Lesley University Threshold Program students are members of the Lesley community with “intellectual, developmental, and/or learning disabilities,” according to the Lesley website. While enrolled in the two-year program, Threshold students enjoy a personalized curriculum that stresses independence and self-sufficiency. The end goal is for students to feel ready to transition smoothly into post-college life.
In essence, The Threshold Program exists to “[help] students navigate life with confidence.” With so much of the program focused on supporting students’ personal growth, I wondered how, if at all, instruction could continue effectively online. Would students still feel like they were receiving adequate attention and preparation? Would faculty be able to continue to foster the same connections with their students?
Via email, I spoke with Cara Gorham Streit, Associate Director & Director of Academics, Innovation, & Inclusion, to see how the Threshold Program was preparing to instruct and support its students online for the rest of the semester.
Lesley Public Post: What measures are being taken to ensure Threshold students’ success in online class formats? Have any measures been taken yet?
Gorham Streit: For the curriculum of courses students take through the Threshold Program, we have designed an accessible, single “master course” on myLesley that contains all of their coursework. The platform is designed to be highly intuitive to navigate, and at every stage of new technological learning there are tutorials, screen-share videos, screenshots, and contact information…for issues. We’re responding to those tech issues in real time. Courses began as scheduled by the university on [March 23], but we connected with students consistently the whole week leading up to that.
For students enrolled [in] Threshold who are also taking undergraduate classes, what their online coursework looks like for those classes will depend on the undergrad instructor and their approach to this unusual time. For those students, I’m keeping in close contact with them and asking them to forward me any messages from instructors that they need help looking through. I’ll also follow up with those instructors if needed, but so far, students have been able to access what they need to move forward.
LPP: In your experience, have professors been willing to work one-on-one to address student needs and concerns in the classroom? Do you anticipate this level of care and attention being able to continue virtually?
Gorham Streit: Yes and yes! One-on-one support looks a little different online, of course, because students’ ability to physically come into the office and find someone for help isn’t there anymore. But to replace that, we’re making it very simple to contact any [Threshold faculty or administration member] …and continuing our individual mentoring, counseling, and advising meetings [virtually].
LPP: With social events being cancelled through the end of the semester, are there any plans to unite Threshold students and continue to foster a sense of community remotely?
Gorham Streit: Yes, we’re already doing this and have [been] since day one of classes starting. We’re using Flipgrid, an online platform for sharing selfie-videos, for students to check in [regarding] life at home, share videos of what they’re cooking for dinner, share fitness and improv activities, etc. Students are reporting really liking this platform… and being able to reply to one another with additional videos.
We’re also scheduling synchronous class sessions at least once/week which will start next week. For alumni, who we engage with through our Alumni Center, we’re offering online yoga, Zoom social gatherings, telehealth counseling, support with unemployment, health insurance, SNAP applications, and whatever else they need remotely. We are strongly connected to the student and graduate community through social media as well.
LPP: What about Threshold students who exercised their independence by getting a job on-campus or becoming involved in a club or organization? Are there any efforts to keep them empowered and involved at home, if possible?
Gorham Streit: Great question– I’m not sure what individual clubs are doing currently, but I’ll look into this and we can support students in accessing whatever remote opportunities there are. In terms of jobs, all of our students were working in internships (some on-campus, but most off-campus), so they [aren’t] able to continue in those. We’ve replaced that time and experience with a customer service training program that has broad applicability to many fields of work. Students are doing this online with our support on their internship days.
LPP: Have you spoken to any Threshold students about how they are handling the COVID-19 pandemic? How are they adapting to this new, online class format?
Gorham Streit: Yes, we’ve been in touch with all of our students personally. Of course, individual experience varies [as] folks are in different parts of the country with different impacts and family circumstances, but overall students have been taking this… learning in stride. Many are appreciating time with family and pets, while also being disappointed not to return to campus this semester.
Online learning feels different by nature, but folks really have pulled together to make the best of the situation that they can. As a silver lining, for some students who may face barriers to in-person class participation, I’ve [noticed] increased engagement on the online platform.
LPP: What about Threshold family members or guardians? If you’ve had a chance to speak to them, have they felt equipped to support their students in this transition period? Are there any resources available to assist them?
Gorham Streit: We’re always in close contact with family members as appropriate and permitted by students. Families have continued to reach out to us and we work individually to address…their questions. Families have received most or all of the communications that students have received, including guidance on getting the most out of the online classes, so they have been supporting students’ access to coursework from home. We’ve also continued with regularly scheduled student goal meetings that students direct with support from staff and which families participate in. We’ve had a number of those calls in the last two weeks.
LPP: Do Threshold students have a designated faculty or staff member they should turn to if they encounter challenges in adjusting to this new learning format?
Gorham Streit: Students can really turn to whoever they’re most comfortable connecting with–we’re a small enough program that this works just fine. For class- specific assignments, they will reach out to their faculty for that class. Each student also has a faculty or staff mentor that they may reach out to first. They can also directly contact me, as [I am] the one managing the organization of course content in myLesley.
More information on the Lesley University Threshold Program can be found at https://lesley.edu/threshold-program.