By Senior Airman Charles Welty, Air University Public Affairs
/ Published March 18, 2021
Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy students walk to class March 4, 2021, on Maxwell Air Force Base's Gunter Annex. After nearly a year of only virtual classes, SNCOA welcomed back its first in-residence class this month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cody Gandy)
Over the past year, many of Air University’s schools shifted their curriculum into the virtual environment in order to limit physical contact between students and instructors amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, starting this month, AU’s Squadron Officer School, Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy and Chief Leadership Academy began resuming in-residence classes.
“I’m really proud of all the great work the team has accomplished to continue delivering education to students around the Air Force amidst a global pandemic,” said Lt. Gen. James Hecker, Air University commander and president. “Getting students back here in-residence will provide them with an invaluable learning experience that we’ve been trying to recreate virtually and our people have been working hard to ensure we can get this done in the safest manner possible.”
In order to keep everyone as safe as possible, class sizes have been limited and COVID-19 precautions are still being practiced.
“We sent the last in-residence class (20C) home in March of 20- so a full year (has passed) since we’ve had students here,” said Lt. Col. Arthur Barton, 30th Student Squadron commander. “We have worked closely with the public health emergency officer on a safe plan for students, the faculty and the community. In addition to a restriction of movement, podding of flights, classroom distancing and required mask wear, students will be in the local area for the entirety of the course (no overnight weekend travel).”
Due to the limited amount of students allowed in each class, SOS is continuing to teach its curriculum to more than 600 students virtually.
“(SNCOA) is operating class 21D completely in-residence at reduced capacity, down from around 280 students to 180 in consideration of COVID standard operating procedures we worked with public health to establish,” said Master Sgt. Kenneth Conolly, Air Force SNCOA Student Administration superintendent. “After student onboarding, we are at 172 students with no reports of symptoms, and 100% quick-test samples collected for processing.”
SNCOA leadership said they took information from other schools that have already been operating in-residence courses and then combined that with CDC guidelines to ensure the safety of all parties involved.
“Once we gathered all the information we proceeded with numerous simulations using our instructor cadre to ensure we could give the students the best experience possible, as well as our cadre,” said Senior Master Sgt. Juan Garza, SNCOA director of resources. “With the help of our Maxwell medical partners, specifically Maj. Eric Wilder, we were able to batch test all students on day 1 of education in order to mitigate any spread as much as possible. I’m very proud of how the team came together and put the student’s safety and comfort first throughout this entire process.”
One of the new standards put in place was rearranging the classrooms in order to provide the required 6-foot distancing and adherence to current installation and Department of Defense mandates.