CHILLICOTHE — As K-12 schools prepare to reopen across the county, Pickaway-Ross administrators are committed to ensuring that a career tech education won’t be impacted because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Ross County schools agree — social distancing, face masks and sanitizing are necessary to guarantee the health and safety of students and staff. Yet career tech students, who rely on hands-on learning and on the job training, face a different set of challenges to further their education.
“In career technology, we subscribe to the notion of performing essential work,” said Jason Vesey, director of secondary education at Pickaway-Ross Career and Technology Center. “We rally behind those workers and Pickaway-Ross gives birth to those workers every year.”
Unlike other local schools, PRCTC has more to consider when devising a reopening plan. As they serve youth spanning across two counties, first they must consider input from both the Pickaway County Public Health Department and the Ross County Health District. Additionally, they have three campuses — two in Chillicothe and one in Circleville. The institution also works with 10 feeder schools, or public schools, where students have opted to enroll in career tech.
Because of all the different entities involved, Vesey says that the reopening plan has been fluid and constantly changing. He says that the school has spent around $20,000 on materials like plexiglass dividers to ensure student’s safety. Pickaway-Ross has also implemented other policies similar to other local schools like requiring face masks and enforcing social distancing.
Signage has been placed throughout the building to remind students to stay six feet apart and also asking them to walk one way down certain sides of the hallways. There are also sanitation stations around the school, too.
However, unlike other districts, Pickaway-Ross is operating under a cohort model. This means that students will remain in contact with the same teachers and individuals during the course of their study for at least 50% of the day. PRCTC pupils will attend classes and eat lunch with those who are in their program. If there were to be a confirmed COVID-19 case, the cohort model makes it much easier for local health districts to do contact tracing and limit the spread of the virus.
“Most high schools can’t keep their students together but at Pickaway-Ross, we can,” Vesey said.
While PRCTC has the intention of students returning to school for five days a week with safety precautions in place, they are also prepared to move to a hybrid model if necessary.
Under the remote learning plan, students will attend school in person for lab only, with their cohort. Juniors and seniors will alternate days for when they need to be present. On an off day, students are expected to complete their academic work online. In the event of a shutdown, the school will also supply students with take-home devices.
Regardless of when students come to school, all labs will be operating under the latest industry standards. This means that some students may have different requirements than others. For example, if it is unsafe for a welding student to wear a face mask as it limits their vision, they may be asked to use a face shield or other personal protective equipment.
And because PRCTC students learn primarily through practical instruction, Vesey says the biggest challenge will be ensuring students’ success if the school transitions to remote learning. Because lab time teaches students the credentials that they need to earn a job, even just missing one day could affect what an individual learns.
“Those enrolled in health and science programs like nursing truly rely on clinical,” Vesey said. “At some point, students have to prove that they know how to operate [in their role].”
As a result, educators will be working to pull students who are struggling academically for supplemental instruction even if they are working remotely. Vesey added that Pickaway-Ross has worked to provide crucial professional development opportunities for staff to keep learning consistent for students.
Despite the potential hurdles that students and staff may face, Vesey says that everyone involved is dedicated to going above and beyond to ensure students’ success in their careers.
Last year, Pickaway-Ross had nearly 150 seniors working full time while maintaining their role as students. And this year, Vesey believes that students will continue to fill the void of workers despite COVID-19.
“Everyone’s job has become more challenging, that’s the essential nature of this work,” he said. “We hope to offer more opportunities for our students to see them be successful.”
Staff at Pickaway-Ross will return to school on Aug. 17. Juniors are set to return on Aug. 20 with seniors arriving on the 24.
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