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July 4, 2022

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Clark County career, technical educators continue adapting

Students studying hands-on occupations make most of remote learning amid pandemic

By , Columbian staff writer
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Automotive instructor Adam Eldridge, center in red mask, works with students as they prepare to push a car inside the auto shop at Cascadia Tech Academy. Remote learning has been a challenge for students learning hands-on occupations.
Automotive instructor Adam Eldridge, center in red mask, works with students as they prepare to push a car inside the auto shop at Cascadia Tech Academy. Remote learning has been a challenge for students learning hands-on occupations. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Britt Pedlar isn’t a Food Network host, but his at-home lessons have led to a YouTube video library of cooking shows.

In one video for a Foods II class at Prairie High School, the culinary arts instructor sets out ingredients to make salsa verde enchiladas, including pulled pork, tomatoes, limes, cilantro, garlic, onion and an array of peppers. He moves through each step of the recipe as son Cameron, 10, operates the camera, and daughter Scarlett, 4, acts as the sous chef.

Like other teachers, career and technical educators continue to adapt to teaching in a pandemic. But with classes more hands-on than in traditional schools, the adjustments can be different.

Students haven’t stepped inside Pedlar’s kitchen classroom at Prairie since March. So he dug out a camera buried in his home garage and shoots two videos per week for students to follow along, using supplies and ingredients on hand at home.

“They’re able to still do what we do in class — with modifications,” he said.

Not only are Pedlar’s students learning to cook, but they’re also learning how to modify and make adjustments on the fly. That’s crucial in the culinary world, he said.

“Being in the industry, you make split-second decisions all day long,” Pedlar said. “For students to be able to have a taste of that, I think it’s really great.”

Career and technical education is an opportunity for students to explore career options while still in high school. Students often apply to programs to gain specialized skills in everything from aviation to welding.

In the COVID-19 era, Joan Huston’s thoughts turned to how instructors at Cascadia Technical Academy’s 15 programs could still deliver to students when curriculum traditionally is held in classroom or lab settings. Instructors didn’t scramble to get Chromebooks to kids when schools closed last spring, but rather, scrambled to make take-home kits with professional supplies. As Cascadia Tech’s executive director, Huston even personally dropped off sewing machines to fashion design students.

Roughly 75 percent of Cascadia Tech students continue to learn remotely, Huston said, but around 100 students are now on campus daily doing on-site work.

Dan Robertson’s automotive students have adapted to remote learning by transitioning to an interactive online training system that features animation and graphics. Those who qualified for internships went into the field for an eight-week long stint at local dealerships and independent repair shops while the school’s automotive shop remained closed, he said.

As a longtime automotive education instructor, Robertson wasn’t the only one wondering early on how to teach automotive repair remotely. Friends asked, too.

“I said, ‘Well, if you find anyone who knows, give them my number,'” he said.

In January, small groups of students returned for the first time since March. Working collaboratively on cars takes creativity. During a recent visit, Matt Mayhak, 18, was on-site troubleshooting an engine while remote students fed Mayhak how-to information from a service manual. When he’s not at school, the teen also works on two personal cars at home.

“It’s a constant thing,” Mayhak said, “but it’s still more fun to do it for school.”

All 15 Cascadia Tech programs have industry certification. Huston estimates 85 percent of students will receive certification this school year. Three programs — applied medical sciences, cosmetology and dental assisting — require state licensing.

Opportunity lacking

The pandemic threw a wrench into some students’ plans because of lack of hands-on opportunities. Carron Sager’s cosmetology students nearing graduation this spring won’t have the required hours needed to earn a state license. Students need between 1,400 and 1,600 work hours, depending on their program of choice.

“Even though they’re not getting the hours they need for licensure for us,” Sager said, “they’re getting a really good solid foundation to take with them when they’re done.”

Since October, cohorts of cosmetology students are at the on-campus hair salon and classroom lab once a week for five hours. Studying theory of hair through textbooks makes for good knowledge, student Addelynn Smith said. However, continuous practice is better.

“Getting to know how to do it and work with a mannequin is beneficial,” she said, “but a real person is always the best. We’ll take what we can get because we need the practice.”

Smith and fellow classmate Chaisey Elkinton, both 17, have relied on family and friends for practicing hair coloring, styling, and treatment needs. Even with at-home kits filled with industry supplies, learning remotely had its challenges. Both became more grateful for shampoo bowls since traditional sinks and bathtubs became the only resort.

“It teaches us to be resourceful,” Elkinton said. “But that’s not necessarily a skill you want to have all the time in cosmetology. It’s hard to do when you have to be resourceful all the time.”

That’s why being back inside the salon and classroom comes with a sense of normalcy.

“Kitchen cosmetology is lovely,” Elkinton said, “but you don’t get your license for that.”

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