“I’m grateful that we get to have these two days. I know a whole week is ten times better, but we’re living in a pandemic, so I’m not going to be upset about getting days off.”
These were the words of Nash Scott, Student Government Association President and interdisciplinary senior in regards to the recently announced “flex spring break” that will occur this week at Oklahoma Christian University on the 18th and 19th of March. Risa Forrester, Oklahoma Christian University’s Chief Communications Officer, defined the term “flex spring break” as a flexible rest for both students and faculty.
“Dr. Jeff McCormack, Chief Academic officer and leader of our COVID-19 team, began to use that term to describe a potential break that we hoped to put in place for students,” Forrester said. “The days technically count as academic instruction days because they were already built into the academic calendar. McCormack has asked the faculty to be ‘flexible’ and not have class those days, but to offer asynchronous learning opportunities outside of normal class hours.”
Forrester also said that part of why this break is “flexible” is because Oklahoma Christian University leadership wasn’t certain if it would be possible given the pandemic.
“We had to be flexible in determining if we were even going to allow this to happen, given the pandemic,” Forrester said. “We carefully follow the number of positives on campus and the numbers in isolation and in quarantine. We knew we had to be certain that those numbers were down and were going to stay down before making a decision.”
With only one positive case at last week’s Spring Sing testing, this gave the COVID-19 readiness team the confidence to call for a break, which university leadership agreed to. Forrester said that students’ mental health has been the motivation behind the break.
“At the very top of our priorities is the mental health of our student body,” Forrester said. “We determined as a readiness team, going into this semester, that mental health for the whole campus during these difficult times was going to be a major focus of ours. That was really at the top of the list, working in a change of routine for the students.”
Students agree that this flex spring break will be crucial to the mental health of those across campus. Abby Lowry, Freshman Class President and family science major, believes that having a break will be a welcome change of pace for her fellow freshmen, who have been struggling to navigate a major life transition with minimal breaks.
“Last semester was very stressful and I think that I speak for multiple freshmen when I say that we weren’t academically and socially thriving,” Lowry said. “Especially getting into those depressing, wintery months, it wasn’t good to be cooped up all the time. So, I think that breaks are very beneficial for college students because you’re just grinding all the time with classes and other commitments.”
Though students were not given much early notice of the break, Forrester says that this is due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
“We know and we understand that the late timing of the announcement is not ideal, but we felt like we had to be confident that we weren’t risking the health and safety of campus or a broader community so that’s why we waited as long as we did,” said Forrester. “It’s not ideal but we do stand by that decision.”
And in regards to managing COVID-19 risk over the break, Forrester asks students, faculty and staff to continue to adhere to the guidelines established by Oklahoma Christian University’s leadership and COVID-19 readiness team.
“We all know there’s risk, the pandemic is not over,” Forrester said. “But given our low numbers and past commitments to following the Love Your Neighbor standards, we feel like the risks are manageable. We do ask that students be vigilant during break, wear your mask, distance, avoid large gatherings and crowds. When you come back to campus, if you’ve been exposed over break or you have symptoms, get into our daily testing and let’s get it figured out.”
Forrester also wanted to inform students that the Oklahoma Christian administration cares about their mental health, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“I just want to make it clear that two days is not ideal,” Forrester said. “But we felt strongly that two days was preferable to no days. We support and look forward to a time when spring break goes back to that traditional week. In fact, the academic calendar just came out for the next academic year, and you’ll be glad to see that spring break is right there so mark your calendar for March 13th – 18th, 2022.”