Covid-19 forces vocational schools to adapt

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It is difficult to learn how to hold a cat for an x-ray. It’s even more difficult on video, said Morgan Sylvester, who is studying veterinary radiology remotely this year.

“In the past, we were given stuffed animals to show us how to position different animals, but it’s difficult to learn from a distance,” said Ms. Sylvester, 17, a high school student at the regional vocational technical school in Montachusett. in Fitchburg, Mass.

For teens studying in fields such as nursing and construction, the Covid-19 pandemic has presented distinct challenges in reaching their career goals. Remote instruction cannot replace the practice of inserting a needle for phlebotomy students or overheating metal for aspiring welders.

Veterinary program students in December in Fitchburg, Mass.


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Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School

Most vocational high school programs are partly distance and partly face-to-face this school year, and about a third are entirely distance, disrupting training. Educators predict a decrease in certifications for medical, nursing and dental assistants and technicians as well as for people aspiring to work in cosmetology, food safety, drafting and design, and construction. Training in these areas often leads to a well-paying job and an associate’s degree or other higher education level.

In a January survey by the Association for Career and Technical Education, a national group of public school teachers and guidance counselors, 74% of educators said they were much less or a little less effective than the previous school year to provide learning and laboratory hours. Teachers surveyed said preparing students for industry certifications and performance reviews is difficult this year, with 58% saying they are much less or a little less effective at helping students achieve their certification.

“Programs in which the application of skills is more concrete or in which the necessary computer technology is more specialized have more difficulties,” said Catherine Imperatore, research manager for the trade association.

Vocational and technical education – the modern form of vocational education which now also includes academic work – has made a strong comeback among policymakers in recent years. The focus has shifted away from manufacturing, transportation, and construction to healthcare, communications, and information technology.

Ms Sylvester, who plans to study medicine in college, expects to graduate from high school on time this spring and obtain a veterinary assistant certificate. Because her school has been on a hybrid schedule, she learns in person two or three days a week and remotely the rest of the time.

South Texas students trained in November for their EKG exams.


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Rural schools innovation zone

Normally, certification would qualify her to work in a veterinary clinic, but she found fewer hires during the pandemic.

“This year we had a lot of trouble finding places that would accept us to gain more experience,” she said. “So I feel like it’s definitely been taken away. “

The Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School and the Rural Schools Innovation Zone collaboration in South Texas are programs that have kept students on track for certification. Schools have juggled student and teacher schedules to provide enough training time in welding and construction labs. They use smartphone apps to design electrical systems, send mannequin heads home for cosmetology students, and negotiate with unions to relax their learning rules.

“In a professional context, there is a culture of positive attitude,” said Sheila Harrity, Superintendent and Director of Montachusett, also known as Monty Tech.

A South Texas vocational student is working on a project in September.


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Rural schools innovation zone

Monty Tech is supported by 18 communities in central Massachusetts and offers its 1,435 students a choice of 21 technical programs. Last spring, the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators pooled resources to create a video library taught by expert instructors in a variety of disciplines. Teachers and students can access this library for basic lessons so that they can free up time for individual work or hours of practice.

To open up to in-person learning, Monty Tech has created one-way hallways and stairwells. He marked assigned seats with bar codes in the cafeteria and on buses to allow contact tracing if a student is positive for Covid-19. The school sends quarantine notices to families as needed, Ms Harrity said, and it has closed four times and became completely remote when the number of infections increased.

Still, Monty Tech is on track to get the same number of students this year as it did last year, Ms. Harrity said.

To keep teachers on the job, the school contacted a local boys and girls club to provide them with child care. And to ensure students can gain work experience, Ms Harrity said she negotiated with plumbing and electrical unions to recognize learning hours performed in unusual ways, such as a wiring exercise on an app. .

“They agreed to sit down,” she said of the unions. “Otherwise, they will not have the expected and necessary reserve of labor in their trades.

In the Rural Schools Innovation Zone in South Texas, one of the first adjustments made by school officials was to more than double the number of welding booths to 31 for social distancing, said Michael Gonzalez, Executive Director.

Will the coronavirus pandemic cause long-term changes in higher education? To better understand the challenges facing U.S. colleges and universities, WSJ’s Alexander Hotz spoke with administrators, students, and a higher education futurist. Photo: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

The program is a partnership of three school districts, Brooks County and the communities of Freer and Prémont, providing vocational and technical training and dual enrollment opportunities for a variety of certifications with local colleges. School districts have joined in tackling what Gonzalez called a lack of opportunities for rural, minority and economically disadvantaged students and an alarming dropout rate.

This school year, campus administration teams have customized the schedules of more than 400 students to give them adequate hands-on lab hours and opportunities to earn certifications. In some cases, that means labs are open until 10 p.m. or on Saturdays, Mr Gonzalez said.

Next fall, many schools across the country will need to help students find work after missing in-person training, internships and co-op positions, Imperatore said. “They will always be faced with the kind of downstream effects of learning delays – students who have not been able to complete their industry certification requirements or get the learning hours in mid-grade. work, ”she said.

She expects a backlog of registrations, especially with community colleges, which also have funding issues.

Write to Anne Michaud at [email protected]

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