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Student life returns to NIC

| August 30, 2020 1:40 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — It was a little quiet on the North Idaho College campus.

Voices were muffled, softened by face coverings required to protect students and staff from the coronavirus.

Foot traffic was noticeably less than in previous years, as about 40 percent of students have chosen to remotely conduct their studies.

Enrollment, as of Friday, is down about 4.6 percent, but that’s better than the dip college officials were expecting to see.

“We projected budget on a 9 percent decrease, so we are outperforming that right now, but are still waiting for the dual credit and end of registration numbers to come in,” Graydon Stanley, vice president for student services, said Friday.

The first week of college in this COVID world brought with it many changes.

Like a professor in ancient Greece, part-time English instructor Nikole King taught her students in the open air on the lawn of Cheamkwet Park, where they were socially distanced.

"I’ve never taught outside before, and it’s absolutely lovely," King said. "We have such a beautiful campus; it doesn’t get any prettier than this."

So far, so good, she reported. However, she did note that her pupils weren't as talkative as expected.

"My students are a little more quiet than usual, and I just wonder, is it the mask, because they feel a little bit inhibited? Or is it because they’re spread out so far?" she said.

Masks are required on the NIC campus. Music major Christi Haynos is not a big fan of this new normal.

“Everything is six feet apart,” she said. “Everything’s been in masks. I don’t like it at all. Nobody talks in class, and the teachers are feeling really disconnected. They’re just getting used to hearing themselves talk.

“Nobody says anything, and it’s like, well, I don’t have to, and they can’t even see my reactions."

Haynos said she was actually surprised at how many people made the choice to show up for the first day on Monday.

"It’s definitely not what it used to be, and none of the community stuff is going to be the same," she said. "The whole student life is going to be different. And unless you had friends here before, I can’t see anybody making a whole lot of new friends this semester.”

Tables in the dining hall of the Edminster Student Union Building are fewer and farther between. Students have many options to independently study at picnic tables on the beaches or benches on school grounds to maintain social distancing.

"I’m not really much of a crowd person, so it’s nice just seeing not a lot of people and getting to listen to the silence," journalism major Isabel Cruz said as she reviewed an assignment while on a bench near the fountain outside Lee-Kildow Hall. "Doing homework, it really helps me."

During the final day of the college's Week of Welcome, Outdoor Pursuits Beach Rentals offered free rentals for students to enjoy waterfront recreation during Family Day at the Beach.

"I think it's even more relevant this year because people are so limited in what they can do," Outdoor Pursuits assistant coordinator Terry Brinton said. "Doing these types of activities outdoors is the last holdout of what people can do to keep their mental health and all that stuff that’s going on right now."

King, who has taught at NIC since 2011, is glad to be back in person.

“I am very proud of NIC for caring so much about our safety and requiring masks,” she said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable teaching here if they weren’t so concerned for our safety as instructor and the safety of our students.”

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Journalism major Isabel Cruz enjoys a peaceful moment to study outside Lee-Kildow Hall on Friday.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Christi Haynos, right, and Hannah Neff take advantage of a free kayak rental from NIC's Outdoor Pursuits on Friday.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Students independently work at picnic tables on the North Idaho College Beach on Friday. The first week of college has wrapped up, bringing with it a new normal of face masks and social distancing.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Madelyn Christensen, left, gathers information from NIC's Student Involvement Office administrative assistant Crystal Carney, who gave out masks to students on Friday. "I think this semester will go much smoother than people think," Carney said.