“Palomar made it possible for us to safely continue our education during a public health crisis.”

SAN MARCOS — With spring break approaching in March, thousands of Palomar College students were notified that the rest of their semester would take place online, as all classes were transitioned to remote learning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The weeks and months that followed were challenging for the vast majority of students, who suddenly faced increased financial difficulty, family pressures and other hurdles while trying to continue their education.

But the crisis also provided a wealth of examples of the Palomar College community coming together to support students through a wave of social distancing guidelines. From extending deadlines to distributing free computers to issuing emergency grants, Palomar pulled out all of the stops to reach every student with the necessary support.

“We are so proud of our students, who overcame immense challenges and made adjustments to continue pursuing their education this past semester,” said Acting Superintendent/President Dr. Jack Kahn. “Even with all of the difficulties brought on by COVID-19, these months will be remembered for the way Palomar pulled together to promote and ensure student success.”

As the most unusual semester in the college’s history wrapped up with final exams online, several students shared their story of how Palomar made it possible to carry on with their education.

Jen Novello

Jen Novello and her husband, a Marine Corps veteran who retired in 2017, both work and study at Palomar College. When the campus was closed due to COVID-19, the financial pressures began to mount, and the Novellos applied for, and received, an emergency grant from the Palomar College Foundation.

“The grant got us over the hump,” she said. “It was very beneficial.”

With a son who is an essential worker and a daughter-in-law who also continued to work during the COVID-19 crisis, Novello suddenly found herself homeschooling her three grandchildren when their schools closed.

“That added to the frustration of trying to get class work done,” said Novello, who was already enrolled in two online courses, as well as two campus-located classes that she explained as being “really difficult classes for me.”

“Having those classes switch to an online format was challenging,” said Novello. “Thank goodness for my professors, because they were really great about it. Having known my professors and classmates for a good month and a half, going online was more personal. The professors were so, so helpful. It’s really hard to learn Spanish when you don’t get to speak it to anybody, you know?”

Novello said she plans to transfer to Cal State San Marcos in the fall to study psychology and pursue her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.

Miriam Leon

After several semesters of preparing to get into Palomar’s highly competitive nursing program, Miriam Leon was in her last semester of pre-requisites when COVID-19 struck and everything changed.

“Because I’m also working full-time, and a full-time student, once COVID happened, I had to drop one of my classes,” Leon recalled.

Although it was a difficult decision, she said, Palomar made it easier by issuing a no-penalty withdrawal—one of the ways the college has supported students whose schedules and lives underwent drastic changes in the fallout of the health crisis.

“In order to get into the nursing program, I need to have good grades—and I have all A’s. But one class was really hard for me to take online,” she said. “So I was grateful that Palomar let me withdraw without affecting my overall GPA.”

But the struggles weren’t over for Leon, a mother of one young child: “I’ve exhausted all my paid leave and vacation time from work. I was very stressed, because I had a full load of classes and still had responsibilities at home.”

So she applied for an emergency grant from the Foundation and was approved.

“The week of finals, I had to stay home because I didn’t have anyone to take care of my daughter,” she said. “I’m very thankful for Palomar, because they took that financial burden. I hope one day I will be able to help students achieve their goals just as Palomar has helped me.”