When Aviva Hollander ’23 returned to campus for the fall semester she was nervous. “The coronavirus is scary and there are a lot of unknowns, but I wanted to be back in the environment that I love and where I felt at home.”
The sophomore selected Curry College for its Program for the Advancement of Learning and believes that PAL students can be uniquely equipped to manage new challenges that may be presented by the pandemic, or otherwise. “We automatically work harder to get through our classes because of our learning disabilities,” she says. “I think PAL students are already adapting to a world that wasn’t made for us. When it comes to balancing new things, like taking hybrid or online classes, we’re better prepared to quickly pick up a new app or tool like Zoom and Canvas because of our strong adaptability.”
PAL’s unique metacognitive model asks students to think about how they think to empower students to become agents of their learning. In recent years, the program has integrated the model with technology and its assistive technology curriculum, the iPAL program, has been highly regarded in the industry. The tools and apps on each student’s iPad are customized to their individual learning profile and aids in reading, writing, speaking, time management, organization, and note-taking.
Hollander says she’s learned how to be a successful student from PAL, and it is that same knowledge that’s helped her navigate her new online classes this semester. “The same way that I’ve developed the different tools I need to help me learn, I’ve developed more tools to make sure I’m successful with learning online,” she says. “For me, that means using Zoom on my computer while taking notes on my iPad. PAL has taught me self-awareness and how to find the extra tools that I might need.”
Other PAL students have also found success through the challenges presented to college students everywhere this fall, where mask-wearing and social distancing mandates can make building relationships harder, says PAL Professor Dr. Maria Bacigalupo.
“It takes some time, but overall, I think students have adjusted well,” she says. “One good thing is that those who have attention issues may be able to focus a bit better because they are not so distracted by everyday college life. The first semester of college can be overwhelming and overstimulating. There is much to learn about your environment. Where are things located? How can I manage life skills like laundry, food, and socializing and still make it to my classes and get my work done? Students can look at this socially-distanced time as one where they are perhaps more able to focus on coursework, and not be so distracted by athletics, clubs, social opportunities. PAL Peer Mentors are available to assist them both individually and socially in groups.”
As a PAL Peer Mobile Learning Tutor, Hollander encourages other students to find the right tools for their toolbox, whether it’s the assistive technology apps in their iPad, a PAL faculty or staff member, or the career or counseling center on campus. “Everyone I work with at PAL is extremely understanding. One of the best things that my PAL professor will do is talk things out and help translate what about the assignment is difficult or if a class is hard, they can help you find a solution. They want you to succeed as a student and in life.”
“One of the major components of PAL is to assist students in recognizing their strengths and challenges, and to help them acknowledge and capitalize on their ability to be resilient,” says Lori Lubeski, PAL instructor and Hollander’s advisor. “Certainly, this semester has required all of our students to be particularly resilient, but many have felt an extraordinary sense of accomplishment upon overcoming the unique obstacles placed before them in this time of COVID-19. Despite the ongoing change and uncertainty, I believe that many students will emerge from this experience with confidence and a newly found sense of strength.”