St. Petersburg College program aims to keep women engaged during Covid-19 period • St Pete Catalyst


As the Coordinator of the Women on the Way program at St. Petersburg College, Shirley Crumbley is used to taking on challenges while helping her students navigate their academic paths.

Covid-19 could be its biggest yet.

“It’s been a tough time for our students,” said Crumbley, who has coordinated the program since 2009. “This is the new standard that we have to adapt to. We don’t know when it’s going to improve.

Women on the Way was started in 1981 as a support center for women entering college. The goal of the program remains the same today – to provide women, many of whom are first generation students, with the skills and resources they need to be successful in academia.

This support is needed more than ever. In a recent survey of over 100 WOW students, Crumbley found that the majority had been financially affected in one way or another by Covid-19. Some have been put on leave, while others have been made redundant or have had their working hours reduced. More than half of these women were minorities.

Shirley crumbleyCrumbley is also seeing the impact of Covid on the number of registrations. Typically, WOW has over 600 women enrolled each semester. With less than a week of fall classes, fewer than 500 students are enrolled, although Crumbley is hoping the number will increase when classes begin. She is concerned that some students will choose not to attend the fall semester because most of the classes are online and “mnone of the students like online lessons.

For those who choose to continue in school, Crumbley said WOW will do its best to support them in all areas of their lives, not just those related to academics. In the survey, many respondents said they feared being able to pay rent or put food on the table. For single mothers, who make up more than half of WOW’s registrations, there are custody concerns. And a number of students have expressed their desire to stay connected, even though much of the fall semester will be virtual.

“This is a highly tactile program,” Crumbley said of WOW. “A lot of our students don’t have a support system. They come to us for everything.

That’s why Crumbley and the team of advisors who work with her go out of their way to keep their students focused on their goals. They have contacted community donors to see if grants are available. They share contact details for mental health and employment resources. They distribute masks. And they recently organized a drive-thru contactless textbook so students can pick up what they need for fall classes.

But a lot of what WOW offers its students isn’t necessarily about money – it’s the emotional support that comes from being part of a community of other women. Crumbley and his advisers called each of their students to see how they were doing. They also try to do fun things not to think about what’s going on in the world, like having online scavenger hunts where participants can earn gas cards and gift certificates. Sometimes they have workshops where students can just hook up for a little girl chat. Crumbley hopes to host an outdoor event in the fall where students can congregate – six feet apart – to reconnect.

“Anything we can do to keep them engaged, encouraged and enrolled,” said Crumbley. “That’s what we’re going to do.

While doing things virtually isn’t ideal, Crumbley is the kind of person to look at the glass half-full, and she isn’t about to give up on finding new ways to reach her students.

“Opportunities are emerging from the crisis,” she said. “You can cry and complain, but then you dust yourself off and figure out what you need to do to get back on track. “


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