Paul Smith’s has campuswide testing and no COVID so far

PAUL SMITHS — Three weeks ago, Paul Smith’s College tested nearly all of its students and staff for COVID-19, and the results show no positive tests so far, according to college officials. Now they hope to keep the hands-on-centric college open for the rest of the semester.

“We might be able to pull this off,” Chief Marketing Officer Shannon Oborne said.

By the second week of classes, 97% of students and 98% of employees had been tested for the coronavirus at a station Adirondack Health set up on campus. Oborne said fewer than 10 individuals had not yet been tested as of Monday, Sept. 7.

The college has 667 undergraduate students this semester, and 13 enrolled in its new master’s degree program. That’s an 8% drop from 725 a year ago, continuing a decline from 1,000 around a decade ago.

Students say they hope to stay in the classroom and out in the field this semester, which means keeping the virus out of the campus.

The college will conduct weekly random testing of 10 students and employees, according to Oborne.

Oborne also said the college has not suspended any students for breaking the code of conduct they signed at the beginning of the semester. She said fewer than five violations have been issued, and that the college has broken up a handful of gatherings with little resistance.

“There is a strong sense of community and wanting to protect one another,” Oborne wrote in an email. “I’m not aware of any instances where people were belligerent; they were just being social and needed a reminder of the new rules.”

Professor Curt Stager said the college is known best for its experiential learning, and that students and staff want to capitalize on that. Oborne said this relies on cooperation from the entire campus.

“I think we really do have an opportunity by the end of this semester to be seen as a college that did it right and figured it out, nationwide,” said Joe Conto, the department chair of business and hospitality. “Now if that doesn’t work out, it was just a prediction.”

Social studies

Students are in “family units” with their roommates. Family units do not need to wear masks or distance themselves around each other. Brianna Snyder, an environmental science major in her senior year, said many of them have chosen friends and classmates to room with so they can enjoy more time together.

Senior Jake Harvey, a fisheries and wildlife major, said students are trying to keep from congregating too much but that they still are trying to have a normal college experience, which is often social.

“You don’t want to be insensitive to other people, but at some point, you got to start living life,” Harvey said. “It’s a rock and a hard place for sure.”

Oborne said students have been seeing the outbreaks at other colleges and the shutdowns that follow, saying they do not want that to happen here but that they still want to have fun.

“It’s hard when you’re that age and you want to hang out with your friends,” Oborne said. “Totally understandable, so it’s just a matter of self-discipline and using good judgment to get through this.”

Snyder, said campus events such as laser tag and painting sessions are still being put on, but with a 50-person cap and altered ways of running them.

She is a peer leader and said the freshmen she talks to says socializing is more difficult due to coronavirus changes.

“A lot of the freshmen are saying it’s hard to make new friends with the mask on,” Snyder said.

Freshman Bridget Fajean, however, said her friend group was quickly forming through social media and mutual friends. Because of this, she said, she has not been as homesick as she thought she would be.

Walk this way

Students and staff said they mostly see people complying with the rules.

“The arrows are the hardest part, for sure,” Harvey said. “And the masks, I mean, I’m used to that at this point, I guess.”

Each building has arrows in the halls, directing traffic in one-way directions. Harvey said at some point almost everyone has walked the wrong way by accident.

“You feel bad doing it,” Harvey said.

The arrows have made navigating buildings more difficult, he said, saying that to follow the rules would sometimes mean walking downstairs, outside and back upstairs to get to a room next door.

“Sometimes you walk out of a room, the arrow’s this way,” Harvey said, pointing to his left. “The bathroom’s this way,” he pointed to the right. “What do you do? You look both ways and go the other way.”

Harvey and Snyder said this is going to be harder in the winter. They said students used to walk through the buildings to get across campus in the cold, icy months.

Altered education

For students learning remotely, there are synchronous and asynchronous options for class. Synchronous attendance — calling in live via Zoom — is encouraged.

All classes are recorded now, and students can review the sessions, even if they attended in person.

Professor Lee Ann Sporn said one of her students requested the recording, telling her that it would help to listen to the lesson again.

“I would do it before an exam,” Snyder said.

Not everyone is taking to the new rules as well, though.

“Can I walk in (to the culinary kitchen) and ask for tastes like I used to?” Conto said. “No. OK. Is that what you wanted to hear?”