It is a year full of firsts in post-secondary education.

For many universities, it is the first time that dining halls have been empty. It is the first time students find themselves unable to mingle in large groups. It is the first time (most of) an entire population covers their face with a cloth. It is the first time many colleges shift to online, video-chat courses.

With these firsts comes the upending of the educational system as students came to know it. The structures that students often relied on have changed, and the services provided by Mansfield Hall have shifted to support students in their new environment. 

While Mansfield Hall has adapted to address the challenges of a new educational landscape, in many ways this year is a continuation of the previous support provided to students. Individualized educational support is at the core of the Mansfield Hall philosophy, and there has never been more of a need for educational support than now. Because every student responds to the challenges of remote learning and social distancing in their own way, Mansfield Hall’s staff have continued to work with each student on an individual basis to develop individualized educational strategies.

Academically, Mansfield Hall is able to work in conjunction with school disability offices to support students in accessing traditional accommodations. Students can watch recorded lectures at their own time in an environment that suits their needs. Though some supports, such as peer notes, have been more difficult to access, academic coaches have worked with students to develop social networks within virtual classes in order to continue to receive that accommodation. 

Though academics look different, perhaps the greatest change to campuses is the new social landscape. Because Mansfield Hall defines a successful college experience as one that effectively balances academic skills with independent living and social skills, much work is put into supporting students socially. 

Anticipating a mostly-remote fall semester, three social behavior specialists affiliated with Mansfield Hall led a remote course on virtual social opportunities over the summer. The course focused on how students can engage in micro-social opportunities in a world of distancing and masks. 

Once students arrived on campus, they formed pods in which they could enjoy face-to-face social interaction. When interacting across pods, students wear masks and distance. This structure has allowed students to enjoy the traditional social activities of a normal semester while still remaining safe and healthy.

While traditional social events on the college campus may be restricted, Mansfield Hall students are still able to find community in the many social events hosted at the main buildings. There are regular in person and virtual events, such as trivia, Jackbox, and Dungeons and Dragons. Additionally, students have stepped up to lead meditation events and arts and crafts events. Additionallys, outdoor activities have resumed with students enjoying distanced activities like hikes and paintballing. 

In addition to the social opportunities provided to students, Mansfield coaches continue to provide students with assistance on how to create their own social opportunities in a new social landscape. Students attended group sessions on communication and facial expressions with masks. Laura Bouyea, a speech and language pathologist affiliated with Mansfield Hall-Burlington, developed the F.A.C.E. acronym for coaching students through social situations in which students must navigate distance, masks, and gage the comfort level of the other students. 

This year is an opportunity for students to learn how to comfortably navigate new social situations involving differing levels of boundaries and comfort, as well as develop self-advocacy skills in a new learning environment. Students and coaches have effectively worked together to navigate this new landscape, with the result being that Mansfield Hall continues to be a socially connected community which can provide individualized academic support. Though college will inevitably change in the coming years, Mansfield Hall will continue to support students on an individual level, providing the community, structure, and balance that make up a full college experience. 

Declan Johnson‘s interest in educational accessibility stems from personal experience navigating educational institutions as a diverse learner.   When not working for Mansfield Hall, he can be found climbing rocks, reading a good book somewhere pleasant, or some combination of the two.