In the wake of COVID-19, educators at Pine Bush High School and Saginaw Intermediate School District (ISD) — both of which are part of SME’s PRIME (Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education) program — have taken creative approaches to learning.
At Pine Bush High School, in Pine Bush, N.Y., students returned to school virtually in early September. According to Aaron Hopmayer, the principal at Pine Bush, it looks like that situation will continue for a while, partially because of new restrictions on transportation. “They made the CDC guidelines very restrictive in terms of the number of students we can physically bring in on a bus,” says Hopmayer. “Every normal bus run now requires three runs, which obviously is a significant cost to the district.”
“It’s going to be an extended period of time before we truly have our full complement of students back in the building,” concludes Hopmayer, adding that his goal is to start bringing in small groups of students for specific engineering classes sometime in October. In the meantime, students are adhering virtually to their traditional nine-period day, consisting of 35-minute periods with a 10-minute break between classes. Manufacturing and engineering students are utilizing Tooling U-SME for online coursework, which is provided via the PRIME program.
With remote learning, hands-on training is the biggest challenge facing teachers and students. While online certifications are available, Hopmayer says they don’t substitute for meaningful, hands-on, practical instruction, either on the 3D printer, laser cutter, mill or lathe. “How do you say to a kid, go 3D print this — oh, I’m sorry, you don’t have a 3D printer at home. And how do you use the Haas mill when you don’t have that ability?”
“I’ve got to find a way to eventually get kids in this building,” Hopmayer says, “and that’s kind of what my charge is right now — trying to be creative and think about how best I can make this happen. We recognize that in order to do what’s right by our kids and our future employers and our colleges, these kids need to have these experiences.”
At Saginaw ISD in Michigan, the back-to-school experience in Fall 2020 includes a combination of remote, hybrid and face-to-face learning. “Returning to school has definitely been a challenge, but the great thing about our community is everybody works together to bring about the best possible results for students,” says Jennifer Geno, executive director of career and technical education for Saginaw ISD.
“We have 12 local districts, and within those 12 local districts are many of our PRIME schools, and so everybody’s ‘return to learn’ plan is different. Some are fully remote, so they’re obviously not going to be working on equipment or anything of that nature. Some are hybrid and some are face-to-face, with parents having a fully virtual option.”
A hybrid plan was implemented at the Saginaw Career Complex (SCC), Saginaw ISD’s countywide career and technical education center, which has a full build-out of the SME PRIME program in its Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing Academy. Students are divided into two groups, with Group A getting hands-on instruction on Mondays, Wednesdays and every other Friday, and Group B taking its turn on Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other Friday. On days when they’re not physically on the SCC premises, students engage in remote learning via PRIME funded Tooling U-SME online classes.
Geno’s goal is for all Saginaw ISD students to receive face-to-face learning, every school day, by the end of the 2020-21 school year. At the very least, she would like that to be the case for the students at SCC, which provides talent directly to local employers. “I think this whole COVID thing has been scary for a lot of folks, and you just don’t know where the lay of the land is, so I’m very pleased that programs as they relate to the PRIME initiative have not been cut,” says Geno. “People in our districts are very committed to this project and this initiative, and I’m very grateful for that.”