Home | Preparing for the New School Year in the COVID19 Era

                                    04 May 2020

MEMO TO:      AdZU COMMUNITY
SUBJECT:        PREPARING FOR THE NEW SCHOOL YEAR IN THE COVID19 ERA

Greetings of hope! In this unprecedented global crisis of the pandemic, I wish you everything that gives hope, courage, comfort, and strength in whatever situation you find yourselves in. Our lives have been tremendously disrupted, and our capacity for resilience is being tested. After more than a month of community quarantine, I would like to update you on important matters in our University life and mission through the following seven points:

1. We are projecting to begin the school year in August 2020.

Both the Department of Education (DepEd) and Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) have set August as the most feasible start of school year 2020-2021. This is based mainly on the following critical factors: 1) the emergency health situation, which hopefully will indicate a decreasing and “flattening” trend of COVID19 cases; 2) the need for enough time to prepare for a different mode of learning, teaching, and overall school operation; and, 3) the need to continue our mission of educating our students.

2. We continue adjusting to the new context with resilience and faith

We all have coped with over a month of Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) or lockdown, and we continue adjusting our lives to the difficult demands of living in this era of the COVID19 pandemic. We share feelings of anxiety, fear, loss, depression, insecurity, and desolation over this situation. We worry about what the future will be, and when the crisis will end. This situation of uncertainty challenges our capacity for resilience, courage, and faith, and it will continue to do so for some time. Many of us have grown during this period, in terms of prayer, reflection, togetherness with family, solidarity with community, and service, especially to those in need.

3. We wait patiently for solutions as we trust and support our health authorities and government leaders 

As we anticipate and pray for the discovery of a COVID19 vaccine and its treatment, our lives will have to adjust to the “new normal.” This means following protocols of government and health authorities on physical distancing in all aspects of our lives, to stop the spread of the disease, to protect our vulnerable populations, and to protect our health care systems from being overwhelmed by increasing number of patients. This demands obeying quarantine protocols. It also calls us to give our support to front-liners in this battle: in the hospitals, barangays, checkpoints, markets, groceries, banks, and other service institutions. This also means supporting government in its continuing drive to attend to the poor in this crisis through food distribution and social amelioration programs.

In Zamboanga City, our ECQ status has been extended, and its easing toward General Community Quarantine (GCQ) will essentially depend on trends in COVID19 cases (currently increasing rapidly in the city), which are determined by test results, that, for now, still come from laboratories in Manila and Davao. We wait for the approval and operation of our own testing laboratories in Zamboanga. We need to see a “flattening of the curve,” or significant stabilization of numbers, even as we are also concerned with the urgent resumption of economic and social activity, which will benefit everyone especially the poor.

4. We will design new ways of learning and teaching in this situation of the “new normal”

For the incoming school year, we have started preparing for a new mode of schooling to adjust to the demands of safety, distancing, and wellness. This approach to new learning and teaching will be characterized by the following: (a) it will maximize online, or digital, internet-based processes for virtual and remote education;(b) it will be “blended,” combining online sessions with limited face-to-face or on site meetings; and, (c) it will harness creative and innovative ways of redesigning the curriculum, restructuring class size and management, and facilitating home-based and independent learning. We will focus on essential requirements in learning, prioritize outcomes and competencies, and be sensitive to expected difficulties in adapting to this new technology-based methodologies.

We are aware of constraints and problems that we will face in this new mode of education. Many of our faculty and staff lack of digital equipment and supplies, connectivity, access, and stable power supply. Part of our plan is to address all these concerns so that this new way of instruction will be realistic, manageable, flexible, and equitable.

We will reconfigure our campus physical infrastructure accordingly, like ensuring physical distancing and ventilation in our classrooms, laboratories, libraries, offices, and workrooms. We will also discern how campus and student life will change, particularly in the aspects of extra-curricular activities, sports, dorm, community outreach, and student services. Health and safety will come first.

We will maximize our University talent and resources in education, ICT (information and communication technology), and health care to prepare for all these. Training events for the retooling of our faculty, students, and parents or responsible adults (for basic education) will be organized. We are conducting surveys to assess conditions and levels of ability, access, and need. All these will require opening and shifting our mindsets, our whole selves, to learn and adapt to what might be overwhelming demands of the new situation.

5. We will align University resources and central services accordingly

We have started reviewing our University budget for alignment with the conditions and demands of this “new normal.” There will be critical financial challenges that we will face, like sustaining our salaries and ensuring job security for our people, in view of uncertain outcomes in enrolment due to economic recession. Since we foresee significant reduction of student, faculty, and staff presence in campus due to safety protocols, our central service operations will have to be redefined as well through possibilities like staggered or reduced working hours and reduced number of personnel who will report at a given time.

Fundamental in this COVID19 era is ensuring that our campuses are safe and protected from the disease. We will comply with global and local standards of health and infection control, which will include the following: mass testing whenever possible, target testing of suspected cases, referrals to the City Health Office, temperature checks upon entry, availability of disinfectants and wash stations, required use of face masks for all, protective gears like face shields for front liners, and strict compliance to hygienic practices like hand-washing and cough etiquette.

6. We continue to provide support for our people

The pandemic crisis renders many of us vulnerable in many ways. AdZU continues to provide ways of supporting our people. Our University counselors and volunteers offer online or phone-based conversation and counseling for psychological, mental, and spiritual wellness. The Jesuit community continues its livestream Sunday masses in Facebook. We have reached out to faculty, students, and staff who needed food delivery assistance during barangay-focused lockdowns. We have provided transportation services during special situations like funerals. We will process particular requests concerning salaries as much as we can manage. In this crisis, information dissemination is critical, and our University Communications Office is strengthening our capacity to reach out to our constituencies as effectively as possible. We are also working for easier ways of transacting with the Finance and Human Resources Offices (e.g. tuition payments, payroll) through more online, phone-based, and remote processes that will minimize, if not completely eliminate, physical contact.

7. We will continue our engagement with the City in this crisis

Our institutional response to the crisis, the #ADZUCONTRACOVID19 campaign, managed by the Social Development units, continues to support the two main thrusts of the City Government, to heal the sick, and to feed the hungry.

For the thrust of “healing the sick” and protecting our health front-liners and system, AdZU as we know, has temporarily turned over to the City government our Lantaka Campus to be an isolation facility for suspected COVID19 cases. The association of private hospitals in Zamboanga is managing it, and it has housed an average of 28 patients in its first month of operation. Two buses of AdZU have been lent to Ciudad Medical and West Metro Medical Center for transport of health personnel. We have mobilized our chemists to produce disinfectant alcohol in our laboratory, and we have donated this to the City Government. We also use the funds that we raise for Protective Personal Equipments or PPEs for donation to the Zamboanga City Medical Center (ZCMC), Lantaka, Brent Hospital, the City Reformatory Center (or City Jail), and others. Our School of Medicine students are involved in the production of facemasks, face shields, and hazmat suits. They also assist the ZCMC in COVID19 teleconsultation. SOM has also launched a preventive, telehealth project for COVID19 vulnerable population of selected barangays.

For the thrust of “feeding the hungry,” we have distributed around 1200 food relief packs to selected barangays with very vulnerable communities. These are: Simariki Island in Talon-Talon, Tumaga, Zone 2, Zone 3, Kasanyangan, Boalan, Tetuan, Tugbungan, Malagutay, Sto Nino, Lumbangan, and Sinunuc. More families will be reached in the next few weeks, as much as our funds can afford. In this season of Ramadan, we also have donated “Ramadan Food Packs” in coordination with the City Government. AdZU alumni groups like HS Class 1977, students like those in the College of Law, faculty and staff are also involved in food distribution to poor communities.

To conclude: I have designated persons-in-charge of the priority actions above, and they have started planning meetings and discussions online. Please expect that they will be reaching out to you in the next few days and weeks. There will be meetings of different groups and teams, through online platforms like Zoom and Google Meet. Training and retooling will also commence very soon. There are surely many questions and concerns, and we will address them through regular memos and communication through social media. The situation is very fluid, and we will be adjusting our plans and actions as needed.

Lastly, we shall keep our University community intact and strong in this “new normal”;  praying for each other, united and strengthened in our faith in a merciful, powerful God who sees us through these trying times.

(SGD) FR KAREL S SAN JUAN SJ 
University President