Adjusting the Toolkit: Vocational Schools are Developing Creative Ways to Keep Students Engaged During the Pandemic


“Vocational and technical education is inherently practical,” said Edward Bouquillon, principal of Minuteman Vocational Technical High School, located on the Lexington / Lincoln line. “So we have to have children in their store or their laboratory. “

Recognizing the importance of in-person instruction, many regional vocational schools across the state have found ways to provide students with at least time in school for their in-store programs and, in some cases, for students. university courses. The situation contrasts with last spring, when the pandemic forced vocational schools and all other schools to switch entirely to distance education at home.

Massachusetts has 26 regional vocational schools. Vocational training programs are also offered in around 30 comprehensive secondary schools.

At Blue Hills, officials have crafted a timeline to prioritize in-school learning for its in-store classes, which – as is typically the case in vocational schools – alternate with academic classes. . This fall, students have two school days each week of shopping. Their other professional courses and all academic courses are taken virtually at home.

Officials said the plan offered four-year students in-person vocational instruction while allowing the school to operate with a 25 percent enrollment capacity – a quarter of students attending in person on a school day – what is necessary to meet social needs. distancing instructions.

Christopher Alcimbert in his cosmetology class at Blue Hills Regional Technical School. Jonathan Wiggs / Globe Staff

“Students really need hands-on experience,” said Blue Hills Superintendent Jill Rossetti. “How can you hire someone who has never changed a tire but just read about it?” How do you hire someone to use an acetylene torch that just saw the demo online? “

To make the plan work, the school follows safety procedures such as requiring students to wear masks, stay 6 feet from each other, and wipe down their equipment after use. The guards also deep clean the building two nights a week, in addition to regular cleaning throughout each school day.

Rossetti said she was not surprised that teachers took on the challenge of teaching students with limited in-person interaction.

“By nature, voke instructors are problem solvers,” she said. “Most of them work in industry, so they’re used to facing problems and solving them. “

As an example of their creativity, she said culinary art teachers send students home with coolers filled with pre-measured ingredients they can use to cook meals during distance learning days. Students from other programs also take home tools and kits for practical work.

“The goal of vocational schools now is to do everything possible to ensure that students are in front of professional instructors for as long as possible,” said Kevin Farr, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators.

He said the extent to which they are achieving that goal and the plans they implement vary widely due to factors such as local rates of COVID-19. Some schools offer full professional weeks at school, and others a hybrid between home and school days. Several others are all virtual. Similar variations exist for academic classes.

At Minuteman, students attend classes at school every five days during one of their two monthly shopping weeks and virtual home classes for the other weeks. All academic classes are taken remotely at home, according to officials at the 650-student school that serves nine member communities.

Bouquillon said the schedule format, obtained after much deliberation over the summer, is based on “safety and the most efficient way to do what we’re designed to do – vocational and technical training.” .

Students work in the state-of-the-art fabrication shop at Minuteman Regional <a class=High School. ” class=”height_a width_full width_full–mobile width_full–tablet-only” src=”” bad-src=”×0/”/>
Students work in the state-of-the-art fabrication shop at Minuteman Regional High School.

Minuteman is operating at 25% of its capacity, providing enough space to practice social distancing. With this and measures such as requiring pupils and teachers to wear masks and the installation of numerous sanitation stations, Bouquillon is convinced that the school can operate safely, adding that his new building – opened in 2019 – includes features such as state-of-the-art ventilation. system that will further reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19.

Lucy Kitchenka, who is president of the senior class and in the carpentry program at Minuteman, enjoys having at least a few professional classes in person.

“I have personally [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder]. For someone like me not being able to see what I’m working on, move the pieces around and put them together makes learning a lot more difficult, ”said the Arlington resident. “I really think a lot of students would have a harder time if we were to have our voke classes completely online.”

At Greater Lowell Technical High School, a 2,310-student school in Tyngsborough serving four member communities, including Lowell, students attend school one day of each work and school week.

“It is extremely important that we provide in-person learning, as much of the technical programming is completely hands-on,” said school superintendent Jill Davis, who hopes the school can move up to two days soon. nobody during professional weeks.

“Class sizes are much smaller, so these students receive a lot more instruction in small groups,” said Davis, noting an advantage of the current format. And some vocational teachers are providing students with learning kits to enable hands-on work during their days at home, according to Michael Barton, assistant superintendent and principal of Greater Lowell.

The school is at 25 percent of its capacity for in-person learning and other steps, from wearing a mask to replacing group seats with individual tables in the cafeteria, have been taken to further improve safety.

“We are delighted to see the students back in the building,” said Davis. “Many of them said they were happy and grateful to have at least one day of in-person learning.”

At Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School, students take all their lessons remotely from home, according to David DiBarri, principal of the 1,260-student school in Wakefield.

DiBarri said the school was indeed forced to move away because, under state rules, it must share the COVID-19 risk designation status of Revere, one of its 12 member districts. Revere is currently designated as a high risk community based on its number of COVID-19 cases. Two other communities that send students to Northeast Metro Tech – Chelsea and Winthrop – are also currently in the state’s designated “red zone”.

Noting that the school intended to implement a hybrid plan, DiBarri said it was disappointing that Northeast had to go for an entirely remote format instead. But he said the school quickly focused on giving students as interactive an experience as possible when they take their classes at home.

In all of the school’s vocational programs, students are given kits filled with supplies, tools and materials that they can use to learn skills during their virtual sessions. Chromebooks were also provided to all students.

“We thought you can’t just have students looking at the computer,” DiBarri said. “If they use their hands and their minds to solve problems, it will be a much better experience. He’s trying to make lemonade from a lemon.

John Laidler can be reached at [email protected].

A masonry workshop class at Greater Lowell Technical High School.  From left to right, Yan Ortiz, grade 10, of Lowell;  teacher Jay Foster;  and Eric Brière, Grade 11 from Tyngsborough.
A masonry workshop class at Greater Lowell Technical High School. From left to right, Yan Ortiz, grade 10, of Lowell; teacher Jay Foster; and Eric Brière, Grade 11 from Tyngsborough.


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