While negative consequences of the COVID-19 — especially those affecting education — have been many, some changes made during the pandemic have been for the best according to Palouse Pathways, a local organization that helps students with college and career planning.

The nonprofit, which will resume in-person events next week, offers a range of services from arranging peer study groups and opportunities for students to connect with top colleges to assistance with college entrance exams.

Palouse Pathways Director Peggy Jenkins said some features of the pandemic and related shutdowns have been beneficial to the students she serves and are likely to stick around when the pandemic abates. She said in particular the rapid adoption of teleconferencing software to conduct meetings and other functions has allowed Palouse Pathways to connect students to colleges and universities that they have never worked with before.

“It’s brought a lot more colleges and other professionals to us through Zoom,” she said. “We had so many opportunities to connect with different colleges and different (experts) for SAT prep or essay writing — and they reached out to us.”

Jenkins said attendance to Palouse Pathways events can range from a handful of participants to groups as large as 50, hailing from all over the region, Lewiston to Potlatch. She said holding events via Zoom has expanded that reach, with some in attendance tuning in from other parts of the state or even the country. She said many colleges and universities have said this kind of virtual programming is here to stay.

Another advantage gleaned from the pandemic, Jenkins said, is it has led many colleges to remove their requirement that incoming students take an entrance exam like the SAT or the ACT. She said this has provided a chance to “de-emphasize” such tests, which are a poorer indicator of career and college success than GPA and other metrics. She said while they can be advantageous to some, entrance exams are also often a major barrier to groups like low-income, Black or rural students.

Like the adoption of teleconferencing software, she said this trend toward testless or test-optional application processes to colleges and universities has been in the works for a while but was accelerated by the pandemic.

Still, Jenkins said she’s looking forward to resuming in-person events.

“I think in general, there’s so much Zoom fatigue, that getting people back to in-person stuff is really going to help motivate, and kind of inspire (students),” she said. “This is really a community of people and it’s really a lot easier to be a community when you can be in person.”

Ian Schlater, who will be a junior at Moscow High School next year, said he’s participated in Palouse Pathways events since his freshman year, and it has been hugely helpful in connecting him with colleges and professionals who can answer his questions about college. While the program is popular, Schlater speculated the reason many students don’t take part is simply because they don’t know Palouse Pathways exists.

“I think that it’s good for anybody to be a part of this program — it really has just put me in touch with a lot of people that I would never have been put in touch with before,” Schlater said. “First of all, there’s a large community that we have there … there’s at least 20 or 30 quite active participants in the group and they’re all motivated and really interested in learning — it’s a solid group of people to get to be with.:

Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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