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Remote Learning Presents Challenges for Vocational Ed

Career training courses that typically involve hands-on experience in professional environments have had to adapt with masks, distancing, virtual instruction and other COVID-related precautions.

by Sarah Eames, The Daily Star, Oneonta, N.Y. / March 18, 2021
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(TNS) — Students, teachers and administrators at Delaware-Chenango-Madison-Otsego BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) have had to adapt beyond the pandemic-informed modifications of regular schooling to incorporate the hands-on experiences required of the career and technical education programs in the hands-free era of COVID.

"It's very different this year," said integrated science teacher Emily Anderson. "We are open every day for the students to come and learn, if their home school allows them to. It becomes really challenging because you never really know what day how many kids you're going to get."

"The students are here, but a lot of them are virtual," she continued. "There's still learning going on, it's just in a different capacity."

Students in the visual communications program, which focuses on visual and graphic design, have learned to meet with clients and each other virtually to adapt to a pandemic-changed world.

"We do a lot of projects for not only the school community, but also out in the real world," said instructor Kerry Mack.

"There aren't a lot of companies locally that they can go out and get work experience with, so we work together here," designing brochures, posters, vinyl graphic logos and apparel.

Students in programs like cosmetology, culinary, and building trades learn how to work with the public while wearing masks and taking extra COVID-related precautions in their respective learning labs

"We try our best to keep everyone six feet apart because no one wants to wear a mask all day," Anderson said.

Culinary, like many other career and technical education programs, offers students the chance to learn in the classroom and take their skills to the "real world," often next door in a learning lab — in this case, a fully functioning kitchen. Culinary students prepare and serve meals twice weekly for staff, Anderson said. "They get all the experience they need to go be able to enter the industry."

Some go on to be sous chefs upon graduation, while other students further their education at a culinary school.

In a typical year, the nursing program places students in local nursing homes, hospitals and other health care settings to gain real-world experience, according to instructor Barb Fletcher-Blake, but the program has since shifted to allow for more hands-on classroom and lab work.

"Of course, COVID impacted our class immensely," Fletcher-Blake said. "A lot of the parents were afraid of having their kids going into the clinical side. We're constantly looking to see if we can get in the nursing homes, because that's where the kids are ultimately going to go."

Fletcher-Blake spent Wednesday afternoon with her three seniors, practicing skills for the state certified nursing assistant exam.

Practicing oral care — brushing a patient's teeth — now requires a face shield. Frequent handwashing and the wearing of personal protective equipment, though typical of the program, is also reinforced. Brooke Winchester, a senior from Unatego, practiced placing and removing a bedpan from beneath Gabe Cazzolla, a senior from Downsville, while Walton senior Emmalee Caprio evaluated her technique as if she were a state examiner.

Fletcher-Blake emphasized the components of indirect care: practicing patient greetings and exits, maintaining privacy, ensuring a patient's comfort, asking permission before completing each task, and verbalizing every step of the process — especially important when facial expressions are obscured behind a face mask.

"Our playground is clinical, so if we don't get to clinical, it's a real travesty," Fletcher-Blake said. "The kids feel comfortable in a controlled environment, but it's different when you're out there."

With nearly 800 students across campuses in Norwich and Masonville, enrollment in the district's 13 career and technical education programs remained steady as compared to previous years, Anderson said, but enrollment in the career academy has dropped.

"You can have a kid that isn't a really good fit in their home district that would normally come here for alternative education, but they might still have a good fit through online learning," she said.

"Kids get to select their career choice and they get to follow that choice. They come here with an interest in what they want to pursue when they get out of high school," said Randy Smith, principal of the Harrold Campus. "Kids, for some reason, might not like English, math or science, but when they get here, when they're learning English, math and science, it's trade-related, so it makes sense."

Visit dcmoboces.com for more information about the programs offered.

(c)2021 The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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