Mark Champagne, in his 31st year as instructor in the construction technology program at Mid-Maine Technical Center in Waterville, demonstrates part of the process of building a bow saw, as seen in a YouTube video he shared with his student. Image courtesy of Mark Champagne

As the coronavirus pandemic has changed the landscape of learning in central Maine, career and technical education schools have the unique situation of not being able to provide their typical hands-on experience.

“As you can imagine, for us it’s particularly difficult, given the hands-on nature of our courses,” said Nicholas Gannon, director of the Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta. “We’re moving forward, trying to help students prepare for certification exams.

“All of our instructors are doing their best to keep in contact with kids, which is a little bit complicated because we have such a large catch for an area — we’re pulling from eight high schools,” he added. “It’s a little less intimate than a local school district’s ability to get a hold of their kids.”

It’s not much easier at the Mid-Maine Technical Center in Waterville.

“I don’t think anybody would say this is the way we should be doing things, for sure,” Mid-Maine Director Peter Hallen said. “(Career technical education) is really built on applied learning, we know that.

“But really, we’re giving students access to equipment and technology that most people don’t have access to at home,” he added, “so there’s just no way to duplicate what we’re able to do during the school year through remote learning.”

Despite that, both schools are still working to offer their students as much of an applied learning experience as possible. Like other  area schools, they’re leaning on social media — and a little creativity — for lessons.

 

LEARNING ON THE FLY

Image courtesy of Mark Champagne

Mark Champagne is in his 31st year as an instructor in the construction technology program at Mid-Maine. But when the coronavirus shut down in-person classes, it was time for him to become well-versed in using social media technology.

Mid-Maine instructors have been using Remind — a two-way communication app that allows students and teachers to reach each other to go over lessons, text questions and to keep in touch while away from the classroom.

“I’m giving them all sorts of information,” Champagne said. “Lessons that are coming up, just little things — like a homeroom, almost — about where we’re going with this. Considering it’s a carpentry program, it’s pretty tough.”

For a visual aid, Champagne uses photos and video of an assignment, and encourages students to send photos and videos back of their progress at home.

“If it was door hardware, at the very end the hands-on piece would be to go in your home and take a doorknob apart — but be sure to ask your parents first,” Champagne said. “I send either a video or pictures and they send (their videos or pictures) back to me. Some are really have a lot of fun with it.”

Champagne has also given his students the ability to be creative at home, building what they want, having them send in photos of their progress.

“I give no parameters at all,” he said. “They were building stuff all over the board, videotaping it, sending it back to me. It was really fun for me as a teacher to see them do that.

“And they have to put a lot of thought of it into it,” Champage added, “because now they’re kind of doing it on their own without any help.”

Fellow Mid-Maine instructor Jason Cyr leads the outdoor leadership program. During the time away from the classroom, he has set up a private Facebook group for students, parents and school advisors.

“What I’ve done with that Facebook group, is every day I post a new video, either reviewing something that we’ve already learned and had a hands-on experience in class,” Cyr said. “There’s also some new material. I’ll put out a five to seven minute video on covering something new.

“A week or so later, I’ll reinforce it with another video of me doing the same activity, just through a different lens,” he added.

To keep class interesting, Cyr has posted outdoor cooking lessons, and has helped students with online certifications, the latest being a Facebook certification in digital marketing.

“It basically shows small businesses how to use Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Instagram accounts to promote your small business,” he said. “Which is really important for my students that plan to go out and start their own guide business, or even working for another outfitter.

“Some of those are kind of old school and not very tech-savvy, so they’re looking for those young guides to come in and handle that digital marketing for them,” Cyr added. “It’s another good skill.”

 

EVERYTHING IS AT A STANDSTILL

It hasn’t all been fun, especially for high school seniors.

Maranacook Community School senior Amber Fredette was eight hours away from receiving her CNA license when the school year was canceled. She said April 14 that she is uncertain if she will be able to complete her clinical hours due to the COVID-19 outbreak while visiting a friend in Wayne. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Maranacook senior Amber Fredette was well on her way to becoming a certified nursing assistant. However, when in-person classes were shut down, she was eight hours shy of finishing her clinical hours to receive her certification.

“They stopped clinical (hours) a while ago,” Fredette said. “We had eight hours left to do. We cannot do those eight hours.

“We need that to take our state test, so I don’t know if they might do something where they might forget about the eight hours and have us finish the workbook, just do it that way,” she added. “But I’m not totally sure how it’s going to work out.”

Fredette is still able to do lessons from her workbook, but is unable to have the hands-on learning that she prefers.

“I’m really bummed out,” she said. “I’m really more of a hands-on learner, so being in the setting kind of made (learning) a lot better. I understood more (of) what it would be like being in the workplace.

“We would do labs in class with mannequins and stuff. Being with people, you can actually talk with them and hear their stories,” Fredette added. “It’s just a lot of stuff like that you miss out on.”

With her certification, she was planning on joining the Air Force, working on her way to become a nurse. But she needs to retake her Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam, which she currently can’t take.

“I don’t know if there’s a way I can do it online,” Fredette said. “I haven’t talked about all that yet. But I’m working on just practicing to retake it.”

Maranacook Community School senior Sydney Birtwell said she still plans on enrolling at Central Maine Community College next year to study precision machining. She was helping her father erect a greenhouse on April 14 at their farm in Wayne. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

It’s even trickier for fellow Maranacook senior Sydney Birtwell, who was working an independent study program for precision machinery. Being the only student interested, she hasn’t been able to continue her work while being physically away from school.

“It’s at a standstill; there’s not really much I can do,” Birtwell said. “If I wanted, I can design things. You just can’t cut them out. You can’t (have classes) in person.

“At Maranacook, we have a CNC machine, and I did an independent study with my teachers, so I’m really one of the only people that was interested in it and had the class to do that,” she added. “It’s not top priority, because I’m only one student that’s doing it.”

CATC’s director, Gannon, said the school is already trying to make up for the ways students have not been able to learn in the classroom for the end of the school year.

“Of course, it’s all tentative right now because it’s dependent on a third-party industry group, what we’re allowed to do through contracts with teachers,” he said. “Even with contractual limitations with teacher contracts, everybody is eager and willing to do that, we’ve just got to work out the details.”

Gannon is also hopeful that Maine colleges will help work with the outgoing seniors.

“(The students) that are moving on to the firefighter program, SMCC (Southern Maine Community College) is getting a cohort of kids from across the state at all 27 schools that have had the same limitations,” Gannon said. “So they might make accommodations for them on their end, too, so we don’t have to get it all cleaned up before they go.”

 

SILVER LINING

Both directors Gannon and Hallen have been able to find positives for their respective schools during the coronavirus outbreak, particularly from the students.

“It’s forced us to think differently about how we teach, how students learn. Some students are really showing us something through this,” Hallen said. They’re showing us that they can be attentive and they are motivated, even though it may not always seem that way when they’re here.

“We’ve had teachers that have been here 20, 25 years that are figuring out new ways to connect with kids, starting YouTube channels,” he added. “That part of it, I would say, has been pretty inspiring.”

“It’s a little more unique, (the students) are pretty driven,” Gannon said. “If they’re here, they want to be and they have a specific objective. That’s helped a lot of kids stay connected with their instructor and working.”

In the meantime, the schools will do their best to wrap up the school year in a less-than-ideal situation, which unfortunately for Gannon, is the end of his first year as director of CATC.

“I just keep telling myself, it can’t get worse,” he said while laughing. “This will be the worst year. It can only get better.”


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