Southern Maine Community College will expand in-person class offerings at its South Portland and Brunswick campuses for the fall semester, which starts Aug. 30.

The college cut back on live instruction starting in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Face-to-face instruction was only available for about 25% of classes, and even that didn’t begin until the fall of 2020, said Matt Goodman, the school’s dean of academic excellence and strategic initiatives. Now, he said, that number is expected to grow to just over 50%.

“It certainly won’t be like it was before COVID,” Goodman said.

Still, Goodman said, the expansion allows for more hands-on training, critical for coursework involving trade work such as welding, along with work in fields such as biology.

“You may have lectures online, but the labs will be in person,” he said.

Maureen LaSalle, chairperson of the college’s culinary arts and hospitality management programs, said most classwork in her programs involves cooking, preparing beds and other work that simply has to be done in person. It’s difficult to inspect someone’s work cleaning or preparing a bed virtually, she said, and culinary instructors need to taste what their students are preparing.

“You can’t really teach someone to cook in an online environment,” she said.

LaSalle said the programs were suspended altogether in March, and only came back in August 2020. Classes have been smaller to allow for social distancing and rooms are separated with plastic dividers as an added precaution. Instructors make sure students don’t do things in groups, such as going into a walk-in freezer. Some classes, such as an events management class, she said, took place outside, weather permitting.

“You know, you just adapt,” LaSalle said. “That’s what COVID has taught us, really.”

Returning students have adapted well, too, she said, showing enthusiasm despite the restrictions.

“Students were anxious to be back,” said LaSalle. “Anxious in a good way. They’re excited to be back.”

Many students, Goodman said, will be learning in a similar model to many elementary and high schools right now, spending some days at home doing classwork online and other days working in person. He said all in-person instruction will follow current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, including social distancing and wearing masks.

SMCC’s move reflects an interest statewide in more in-person instruction. In a March 19 announcement, David Daigler, president of the Maine Community College System, said he wants to see an expansion of such instruction in community colleges statewide.

“We are eager for the students, faculty and staff to return to our colleges as much as possible,” Daigler said. “Hopeful signs such as Maine’s clear vaccination rollout plan gives us confidence in planning expanded in-person instruction.”

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