Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

The new normal for school life is abnormal in Michigan

Empty school hall with lockers during corona virus pandemic. E-learning & virtual education time. Photo by @mylove4art via Twenty20

Acquiescence. Trepidation. Uncertainty.

These are the common feelings amplified in the minds of Michiganders in the wake of the pandemic. As teachers and students prepare to resume school, “normal” seems like a distant memory.

Sandra Gaddy, CEO of the Women’s Resource Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is also a current Executive MBA student at Grand Valley State University. She said that going back to school has been both a strange and stressful transition. 

“Although we have a small cohort, some of my classmates are not comfortable coming into the classroom,” she said. 

Gaddy said that she has had to wear masks throughout her Friday and Saturday, 8 hour classes.  Going back to school when the world is at the peak of a deadly pandemic, she said, has been a challenge.

“I don’t like to operate in fear because of my faith,” she said. “On the other hand, I also want to use wisdom in how I protect myself, my family, and my staff. It’s a tremendous amount of stress, yet my faith in God is what carries me.” 

Dr. Lisa Garvelink pauses for a quick photo break while preparing  her lessons notes for the Calvin Academy for Life Life Learning through Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Dr. Lisa Garvelink

Dr. Lisa Garvelink, an instructor who will begin teaching at the Calvin Academy for Life Life Learning through Calvin College in Grand Rapids this fall, said all her classes would be conducted on zoom.

“We were going to do it in a large auditorium and wear masks, but we changed our plans as cases kept rising,” she said. “The courses are for people who are 50 and older. A lot of my students are 70 and older, so we don’t want to put them in any health risk.” 

She said you can feel the tension around masks wearing which is mandatory in  indoor public spaces in Michigan.

“I do find that people who are so adamant about not wearing masks fall into a particular political group,” she said.

The pandemic has triggered political discord across the country, including Michigan. The unbridled politicization of mask-wearing amid the COVID-19 turmoil has also been exceedingly high. According to Garvelink, this dissonance could have dangerous effects on students. 

Rosine Hounakey, a beauty salon owner and student at Grace Christian University, also in Grand Rapids, Michigan,  said that when the pandemic first became widespread, she had to take a month off. She is the mother of three children.

“My kids were home 24/7 at that time, and when the pandemic hit, I had to stay at home for a month to normalize their schedules,” she said.

Hounakey said Covid does not scare her, but she is worried about her children. 

 “The one thing I am worried about is how to keep the kids wearing masks for over seven, eight hours,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s healthy.” 

Some schools are relying on remote learning to carry them through the pandemic. Other schools in Michigan have opted for a hybrid learning model. 

Chinedu Ikeata, an international  student pursuing a  masters degree in public health at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, said he has a lot of anxiety about the virus and his future.

“I  have this real anxiety of catching the virus in a foreign country,” he said. “When the pandemic began, there was a real possibility of potentially being sent home. “The idea of that happening terrified me.  It almost gives you a feeling of inferiority.” 



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