Masks on, North Fork students head off to college

Lydia Kessel chuckled at the thought. What will attending college will be like this year? The answer to that, she indicated, depended on the day.

“Things keep changing,” said Ms. Kessel, 20, of Wading River, a junior at the University of Vermont. “I might say something today and the school could turn around tomorrow and say, ‘No, we’re doing this.’ ”

Welcome to college education, the 2020 edition, where daily updates are the norm and continual change is the name of the game.

“I want what every other kid my age wants. I want to go to school and have the college experience and learn and, you know, move on with my life like every other person does.”


Returning college students are coming off what may be the craziest spring they have ever experienced. Many of them left campus for spring break and haven’t returned since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and forced them to take classes virtually.

Whereas that may have been unforeseen, at least now college students have a rough idea of what they’re dealing with as they prepare to return to campuses in the coming weeks. Along with laptops, pens and notebooks, they’re also packing items they might not have given much thought to in previous years — like face masks, hand sanitizers and disinfectants.

Colleges have developed reopening plans — health and safety measures included — offering a mix of in-person, remote and hybrid learning modes. Some colleges are requiring students to quarantine.

Stony Brook University anticipates having an app for student screening in addition to vending machines with cloth face masks. Farmingdale State College said it will offer free COVID-19 testing for students beginning Aug. 24 until further notice. St. Joseph’s College, which has a campus in Pat-ch-ogue, will have health screenings for students, staff, faculty and visitors. Their temperatures will be checked by contactless infrared thermometer as they enter campus, and anyone with a temperature over 100.4 degrees will not be allowed to enter any college building. Suffolk County Community College, which has a campus in Riverhead, said 88% of the 3,400 sections it is offering in the fall will be remote, with no need for students to visit any campus.

“You’re just like scared and really don’t know what’s going on,” Ashley Burns, 19, of Cutchogue said in a phone interview from an off-campus house she is sharing with teammates on her women’s lacrosse team right near their school, The College of Saint Rose in Albany. “We were all so prepared to do everything in person and now everything’s mostly online, and it’s just like, how am I going to adapt to that?”

Her brother, Willie Burns, 18, a sophomore at SUNY/Morrisville, was wondering the same thing. Mr. Burns, who moved into an off-campus apartment on Saturday, said online classes can be tough for an automotive management major like himself “because I don’t get that hands-on experience.”

As difficult as preparing for college can be, it can be even tougher for incoming freshmen, who have a lot of change being thrown at them.

“My biggest worry is going [to the campus] and coming back a couple of weeks after” because school is closed, said William Burkowsky, 18, of Aquebogue, who will spend his first year of college at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “… I want what every other kid my age wants. I want to go to school and have the college experience and learn and, you know, move on with my life like every other person does. It just feels like it’s never-ending.”

Mr. Burkowsky, a biological sciences major, said most of his classes will be online, and that’s a concern for him. “I’m strictly a visual learner,” he said. “It’s very tough for me to learn by just listening and by reading on my laptop.”

Ms. Kessel said she will drive to Burlington, Vt., on Aug. 24, bringing a school-ordered saliva test with her. It’s her understanding that she will need to quarantine for seven days and require a negative COVID-19 test before being allowed on campus.

A goalkeeper for the Vermont women’s soccer team, which had its fall season postponed, Ms. Kessel said she has a lot of stuff in her locker that she left behind during the spring break. Because all of her classes, except for one hybrid class, will be online, she said, she will bring comfortable clothes and keep in mind that her off-campus room will essentially double as her office.

“It was a really weird spring,” she said. “I’m just happy that I get to go back this fall, even if it’s different. I get to see some of my friends I haven’t seen since March.”

Ms. Burns said: “Everyone has to adapt to something. I’m just really nervous that this is going to last a long time.”