Learning at a vocational school amid coronavirus pandemic presents unique set of challenges
A group of students at the Piscataway Vocational School, a school that lends itself to hands-on learning and relies heavily on that, has a unique set of challenges, and is adapting to learn as they continue to navigate the difficulties the coronavirus pandemic brings.
All the students are broken up into what they call their cohorts -- culinary students in the culinary cohort, automotive in the automotive cohorts, and so on. Normally, they would have classes with students from other techs, but now, they have to stick within their cohort in order to continue coming to school in person.
“They’re cohorting,” says Principal Nicole Slade. “So, if we have a situation where testing in this classroom, we know we would have to quarantine that classroom. So, it makes it a lot easier because they're not intermingling.
“When you can smell it, feel it, or I can figure it out from the teacher explaining it from a video is completely different,” says Slade. “The teacher behind us, Ms. Mastrello, in the spring, she was doing online demonstrations for the kids, which is great experience and the students behind us were doing videos and posting them on YouTube of themselves looking. But it's still not the same as you're having a group of your peers working together and being able to cook in a line and learn the industry.”
The majority of the students come in person at least three times a week, strictly for their Vo-tech, and abide by all the rules to prevent spreading the virus because not only is their health important to them, but their schooling is.
A few students are still virtual, following along in a live stream. But to make this work, students have to stick within their designated cohorts, wear masks, and act responsibly outside of school.
“That's why they're very diligent about washing their hands and wearing mask and cautious about whether they go and who they interact with because they don't want their class to be shut down,” says culinary instructor Antonia Mastrella. “It's very important for them because they want to be not only in here learning and they know the best way for them to learn is in here.
There are some students attending classes virtually, even following recipes and making it work. The rest of their general classes is done from home.