How the Pandemic Has Affected Career and Technical Education

Derrick Burress
Derrick Burress
High school principal; M.S. in Education

COVID-19 has impacted all of us in different ways. It seems like ages ago when schools began to shut their doors and started the arduous process of fully implementing eLearning for students and our staff. Career and technical education had its own unique challenges and complications when it came to eLearning. Now that the summer has arrived, we are able to reflect back on what we – school districts, administrators, instructors, and students – did well and what still needs improvement.

The future of education and reintegration into the traditional classroom is still very much in a stage of flux. Just like other schools, career and technical education continues to learn and grow with different guidelines and recommendations. Here are a few things we have learned while navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

What is Career and Technical Education?

Career and Technical Education (CTE) is educational programming that was traditionally known as vocational education. CTE focuses on career-oriented programming and curriculum. These programs include more traditional courses like automotive services, welding, and certified nurse assisting programs, but have also evolved into early education programs, game design and cybersecurity, emergency medical services, and criminal justice.

CTE is an opportunity for students to explore career options while still in high school. This exploration often leads to a lifelong career passion for students that begins before they ever leave secondary education. Many programs today offer dual credit with community colleges, which not only gives students high school credit but also college credit for the programs they enroll in.

How Career and Technical Education Has Been Affected by COVID-19

When schools first began shutting their doors in mid-March, many of us assumed the shutdown would be a relatively short one. We were not expecting the complete cancelation of in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. However, we were more prepared for an eLearning situation due to proactive planning earlier in the year.

Our school prepared our staff for eLearning in early October. We trained our staff for eLearning for the event of emergency days being used. These days were intended for major snowstorms, maintenance issues (like pipes bursting) at the school, or the Polar Vortex. We never would have anticipated a nationwide school shut down for one-fourth of the school year, but our teachers were prepared better than we anticipated. Training our staff for eLearning days proved to be incredibly forward-thinking and unbelievably timely.

CTE has a large hands-on component to classes. There are labs for almost every program. These labs range from working with the elderly at nursing homes to diagnosing engine failure on your car to running an in-school preschool. This all stopped when the pandemic shut down our schools. Our immediate thoughts turned to what we could still deliver to our students that allowed for an understanding and ultimately mastery of the curricula that would be traditionally delivered in a classroom or lab setting.

Career and Technical Education Resources for During School Closings

Like most educational facilities, we went right to work building programming and lessons that allowed for students to continue learning while quarantined at home. Our staff already had five eLearning lessons planned for emergency days throughout the year, which was a headstart over many schools that had not implemented eLearning up until the shutdown. During the first five days, the principal team began meeting with groups of instructors to collaboratively build out what a prolonged school closure may look like.

Aside from the hands-on activities that CTE encourages and delivers every day, there are multiple certification programs that each CTE program offers. We began to make these certifications our focus. Many of our “high bay” programs (Auto, Collision Repair, Welding, Construction Skills, Firefighting) all have safety certifications that are given. The program that we use on a yearly basis is S/P2. S/P2 is a program that trains students on safety, environmental, ethics, human resources, and soft skills. We utilized the safety training for our students during the pandemic, and they were able to get a certificate as well as learning about the industry.

Our Early Education programs began using Flipgrid to teach their classes. Flipgrid is a website that lets teachers facilitate video discussions through grids they create. Each grid is essentially a message board where teachers can pose questions and their students can post video responses that appear in a tiled grid display. This program allowed our teachers to easily communicate, plan, and deliver lessons to their students. They utilized Flipgrid as a tool that allowed our high school students to deliver eLearning lessons to the preschoolers in the program.

Aside from the above internet-based programs, our teachers became extremely resourceful when it came to Google Classroom. Google Classroom is our way of posting discussion questions, assignments, tests, and quizzes for students. Instructors were able to record lectures or demonstrations and have the students respond accordingly. They recorded Zoom demonstrations and discussions with students so that others who were unable to attend for any reason had easy access to the material. This made catch up and curriculum continuity easy for everyone.

Teachers are one of the most resilient and creative groups I have ever had the pleasure of working beside. Virtual simulation labs, student demonstrations, and even class scavenger hunts brought hands-on components to learning while becoming the new normal for our students.

Without teacher creativity and the willingness of students to excel during this time, students would have taken a giant step backward during COVID-19. But our teachers brought a sense of stability to their students and found new ways to get them the CTE curriculum and experiences they needed to succeed. Both the CTE instructors and students demonstrated resilience in difficult times, coming out of the school year confidently.

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