Long Beach City College is preparing for a blended fall semester, with a combination of online classes and socially distanced classroom and labs on both campuses.

Interim Superintendent/President Lou Anne Bynum said the college is working hard to increase online access for students — many were trying to keep up this spring on their smartphones — and reorganizing on-campus facilities.

"About 25 percent of our students said they are using smartphones to get their homework done because they don't have a computer or internet at home," Bynum said, noting that the school sent out surveys asking students about their connectivity at home. "We realized quickly that many of our students had no way to access their classes online, which is critical because if you can't access classes, you're going to fall behind."

Apart from a lack of internet, students also expressed that they don't have adequate equipment at home, like laptop computers, and for some, even a cell phone. This pushed the administration to look for ways to fund laptops for their students. Last week, the college received a donation of 100 Chromebook laptop computers from the Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion (LBCEI). Those computers went to north Long Beach students attending LBCC.

"Our goal is to reach about 1,000 Chromebooks or laptops with specialized software," she said. "But it’s not enough, we have to keep working at this."

 Bynum said that the administration is working toward offering socially-distanced classes for labs and other courses that need hands-on instruction. While many courses will remain online, larger rooms at the college are being refitted to accommodate those hands-on classes with the hopes that the school won't have to reduce the number of students that are able to attend a single class, she said.

Adjusting class times to make disinfecting surfaces a priority also will be a necessary part of the new school year to make sure that staff and students are as safe as they can be from infection.

For Bynum, dealing with the pandemic has been a constant since she started this stint with LBCC (she retired from LBCC as an executive vice president in 2017).

"I was appointed on March 5, then on March 16 we made the decision to shut the campus down," she said. "I think I spent just a week and a half in my office and have been home ever since."

Additionally in the new school year, there's going to be a greater emphasis on conversation surrounding race and educational inequality, Bynum said, adding that both the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have shed light on the many inequalities students face based on their socioeconomic and family backgrounds.

"When you look at the data, it shows us that different student ethnic groups are making better strides in achievements, but the gaps in those strides are staying the same," Bynum said. "You can't talk about the issue of the inequity in education without talking about racism, and these are conversations that we need to be thoroughly engaged in so we can make long term changes for our students."

The LBCC Board of Trustees recently supported that narrative by adopting a resolution recognizing the city's Framework of Reconciliation that acknowledges the existence of systemic racism in Long Beach, calls on leaders to listen to student accounts of racial injustice and in equity and then reshape policy and information based on needs expressed by faculty, staff and students.

These kinds of protests, the Black Lives Matter movement, will force us to be better human being towards each other," Bynum said. "We need to use this time to create a better environment for all of our students."

For more information about Long Beach City College's 2020-21 school year, go to lbcc.edu.

Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at sstutzman@gazettes.com.

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