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Sam Houston State University’s new Conroe campus adjusts to COVID guidelines

This is the first semester that the new Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Conroe has welcomed students to campus, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the year is not starting as anticipated.

The College of Osteopathic Medicine received its pre-accreditation status in September of last year, which allowed the college to start recruiting new students. The school’s first class is 75 students but in about two years the school plans to double that number to meet its full capacity of 150 students.

As the COVID-19 pandemic made its way into Montgomery County, Sam Houston State University began to plan for changes to the new year, keeping in mind all the requirements their students will have to meet to become medical practitioners. Back in March, faculty were asked to work remotely and the school began to plan for a year that looked very different from what was originally planned.


“At first, students had limited time in the building but we felt very strongly that their experiential learning, their lab learning, we needed them in the building to do that, we needed them with their faculty to do that,” said Mari Hopper, associate dean for Biomedical Sciences at the campus.

In order to bring the students to campus safely for their experiential learning, the class was divided into four groups that rotated into the building throughout the day to keep the population in the building low. Before students even arrived, the school put together a video message for them that outlined the expectations in place for being in the building (masks, hand washing, social distancing, etc) with a message from the dean. Classes started on Aug. 10 as planned.

Portions of the classes that were not lab-based are being offered through remote learning. Students can access that work through Blackboard. While some of it is synchronous learning, students accessed it while it was happening, much of it was asynchronous, so they could access it on their own time.

Within the four groups that met together, students were split into even smaller groups of five and six to study and practice together with self-directed work.

“We also recognize that students, frankly, were in need of learning support,” Hopper said. “Those small groups provided the opportunity to collaborate with their peers, and medical students really need and request that.”

The groups also help meet the students’ need for social interactions in a safe space. As of Oct. 7, Hopper said the college had not had any cases of COVID-19 in its students. Students are self-monitoring for symptoms at home and before they come to campus they sign an attestation that they are not ill. When they get to the lab their temperature is taken before they can enter.

In response to the pandemic, the school created a student response team for the possibility of a student becoming ill. The team, Hopper said, made of clinicians and faculty, isn’t there to treat

Conroe ISD to extend free lunches to all students

With the approval of the United States Department of Agriculture, Conroe ISD will be offering free breakfast and lunch meals to all students in the district starting Thursday.

In response to the increased need for free meals due to the economic impact of COVID-19, the USDA allowed districts to apply for a waiver to continue the free meal program for all students and members of the community. Typically, this program is only offered in the summer months. The extension will last through Dec. 31 or until funding runs out.

“This unprecedented move will help ensure — no matter what the situation is on-the-ground — children have access to nutritious food as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a release from the federal office. “USDA has been and continues to be committed to using the Congressionally appropriated funding that has been made available.”

The district applied for the waiver right after the USDA announced the opportunity and received approval this week. The program is available to youth 18 years old and younger, they do not have to be students of the district.


Robyn Hughes, Director of Child Nutrition for CISD, estimates that the district will be serving between 35,000 and 40,000 students through this program. Currently, the district gives free meals to around 16,000 of the 65,000 students in the district. Since March, when schools closed, the district has given away around one million free meals to students.

“Over the past six months, partners across the country have stood up nearly 80,000 sites, handing out meals at a higher reimbursement rate than the traditional school year program,” according to the USDA release. “USDA has continuously recalculated remaining appropriated funds to determine how far we may be able to provide waivers into the future, as Congress did not authorize enough funding for the entire 2020-2021 school year.”

The only requirement for the program is that the meals are meant for youth 18 years old and younger. Parents can pick up the meals but will need to bring some form of identification for their child, like their student ID or birth certificate. Pick up for meals will be Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the seven Junior High campuses in the district.

“We feel like it’s going to be a benefit to our community because so many people have been impacted financially by the pandemic, so this is going to help them with their daily expenses,” Hughes said. “It’s just going to be one less thing for parents to have to worry about and we’re going to be able to provide a nutritious meal.”

Applying for the waiver was a “no-brainer,” Hughes said, because of how it could benefit the community. This is not usually an option for districts during a regular year, so it came as a surprise to Hughes when it was announced.

“We were really glad o hear that,” she said. “It was a pleasant surprise.”

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