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Lessons learned from a pandemic school year

A note from us

Welcome to the latest edition of Awake58! If you received this email without a subscription, please click here to subscribe to this newsletter.

A look back — and ahead — as the 2020-2021 school year draws to a close in a special report from EdNC… We spent a day with Blue Ridge Community College… How did four community colleges across NC avoid enrollment declines?… In case you missed it, Apple is bringing a new campus to the Triangle… 

We do not have to tell you the 2020-2021 school year has been complex, challenging, difficult, or surprising. It has been a year of grieving the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died of COVID-19. It has been a year of grieving the loss of our normal life — holidays, travel, and even hugging one another.

If you are like me, you would love to never hear the phrase “an unprecedented year” or “a year like any other” again.

Yet as the school year draws to a close, we thought it was important to evaluate the lessons from the past year and catch up with education leaders across the state about the plans they have made for the fall. We will have in-depth content publishing each day, including guest perspectives, so check out each morning for more. You may follow the special report throughout the week by clicking here.

Our special report kicked off with a look at the thoughts and experiences 1,400-plus North Carolinians shared with us. My colleague Molly Osborne provides her analysis in this piece.

Enrollment declines during the pandemic have been one of the dominant stories for community colleges both in this state and across the country. We have a piece out taking a look at three community colleges in our state who bucked the trend. How did Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, Isothermal Community College, and Davidson-Davie Community College manage to do this? Check out Robert Kinlaw’s reporting to learn more.

My colleague Mebane Rash recently spent a day at Blue Ridge Community College with president Laura Leatherwood, faculty, and staff to see how Blue Ridge serves their community. Spend a day at Blue Ridge by clicking here.

Last week I traveled to Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) along with colleagues from CREED NC, myFutureNC, and the James B. Hunt Institute. We had the opportunity to meet with Chancellor Elwood Robinson, the WSSU leadership team, and a number of students as we explored campus. Chancellor Robinson walked us through the role WSSU plays in their community, their partnership with Forsyth Tech Community College, and the opportunities ahead for the institution. We will have more content around Winston-Salem State University soon. In the meantime, you should take a few minutes to watch Chancellor Robinson’s TED Talk on the role and importance of HBCUs.

We will also be out on the road all week long. Molly will be at Edgecombe and Nash Community Colleges on Wednesday and Wilson Community College on Thursday. Follow her on Twitter for more! Mebane will be traveling throughout the western part of the state — including a visit to Haywood Community College on Wednesday. She will also be tweeting, so follow along on Twitter. Mebane and I will both be at Mayland Community College on Thursday as well.

We’d love to hear how your school year has gone. Respond directly to this email or by texting COLLEGE to 73224 to share your experiences.

See you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth –

EdNC reads

Your look ahead to 2021-22

Educators, parents, and students have had to reimagine almost every facet of learning in the past year. From early childhood to community college, the COVID-19 pandemic changed school as we knew it.

As the 2020-2021 school year wraps up, EdNC reflects on how the pandemic has shaped education and what that means for the future in this special report.

We asked you how your year has gone, what’s worked well, and what hasn’t worked well. Over 1,400 educators, parents, and students responded, sharing with us their triumphs and struggles this year.

We spoke to early childhood educators and advocates; K-12 teachers, principals, superintendents, and nutrition directors; community college faculty, staff, and presidents; and state and national education leaders to understand how their lives have changed and what they see ahead.

Please follow along with the special report all week by clicking below.

Our special report

Blue Ridge Community College strives to elevate education: ‘Connecting people with their dream job’

Mebane Rash recently spent a day at Blue Ridge Community College. Blue Ridge CC serves Henderson and Transylvania counties — and it strives to be well positioned as “our community’s college,” according to president Laura Leatherwood.

Mebane dug in on their “One Stop” approach:

Community colleges are known for their open door policy: any student can enroll. But Kirsten Bunch, vice president of student services at Blue Ridge, said it is important for the front door of the community college to be just as well known.

At this community college, potential students don’t hear “you are in the wrong place” and they aren’t sent searching for the right place. When students walk in the front door of Blue Ridge, no matter what they need, the “One Stop” is the right place.

Check out Mebane’s story to watch Kirsten Bunch, vice president of student services at Blue Ridge, explain why this approach matters for the college.

The rest of her story explores their welding program (including two welding students who met, fell in love, and ended up getting engaged), their embrace of lightboard technology, a 1970 American Motors Corporation Javelin SST, and, yes, even beer.

Read the full story by clicking below.

How does BRCC serve their community?

These community colleges maintained enrollment during COVID-19. How did they do it?

EdNC’s Robert Kinlaw examines the enrollment issue through the following prism:

Enrollment in our state’s community colleges fell 11% from fall 2019 to fall 2020. Every college experienced a net decline in enrollment during this time, except four: Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, Isothermal Community College, Davidson-Davie Community College, and James Sprunt Community College. What helped them buck the trend?

Read his piece for lessons from three of the colleges, but a few key takeaways:

  • In-person learning is critical
  • Keep up with dual-enrollment students
  • Wraparound support from a distance

For other lessons from the colleges, click here.

Lessons learned from a pandemic school year

We asked you to share your experiences from the past school year with us in a recent survey – and more than 1,400 of you responded. Respondents shared their frustrations with asynchronous learning, their optimism about the ways the pandemic ushered in positive changes for the educational continuum, their hope that students gained new skills while grappling with all of the difficulties, and more.

Molly does a great job analyzing the results in her just published piece: Lessons learned from a pandemic school year.

Spend time with her piece today to see how the results break down by sector (hint: community college folks were more likely to believe the year went well than K-12 educators), the issues that you all raised, and the experiences people shared.

We also asked a key question: Are you hoping for a return to pre-COVID education as it was or are you hoping for something different?

Click the button below to see how 1,400+ North Carolinians answered the question — and then reply directly to this email with your own thoughts.

Survey results

Around NC

Federal funding from the American Rescue Plan will flow into county governments, who will be able make a range of investments. Check out this fact page for more.

Craven Community College is launching a new re-entry program in partnership with the Craven-Pamlico Re-entry Council. Craven CC will also offer two new teacher prep programs this fall.

Durham Tech and KBI BioPharma announced a new partnership last week. From the release: “The apprenticeship program aims to close the skill gap in the life sciences industry by offering on-the-job training at KBI Biopharma and related instruction at Durham Tech.” This partnership will tie in to the ApprenticeshipNC effort.

Gaston College announced a new director for their Textile Technology Center. The Textile Technology Center has worked to broaden their regional work in partnership with Catawba Valley Community College and others. Gaston College’s Apprenticeship 321 program was recognized at the recent ApprenticeshipNC convening.

Haywood Community College president Shelley White presented on their budget request recently. We continue to monitor county-by-county funding for community colleges. If you have thoughts, email us.

James Sprunt Community College’s barber college is expanding their course offerings due to rising demand, according to local press reports.

Martin Community College’s equine training program is featured in The East’s Daily Download Farm Report.

Pitt Community College announced a full return to on-campus operations and activities this fall.

John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College, penned an op-ed highlighting “the many and the few” who he credits with a number of milestones at the college, including a new nursing building on which they broke ground recently.

Apple’s announcement of a new Research Triangle-based campus generated headlines across the country. Wake Tech president Scott Ralls told local media the college will tweak their IT curriculum to meet Apple’s needs and requirements. The Triad Biz Journal also posted a look at how Apple might impact education across the state.


Other higher education reads

Aging campuses? Lawmakers want to help modernize historically Black colleges, universities

The News & Observer has a piece up looking at a recently filed piece of legislation that would direct federal dollars to the 100-plus historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country. Per the article, “The legislation would also help those colleges preserve buildings of historical significance, address safety hazards and provide high-speed internet on campus. It would also improve virtual teaching and learning, and provide health and community services such as coronavirus vaccinations.”

Mapping out a ‘Credential As You Go’ movement for higher education

EdSurge takes a look at ‘Credential As You Go’ efforts:

A new initiative called “Credential As You Go” aims to shift this status quo by making it easier for students and workers to earn recognition for their learning—in increments smaller than the colossal college degree… Its goals include creating a national credentialing system designed around what the journey through higher education and job training actually looks like for many people: intermittent, nonlinear and unpredictable.

Check out their piece for more on this new initiative.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.