A new university — of sorts — is coming to Summerland, B.C., next month, with dozens of young people already enrolled without paying any tuition or registration fees.
University of Summerland is not a degree-granting school. It's a light-hearted solution created by several volunteers to provide study spaces for local students forced by COVID-19 to take courses online.
"Encouraging students to get out of their bedrooms [and] away from their dining room tables, and go somewhere there's a dedicated space and an environment of learning," said Raja Gupta in describing the plan.
The Summerland Secondary School science teacher spoke on CBC's Daybreak South about his initiative that has a website featuring a coat of arms with Latin motto studere nobiscum, meaning study with us. Students must fill out an online registration form and will receive a confirmation email telling them where they can study.
Julia Street Community Church, Summerland Alliance Church and Summerland Baptist Church — which Gupta dubbed the University of Summerland's three "campuses" — provide free study spaces with tables, chairs, wireless internet access and staff.
The three venues vary in terms of opening hours. Church staff will gather information for contact tracing and maintain COVID-19 protocols.
Wi-Fi service was Gupta's top priority when he searched for community facilities about six weeks ago.
Hannah Peterson, 18, will take her first-year biomedical science courses from Montreal's McGill University remotely in Summerland. She has good internet connectivity at home, but still registered for University of Summerland's study spaces.
"When it comes to studying, it's especially beneficial when you have a separate location where you're forced to sit down and focus," Patterson said.
But she's also attracted to the social support that she may receive in the common learning environment. "It's a really great way to just connect to each other because we are all going through the same thing."
Calum Bird, second-year computer science major with Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, will visit the study spaces with his Summerland friends who are studying the same subject.
"In-person aspect is a big component of learning," said the 18-year-old. "Even if we're at different universities, we can study similar material together."
The three churches will provide study spaces until December.