WATERTOWN — Midday Monday, with the sun shining down on the campus, Jefferson Community College students returning for the first day of fall semester, as well as those coming to campus for the first time, sat outside between classes enjoying the weather or caught up with friends in the Jules Center.

Inside the center, Kelsey P. Case sits at her Information Station ready to help her fellow students find their classes or certain college offices. Though she didn’t have any classes Monday, the second-year education student started working in June as a PAL Student Leader, so she spent her day directing those in need of assistance.

“I love seeing everyone around and going back to school,” she said. “I think it’s great for everybody to be able to interact with people again, go see teachers again. In person, I feel like a lot of people focus more. Obviously masks aren’t ideal, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

At JCC, students, staff and visitors are to mask up inside, so Ms. Case also had a box of college-branded black masks ready to go out to students who may have forgotten theirs.

As part of the SUNY system, JCC students must be fully vaccinated and show the college proof by Sept. 27 in order to attend classes in person or use any campus facilities.

According to college president Ty A. Stone, once the SUNY vaccine mandate came, JCC had to get in gear pretty quickly to make sure that it got the information out to students and set up vaccine clinics on campus so the students can be vaccinated if they haven’t been yet. Clinics will take place each day this week to aid the effort.

Along with an on-campus clinic Monday, there will also be on-campus vaccine clinics Tuesday and Thursday this week for students, as well as off-campus vaccination clinics Wednesday and Friday at Kinney Drugs down the street from the college and Jefferson County Public Health, respectively. Although there has not been a vaccine mandate for faculty and staff, about 95% of full-time faculty and staff are already vaccinated, Ms. Stone said.

As Ms. Stone explained it, some students are fully in-person this semester, some remain remote, and some are utilizing a hybrid approach with a mix of online and in-person instruction. She said her hope for this school year is that the college can get to a place to continue to have students on campus, invite more students to campus, and make sure that everyone is kept safe and healthy.

Sophomore transfer student Zoey I. Obert came to JCC from St. John Fisher in Rochester and said the transition from being fully in person at her old school to being in person here has been an easy one. Studying physical sciences, she wants to go into conservation and biology. Preferring in-person learning to online, she said it’s more of a personalized learning experience in which students get a better relationship with their professors and feel more of a connection than they would over Zoom.

First-year human services student Samara J. Buffardi is happy to be back to learning in person.

“Online learning was insanely hard,” she said. “Being in person is nice. You get to see people and not be stuck at home. I am a procrastinator 110 percent, and when I’m in person it just is easier, it gives me structure.”

The graduate of Indian River High School said she hopes to become a social worker for children in foster care.

Utilizing early admittance, freshman Sam H. Hogan said he is not really a high school student anymore due to all of his classes being at JCC and covering any high school credit he needs.

“It’s nice to be able to see all my teachers face-to-face to be able to get all my work like that because now I don’t have to worry about checking 10 different apps and websites to try and find all my work,” he said. “Besides being able to come in and get help on stuff, it’s nice not having to rely on a teacher checking their email, I can just go and see them face-to-face, or I can go and see IT help face-to-face and not have to get it online.”

Eventually, the Belleville Henderson student wants to go into the nursing program and then move on to medical school.

Welcoming students back and easing them into the year, the college has organized various events and surprises for the coming weeks, including welcoming guest speaker Travis Mills for a Never Quit, Never Give Up presentation Thursday, hosting Fall Fest on Friday, organizing a student boat cruise for Sunday, and having the band Resilient play on Sept. 18. The college also gave out breakfast items, including juice and coffee, on Monday, and will continue to provide edible surprises through the week.

According to Corey A. Campbell, vice president for student engagement and retention, the college promotes social distancing when possible, and when hosting events, any food will be pre-packaged to avoid cross contamination.

“It’s great to see students around and interacting with them face-to-face, so hopefully we can continue to keep the campus safe,” Mr. Campbell said. “We did a very good job of that last year and our goal is to do those same thing this year. We want the students to be successful inside and outside of the classroom and we’re gonna do everything we can to help them achieve that success.”

Weekly on-campus testing will continue at the college on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students who may have an exemption to getting the vaccination are required to test weekly, while other students who are fully vaccinated still have the option to test weekly. Employees also have the option to test weekly.

Mr. Campbell noted that the college’s facility team has done an excellent job of keeping the campus clean, and employees as well as students are doing a great job of following all of the guidelines in place to ensure that the campus is safe and can continue to operate.

“I’m looking from my office over at the residence hall and there’s cars parked in the parking lot, that’s something that we hadn’t seen for a while; I think we have about 165 students who are residing on campus,” Ms. Stone said. “That’s exciting and just being together ourselves, we missed each other. We are a people organization, we love being together so this opportunity for us to all be together on campus for the first time in over 18 months, I am so grateful that we are back.”

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