’s end concluded a significant impact on student’s morale. Because of prolonged stress and pressure, and restrictions limiting their interactions, heads of the university insisted on the reactivation of student’s activities as well as the enhancement of spiritual and psycho-emotional support. Given a regulation to follow, students can now look forward to more recreational quarantine activities, whilst encouraging student leaders to come up with these less-stressful activities. As the COVID-19 days stretch, the COVID health protocols of XU assure a well maintained safe environment for all employees, staff and official visitors. The recent COVID cases in the campus were handled well by the alliance of each Barangays, the DOH, and Red Cross. XU remains at arm’s length with affected employees and students through providing a weekly assistance program.

Positive possibilities
Hopefully, by next academic year—as the vice presidents of each cluster remark—missed units and practical classes will set forth on campus grounds under the government’s authorization along with XU community’s Cautious Return. By extending regular semesters to summer, in a post-COVID situation, it may still be possible for students to graduate on time. The University President assures that the preparations for the Cautious Return are sure to minimize major adjustments to achieve a seamless shift from virtual to face-to-face learning.

Additionally, Tan mentions that, for courses requiring on-site studies, XU plans to subject students to COVID testing and will need them to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) then isolate them in case of infection. He adds, “Our students will physically return to campus if and only if all the government authorities will allow it. At this point, most likely, the government will not allow the physical return of students to campus unless they all get vaccinated against the COVID virus. Even with vaccination, XU will continue to take precautionary measures for some time to ensure the safety of everyone on campus.”

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In the current situation, it is still difficult to make out what the future holds. With the stringent regulations and protocols to follow, we might as well expect that these restrictions will last for quite a while unless medical revolutions are born just in time for the next academic year. We might still have to send invite links rather than invite outs, and screenshots instead of photo-ops. In time, we will be standing less than a meter away from the friends we made in the stress-driven classrooms that we haven’t been to for six months. Let us always strive for excellence and stand out, as Tan advises us to realize that in this difficult time, intelligence and talent are not enough. “You have to recognize and develop your grit that is in you from both nature and nurture. Grit is passion and perseverance to succeed amidst hardships in life. It is about staying the course at all costs to achieve a meaningful goal. It is about Ignatian Magis; it is about experiencing excellence in Xavier Ateneo!”C

Alyssa Chantal Moreno

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