Looking back, the chaos of this past spring semester has been impactful. COVID-19 relentlessly slithered its way into everyone’s personal, professional, and academic lives. As Governor Tom Wolf recently announced, Philadelphia county will begin to phase out of stay-at-home status and shift from the red to yellow phase on June 5th. With the storm of finals finally over and grades posted, I am beginning to reflect on how hard it was to be a stay-at-home parent and a full-time student in quarantine.
My last normal commute home with my twin toddlers seems like a decade’s worth of hops, skips, and jumps ago. As the world began to shut down like a science-fiction thriller, I, like most parents, found myself participating in Zoom sessions while simultaneously conducting homeschooling sessions for my little ones, serving up breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack after snack. At least once a day, sometimes moments after settling a tantrum, I had to engage with my classmates and coursework.
At the top of every student's list this past semester was performance and grades. Extracurriculars, of course, held their weight as well. As Penn students, we are all involved in activities that deeply matter to us. Those commitments did not halt because the pandemic began. As a member of the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education, I found comfort in everyone’s outstanding dedication to the work we do. Every day, through shocking news alerts, heavy assignments, and family matters, the mission to improve the Penn undergraduate educational experience stayed the same.
As I reflect on the many things that occurred since everyone happily left campus for spring break, it is clear that every parent in the Penn community deserves a special round of applause. From undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoc’s to professors, everyone that juggled taking care of their family and fulfilling their strong commitment to Penn became a superhero in their own right last semester. These tasks are hard work. Prioritizing school and work can be complex when you can depend on childcare. When that resource is completely taken away from an entire community, a successful outcome within that very community is magnificent.
Before spring break, I enjoyed attending my writing seminar in person. The class was small and intimate. Everyone could reveal their personalities. In this class, I met Beckie Knight, a junior studying Health and Societies. We clicked instantly, and we both understood the reality of being busy Penn students with children. She has two teenagers, and just a few weeks into the semester, Beckie shared that she was expecting a baby in the fall. As a full-time employee at a local hospital, Beckie became an essential part of the prescription needed to combat COVID-19 a few months ago.
I got the chance to catch up with her for a few minutes recently. We both agreed that the anxiety to submit assignments still lingers. Beckie mentioned to me that the weight of last semester made her very aware of how, as a parent, student, and employee, she is expected “to give 100% of myself to three different things” while they “all require and deserve my best.”
Throughout the semester, I was moved by my professors and TAs. They all stepped up in order to to position everyone to excel as much as possible under the unprecedented circumstances. One of my professors made class meeting accommodations for a student who was thousands of miles away and 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in South Korea. We all committed to waking up early to replace our normal 2:00 PM class meeting. In another of my classes, Dr. Cheikh Babou visited each recitation section weekly to answer questions and calm our fears about our work and the final exam. These professors juggled parenthood and managed to provide each of their classes with excellent academic experiences.
Across Penn’s student and faculty bodies, parents really stepped up to face the many challenges that were abruptly put before us this past semester, and I am proud to clap my hands loudly for that.
JESSICA GOODING is a rising College senior from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania studying History and English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.