When Peter Haas began taking business classes at Keene High School, he loved the hands-on nature of his first marketing course, leading him to enroll in the marketing program at the Cheshire Career Center.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic has altered how students learn, more interactive courses like Haas’s business classes have changed, too.
“With the marketing program, this year, especially, we have moved away from working in a lot of groups,” Haas, a senior, said. “A lot of stuff has been transferred to individualized work, more so.”
Throughout the fall, though, when the Cheshire Career Center has operated under a hybrid model of in-person and remote classes, teachers and students have found more creative ways to work together, Haas added.
“We were working on a big group project this week, but it’s all on the computer, and on things like Photoshop and stuff like that,” he said in an interview Thursday.
That’s one of the many ways the career center — which offers 17 different career and technical education programs and enrolls about 700 students from Keene, Fall Mountain Regional and Monadnock Regional high schools — has adapted during the coronavirus outbreak, director Samantha Belcourt said.
For instance, many classes at the career center, located at Keene High, have switched to new curricula that incorporate more virtual elements that simulate the hands-on work students would typically do. The challenge, Belcourt said, is that a number of the center’s programs, such as culinary arts and automotive service technology, require a certain number of lab hours for students to receive certifications in those fields.
“It’s challenging only having students on campus two days a week,” Belcourt said. “So teachers really focus on those lab hours, and making sure they’re there to answer any questions and go over those technical skills. And a lot of the instructional work is done online.”
This focus on prioritizing hands-on learning when students are in school will continue in the lead-up to Thanksgiving, after which the Cheshire Career Center, and all schools in N.H. School Administrative Unit 29, will transition to fully remote instruction at least through the end of Christmas break.
“I think from now until the [Thanksgiving] break, I’m just going to tell my teachers to make every classroom instruction meaningful, and use lab hours towards certification as much as possible,” Belcourt said.
Some courses aren’t impacted as much by the switch to remote learning, such as the information technology classes Ethan Healey takes.
“For computer networking and programming, when you go remote with those classes, you can still do hands-on [work], because in programming, you get taught what the language is and how to use it, and then you make projects,” Healey, a senior, said.
“So, we were lucky enough to be able to still have the hands-on learning and make projects on our own computers at home, and send them to make sure they work. And the teachers did a really good job of adapting.”
Belcourt, who is in her first year as director of the Cheshire Career Center, said she has also been impressed with how the school’s staff has come together during the COVID-19 crisis. And despite some of the unique challenges career center classes face with hybrid and remote learning, Belcourt said she remains committed to helping students start on their career paths.
“Industry is dying for workers in these technical fields,” said Belcourt, who previously worked as the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Coordinator for Continuing Education at Nashua Community College. “And this is a prime time to help high school students, get them on a pathway, connect them with a great business and industry and start training them for ... those transferrable skills to the workplace.”
Both Haas and Healey said they believe their programs at the Cheshire Career Center have prepared them to succeed in college, and beyond.
“I don’t think a lot of kids get the type of programs that me and Ethan have taken here, in marketing or in IT,” Haas said. “So I think just having the head start gives you the opportunity to pick a direction earlier, or try out different things without having to take [college] classes for foundation. And I think that can get you farther in a specific field, or can make you more well-rounded as a student at the college level.”
To help spread that message, the Cheshire Career Center will host its first-ever Discovery Week from Dec. 14-17, Belcourt said. A series of virtual open houses from 6:30 to 8 p.m. each evening will provide students and parents more information about career center programs, which also include construction trades, firefighting, cosmetology and health sciences, among others.
The Cheshire Career Center will send out more information on Discovery Week through the Keene High School newsletter, and details will be available on the career center’s website, khs.keeneschoolsnh.org, and Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CheshireCareerCenter, within the next two weeks, Belcourt said.
“One of my goals is to let the community know more about our CTE programs and help educate our students and our parents about what CTE is,” Belcourt said. “... When it’s time to sign up for classes, a lot of parents don’t understand what CTE is, and they think [students] should be taking AP classes and just general education courses, or just some electives. But here, for CTE, we’re putting students on a career pathway.”