The year 2020 brought an unprecedented crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic, and just like colleges across the nation, Florida Career College was forced to respond quickly to protect the health, safety and well-being of its students and employees. At the onset of the pandemic, FCC closed all campuses for in-person instruction while leaders evaluated how to navigate the challenges of this new reality. The response was immediate and remarkable.
“FCC is known for our hands-on approach to learning, so this was a disruption like no other,” said Dr. Fardad Fateri, President and CEO. “The pandemic changed the way we all work, live and learn. But I am very proud of how the FCC family came together to respond in the best interests of our students, faculty and staff. It was a demonstration of poise, professionalism and sheer determination. I could not be more proud of the commitment of time and effort by our campus colleagues.”
As it became clear that reopening under normal operations would not be possible, the dedicated team of leaders at FCC devised a plan for students to continue their education while also providing the training they need to continue their momentum towards graduation. A major component of that plan was the launch of a new distance-learning portal, which allowed students to continue progress by attending classes online. Faculty and staff also worked to keep students engaged with messages on various social media platforms.
“We are training essential workers at FCC, particularly in our allied health programs, and we knew that we had to figure out a way for their safe return as quickly as possible because essential workers are needed in the community now more than ever before,” Dr. Fateri said.
“I cannot begin to express how proud I am of our students. Going to school is hard work. Doing it during a pandemic with so many considerations in many of their home lives, with children, lack of daycare, school closures and having to serve in so many roles… what can I say, they are resilient,” said Michael Cole, FCC Regional Vice President for South Florida.
Distance learning was a sensible short-term solution for students in the didactic portion of their learning while FCC implemented new procedures that would allow students to safely return to campus for their labs and practical learning.
“Working to ensure our students have the same experiences and opportunities during the pandemic has been challenging, but our instructors and campus colleagues identified creative ways to preserve that in spite of the pandemic. We consulted with public health experts and a variety of governing agencies to deploy a reopening plan, which drew upon the advice of medical and public health experts,” Dr. Fateri said. “Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our students and colleagues.”
The answer was a new distance learning model of instruction at FCC, using the combination of distance learning and limiting time on campus to small groups of students for labs with a full range of protective measures in place. Modified operations now include COVID-19 protocols such as the mandated wearing of masks, temperature checks upon entry, social distancing, hand sanitation stations, a staggered schedule limiting the number of students on campus at one time, and protective personal equipment (PPE). Labs and classrooms being cleaned and sanitized after each class.
Most Florida Career College programs involve an externship experience and many of those were impacted by the pandemic as well. Joan Yourstone, Vice President of Career Services said that the Career Services team worked tirelessly to assist students who were impacted.
“We increased our employer outreach to find extern or employment opportunities for our students, specifically as counties and states started reopening in June,” she said. “Career Services teams also spent a lot of time coaching students that they could participate in externship and work in their field of study and do it SAFELY! We coached them to not let the pandemic sideline their goals, motivated them, and thanked them many times for being on the front lines and working so hard in their communities.”
One of the positive outcomes of the FCC response to the pandemic has been the development and deployment of the Student Online Academic Room (SOAR). Building on the model originally deployed during the onset of the pandemic, SOAR will bring a permanent distance learning platform to FCC. It is the result of a collaboration across almost every department at FCC.
“One thing that our response to the pandemic has taught us is that students utilized online learning and showed us that it can be a very engaging way for their didactic work. The new SOAR Online Learning Platform allows our instructors to focus on student progress and academic success,” said Michelle Reed-Zagorski, LMS Administrator. “The Education Department’s Curriculum team, comprised of subject matter experts, worked tirelessly to develop high-quality courses so that our students wouldn’t miss a step in their ultimate goals of graduation and placement.”
Students complete the didactic portion of their programs in SOAR while also completing their “hands-on” lab skills on campus. The new SOAR online learning platform includes live chats and real-time lectures, skill procedure videos, reading assignments, homework tasks, quizzes and exams.
In addition, the SOAR Support Team was created to provide ongoing assistance for our instructors and students. Any student with a question or who might need assistance can contact the SOAR Support Team via phone or email. The SOAR platform is in final development will be deployed across all FCC campuses and programs by the end of the year, pending regulatory and accreditor approval.
“This is an exciting time in FCC’s history and together we look forward to a bright future,” Michelle said.