Monticello students return to college during COVID-19

Brody Brokaw is starting his sophomore year at Coe College. It’s a tradition to ring the bell at the start of one’s freshman year and again after graduation. Brokaw said he feels safe returning to campus in the midst of a pandemic. (Photo submitted)

Sydney Ballou is a recent graduate of MHS with the Class of 2020. Last week, Ballou moved into the dorms at ISU to start her freshman year of college. She’ll be taking a hybrid of in-person and online classes. (Photo submitted)

Lauren Ries will be starting her junior year at UI in Iowa City. Earlier this summer Ries contracted COVID-19, and quarantined at home in Monticello. She spent her summers working at UIHC, and feels ready to get back to school. (Express file photo)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     College students across the country are preparing to return to college, in various forms, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Monticello-based college students are no different as they venture off to face college for the first time or return to dorm life, academics, and sports.

     Sydney Ballou is a recent Class of 2020 graduate of Monticello High School. Just last week she moved into the dorms for the first time at Iowa State University as a freshman. Classes begin Aug. 17.

     “I’m living in a suite-style dorm with my roommate and two other girls in the connecting room,” explained Ballou.

     ISU is offering various methods of academic learning this fall semester: in-person, hybrid, and online. The delivery method is up to the professors’ preferences.

     “Most of my classes will be in-person,” shared Ballou. “As of now I only have one class online, luckily.”

     Since March when schools closed down for the remainder of the school year, Ballou quarantined at home with her family. Once things started opening up again over the summer, she got a job at the Monticello Aquatic Center as a lifeguard and water safety instructor (WSI).

     “I have been teaching private swimming lessons all summer since group lessons were cancelled because of COVID-19,” she said.

     Ballou has also been preparing for her first year in college and spending time with high school friends before everyone went their separate ways.

     Ballou said heading off to college feels like a sense of normalcy, noting everything the Class of 2020 has gone through this year. College was something she was looking forward to for sure.

     “I feel like we are all apprehensive to go back to school,” she said.

     When asked as to whether she was nervous being around so many people on campus and in the classrooms, Ballou offered, “As long as the students and faculty are being smart about their actions, it does help relieve some of the worry.

     “It is comforting because ISU does and will be taking a lot of precautions during the pandemic.”

     Those precautions include mandating masks in all common areas on campus (dorms and dining halls), limiting class sizes, and changing locations of some classes to bigger occupancy areas to allow students to spread out.

     “They also have a mandatory COVID testing before each student moves in,” added Ballou.

     No one knows whether the pandemic will get worse or better, and Ballou said that leaves so many unknowns as she begins her college career.

     “If it gets worse then classes will most likely be moved online, which means students will not want to pay high tuition rates for just online classes,” she said.

     She said there will also be restrictions placed on “normal college activities.”

     Ballou said she’s been looking forward to attending ISU since she could remember. It was the academic curriculum, beauty, and campus homey feeling that attracted her.

     “Hopefully COVID rates go down and they can find some sort of vaccine for the people in need,” Ballou said wishfully.

     The 2019 Great Jones County Fair Queen, Lauren Ries, will start classes on Aug. 24 at the University of Iowa. This will be her junior year in college.

     “I’ve recently been accepted into the College of Nursing,” shared Ries. “I plan to graduate from the nursing school in December 2022.”

     Working at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Ries remained in Iowa City after in-person classes were cancelled in March. She continued working throughout the pandemic.

     Aside from working at UIHC, Ries also works at a nursing home. She spent some time over the summer with friends and family, returning home to Monticello a few times, and playing some golf.

     On July 1, though, Ries tested positive for COVID-19 after experiencing typical virus symptoms: fever, sore throat, body/muscle aches, headache, and some GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms.

     “Most of these went away after a day or two,” she said, “besides the headaches which lasted three or four days.”

     Ries realized she might have the virus after a friend she was around days earlier shared that she tested positive.

     “That next day I got tested and I received my results on the same day,” she said.

     Ries quarantined at home here in Monticello, allowing her roommates to remain in their apartment.

     “I spent the next 10 days in my basement and was lucky enough to receive home-cooked meals from my mom, which she would set on the stairs for me. I had telehealth and video appointments about every other day with the hospital and Johnson County Public Health; they made sure I was doing OK and told me what to do if my symptoms got worse.”

     Ries said her symptoms were pretty mild compared to others, and feel very fortunate.

     “I encourage everyone to wear a mask and do their part in stopping the virus,” she urged.

     Living off-campus with four others, Ries doesn’t have the anxiety of moving into college dorms.

     UI is offering both in-person and online classes, depending on class size.

     “I feel pretty comfortable returning to college during the pandemic because of all the University has done to prepare,” she said. “I am nervous about what the social life might be like and whether or not students will protect themselves and others off-campus.”

     Facemasks at UI will be required in all campus buildings. Ries said the college is providing students will protective equipment kits that contain various forms of face coverings and hand sanitizer.

     The dining halls will be closed for dine-in. She said the school also changed the ventilation and filtration systems in the buildings.

     “The college is prepared to test any symptomatic and asymptomatic students with a known exposure to COVID-19,” Ries said.

     Like most colleges, some students will choose to stay home and complete classes online. Ries said this will make for a quieter campus this fall.

     “It will be a strange year, especially for freshmen living in the dorms. I hope they are able to get the best experience possible.”

     Brody Brokaw will soon return to Coe College for his sophomore year, double majoring in kinesiology and business administration.

     Brokaw left Coe in mid-March when the state basically shut down. At that time, all of Coe’s classes went online until the end of the semester in May. At that time, Brokaw returned home to Monticello. Throughout his summer, he stayed busy working, reading, and helping his grandparents with miscellaneous chores.

     Coe starts classes up again on Aug. 13, and Brokaw will be in the dorms with his fraternity brothers.

     “I personally think it is a great thing that we are returning,” shared Brokaw. “As CDC Director Robert Redfield has said, suicide rates and drug overdoses in my age group have increased since quarantine, so it is very important that the 7.1 million people who normally use mental health services through schools regain access to those resources.”

     Brokaw said returning to campus does not worry him thanks to increased testing and the precautions Coe is requiring such as facemasks and social distancing.

     In terms of the class structure at Coe due to COVID, classes will be online and in-person, though Brokaw said all classes are solely moving online.

     In comparing his first year of college to now, he said things will definitely be different.

     “Everyone will be making decisions with a lot more caution,” he said. “Obviously large gatherings like sports, concerts, and parties will be nearly non-existent. Even if these events happen, with all of these precautions, it will not have the same ‘carefree’ feeling that usually exists in those atmospheres.”

     As a last bit of advice, Brokaw wished all college students good luck as they move in or return to their various campuses. “Stay safe,” he said.


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