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By Mark Saraficio, Tohono O’odham Community College GED Instructor

The year 2020 was the start of a new decade. Hundreds of social media influencers across the globe stated that this year all the holidays and other special dates landed on perfect days of the week. Valentine’s Day landed on a Friday, St. Patrick’s Day on a Tuesday, and Cinco De Mayo also on a Tuesday (some quipped it a perfect pair with Taco Tuesday). Other holidays, such as the Fourth of July and Halloween, will be on weekends.

Another special day for many in May and June is graduation day. It was exciting to know that graduating students would have the year 2020 printed on their diplomas, which has the connotation of “perfect vision” or “perfect year.” The final semester of school for 2020 grads started out well as the winter months continued. As the temperatures started warming and spring lay just around the corner, we looked forward to the revitalization of nature and morale that the new season brings while students related to the coming new season of their lives. But instead, the world confronted an illness that changed everyday life significantly, and school along with it.

One can almost view this recent March from history’s lens. The Roman Emperor Julius Augustus Caesar was warned before his murder on March 15, B.C.E., “Beware the Ides of March.” In March this year the United States shut down, following the shutdowns of Asian and European nations due to the virus (including Italy, Caesar’s former home). Here in the United States, the coronavirus (COVID-19) forced businesses, transportation systems, professional sports, and educational institutions to shut down. Even worse, some people infected by the virus, to which there is no immunity, treatment, or vaccine, perished. Special celebrations such as graduations and weddings were cancelled or postponed. People were unprepared for the changes and how the virus would impact thousands of people financially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Several, if not all, educational institutions switched from face-to-face instruction to online instruction or distance learning. Making such a switch can make it either easier or completely difficult for students to learn. For Tohono O’odham Community College’s (TOCC) GED department, making the switch proved difficult because many GED students did not possess a laptop, have access to the internet, or both. Students with working cell phones and data were enrolled in a phone application (GED Flash) and were instructed to work on the core subjects while in quarantine. Still, the app has its limitations.

TOCC college students were surveyed on the impact of these changes brought on by the pandemic, and several of them reported that complete online or remote learning was unproductive and dull. Many students shared that they missed physical interaction with other students and instructors, and that they were eager to get back in the classroom. Of course, with the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Chairman Executive Stay-at-Home Order, having normal classroom interaction was impossible.

No doubt students were feeling like it was the end of the world. The dream of walking up to the podium to collect the final piece of completion – the high school, college, or GED diploma – evaporated. Students who were excited to graduate did not get the ceremony that they expected. But that does not mean that their accomplishments were any less worthy of celebration, and it does not mean that their skills and talents are any less needed in their communities. In fact, the virus has made it apparent than an education is needed more than ever!

With the continual increase of COVID-19 and the changes implemented by businesses and education, it is hard to fathom the future of GED programming, overall academia, and of course the world and life as we knew it. One thing that is certain, however, is that Native people are strong and resilient. We must not let this virus set us back, and we must continue to help our students complete their education so that they can lead their communities, in both hard times and good ones. Indian Country needs educated citizens more than ever.