With the start of a new school year many students and parents are thinking about their next steps. What will this semester look like? What are the risks? Will we be back on campus? And, if so, how will we socialize and connect in this age of social distancing?
We sat down with Lisa Bodziner, Executive Director at Towson University Hillel to talk about how Hillel has been adapting to the pandemic and what plans they have for the future.
What has been the biggest change you’ve seen since the stay-at-home orders?
I’m saying this in the most genuine way, but it’s weird how much stayed the same. Our team moved into virtual meetings quickly. Almost every program, like our one-on-ones sessions with students, Shabbat, and others, we maintained virtually. The one change I can say I did see was an increase in participation and attendance. Staff members, family and friends from all over could join and in some cases, students who may have been too shy before started participating.
Although we miss seeing our students hanging out in our lounge. We added a virtual lounge. We miss being able to give our students high fives.
What has been students’ feedback?
Honestly the students have been a major influence on some of our virtual programs. We weren’t sure if we should do the virtual lounge and they said, ‘please do it, we want to see everyone and eat our lunch together.’ They helped encourage us to maintain our programming through the summer, even on Shabbat. It’s so nice to see a familiar face or to come together in a song. I think there’s a piece of warmth and spirituality when a community comes together like that.
Obviously the fall semester is a big concern for many. What do Hillels have planned?
To be honest, we don’t know what things are going to look like come the fall. But I think the biggest hardship will be for our incoming freshmen. What does moving-in look like when you don’t get to do that? What does welcome week look like? Orientation? What does that experience look like if it’s not in person?
We don’t have details yet but we will be wearing masks, rotating staff if we return to our lounge and other practices that comply with social distancing protocol. Maryland Schools are working with several different scenarios of hybrid models so we will know more as things progress.
Is there anything going on right now that you’d like to share?
We are going to hold meet and greets for incoming freshmen, transfer students and parents this summer and fall. Details can be found on our calendar with our first event for students beginning in June. We’re hoping to launch “hang out parties” where students can get together who maybe haven’t met before. It’s difficult because you read how people are tiring of Zoom, but at the same time personal connections are critical right now.
Is there any advice you would give to students or parents?
I think the beauty of Hillel professionals, which I experienced as a student almost 20 years ago, is that we are your parent, but not your parent. We’re your aunt and uncle but not your aunt or unlces. We’re your best friend but with boundaries.
We are that listening ear, that guide and a troubleshooter – someone to brainstorm with or help navigate a hard day at school. And even though we are in unprecedented times – that fact has not changed.
My advice would be to take advantage of that. We are eternally here for our students – please reach out.
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