Home Again: Students and Their Families Adapt to New Normal

Maliyah Paynter '23 and family at Lake Campus

The Paynter family visits the Lake Campus. The family is adjusting to life in close quarters now that Maliyah ’23 and her siblings are home again.

Alan Paynter calls the living room in his family’s Hershey, Pennsylvania, apartment the frat house and gym.

The ping-pong table at the Sharp home in Jackson, Mississippi, doubles as an office desk.

The Krenzlins in West Palm Beach, Florida, have positioned laptops so that Zoom classmates and professors only see the neatest parts of their house.

And while students from the south returned to warm sunny days, the Voelkers welcomed their two daughters home to a Connecticut snowstorm.

As Davidson College students fall into the stride of attending classes from afar, their families have shuffled life up to make room for their unexpected return.

Former empty nesters endured long supermarket lines to buy more food. Repurposed guest rooms turned back into bedrooms. And with much of the country under a stay-at-home order to stop the spread of COVID-19, family togetherness is a mandate.

“Everyone is naturally experiencing anxiety right now. That’s normal,” said Cabe Loring ’93, a clinical psychologist in Spartanburg, South Carolina. “One approach is to employ a team mentality as a family.

Just a small percentage of students remain on campus for reasons such as outbreaks in their home countries, compromised immune systems and family hardship.

The vast majority went home in mid-March.

“Everyone is naturally experiencing anxiety right now. That’s normal,” said Cabe Loring ’93, a clinical psychologist in Spartanburg, South Carolina. “One approach is to employ a team mentality as a family.

“Nobody saw this coming. We will get through this together and everyone in the family will pitch in differently,” Loring said. “Be sure to validate your children’s feelings and check in with them to see how they’re doing. Stick to a schedule and take care of yourselves so you can put on a good face for them.”

Amy Rolfes Poag ’96 said a little empathy can go a long way.

“The freedom they once had is no longer there,” said Poag, a school counselor in Memphis. “Parents are back in the picture in a way they hadn’t been. They’re listening to the news, they’re afraid, and they have to put boundaries in place.

“We need to understand how hard this is for everyone,” she said. “Then everyone needs to back up and have some grace and understanding about where the other is coming from.”

Close Quarters

Students get why they needed to go home; they just weren’t ready.  

Maliyah Paynter ’23 cried with her friends when they learned everyone had to leave campus. Her dad and uncle picked her up at school to come back to the Pennsylvania apartment her family has rented since a house fire last year.

“We have video games, a PS4, blankets and clothes everywhere,” Maliyah said wryly about the living room, which her older brother, Christopher, home from Villanova University, has taken over. “It’s just great.”

On the bright side, her mom, Jennifer, is a really good cook. And she’s cooked quite a bit lately for their family of athletes. Maliyah runs for the Davidson women’s track team, Christopher swims for Villanova, and younger brother Jaren, a high school senior, plays football.

“We eat a lot, we all work out (Christopher in the living room) and we’ll have a ton of food and it’s gone in a couple days,” Maliyah said. “My mom tells us we’re doing a very good job of eating the leftovers.”

Good food aside, there are challenges and benefits to the close quarters.

“Every time I go to take a shower, somebody’s beat me to it. I really miss having the five showers on our dorm floor,” Maliyah said. “Obviously we are spending more time together, and they are my brothers and they like to joke and I can get irritated. But we’re also getting closer.”

She keeps in touch with college friends through Snapchat, texts and Zoom. She recreated her Davidson dorm layout in her bedroom. And her dad surprised her by putting the nametag from her dorm room door on her bedroom door.

“My parents understand that this is very difficult,” she said. “And they’re doing their best to make this as easy as possible for everybody.”

Alan Paynter, who’s also working from home now, says it’s actually their dog, a black lab named Tobias, who seems to be the most upended.

“He’s so spoiled. He and my wife used to have the place all to themselves most of the time,” Paynter said. “Now he keeps looking at the rest of us with this ‘I can’t believe you’re all here’ stare.”

Resilience Training

Brent Voelker and his wife, Jackie, now work from their New Hartford, Connecticut home. They’ve set up four different work stations around the house so they and daughters Lindsey ’21 and Ally ’23 each have a corner to get away to.

The Voelker Family Including Students Ally and Lindsey

The Voelker Family: parents Brent and Jackie, students Ally and Lindsey, and the family dog, Maggie

“The house isn’t nearly as big as we thought it was when they were at school,” Brent Voelker said. “We try to stay out of each other’s way during the day, get out for walks, then have dinner together.

“And the other night we played the board game “SORRY!” for the first time in 12 years.”

Staci Sharp says they’ve moved her husband’s office from the basement to what used to be the game room of their Jackson, Mississippi, home so that their daughter Addison ’21 would have a quiet space to do schoolwork. Dennis Sharp’s work files now cover the ping-pong table.

“I wanted to give her some space outside of her bedroom so she could get a little change of scenery,” Staci Sharp said. “This has been really hard and they definitely deserve to grieve—especially the seniors.

“This is now part of their life story, the part they’ll tell to their grandkids some day. They may not have carried lunch buckets 10 miles in the snow to get to school, but this is this generation’s resilience training.”

And like the generations before them who overcame hard times, they will get through this, she said.

“I’m so grateful that my child is here and safe,” Staci Sharp said. “We’re all entitled to little freak out moments now and then. We have them, and we move on.”


  • April 3, 2020