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Remote learning: GACTC working to keep hands-on in classes

Mariah Marlett, 18, a senior at Central High School in Martinsburg, shows off a unicorn cake she made in the culinary arts program at the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center. Mariah, who is studying to be a pastry chef, made the cake for the daughters of the dean of students. GACTC students are continuing their hands-on learning remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy photo

With schools switching to remote learning to finish up a year interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, programs that require a more hands-on approach to learning are taking on the challenge of minimizing the disruption of its students’ progression.

The Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center, which serves more than 1,100 students preparing to enter a medical field or one of the trades, has developed a virtual learning program that enables students to interact with instructors while doing some hands-on learning from their homes.

“It was definitely a challenge taking a hands-on component and putting that into virtual learning,” said Nicole Zernick, career and technical education coordinator for the GACTC. “Our teachers are doing a fantastic job with it.”

Zernick said that by using online learning tools such as Canvas and Google Classroom, instructors are getting creative in developing tasks students can do remotely.

HVAC instructor Ed Campbell created an assignment for each of his students to do a complete audit of their homes’ HVAC system to evaluate the age and efficiency of the units.

Visual arts technologies instructor Apryl Sparr is having her students create a visual representation of the phrase, “We are all in this together,” which she says has become a rallying cry for the nation as it confronts the pandemic.

Culinary arts students learn more than just cooking and baking, so instructor Heather McCloskey is using the crisis to encourage critical thinking from her students by asking them to write an essay about how they would respond to the coronavirus crisis if they were restaurant owners.

Mariah Marlett, a senior at Central High School in Martinsburg, attends the culinary arts program at the GACTC. She is studying to become a pastry chef.

In her last year at the GACTC, Marlett was facing uncertainty about what would become of the three years of hard work she had already put in.

“I was worried about how we would finish and how we would get our certification for the class,” she said.

Marlett said an upcoming hands-on remote assignment is to use ingredients she already has at her house to create a dish, which she will then send in to be graded.

Although she misses being in the classroom with her instructor and peers, Marlett said getting to continue the course through remote learning is the next best thing.

“It’s the best we can do at a time like this,” she said. “It is a really good program for us right now.”

Zernick said the entire staff works together to pull off the logistics of teaching hands-on instruction using the internet. She credits math instructors John Williamson and Denise Bumgarner, along with technology coordinator Rob Gutshall, for pulling it all together.

“They have been so helpful in coordinating and providing resources for our teachers,” she said. “They have been instrumental is getting us going.”

Zernick said developing the remote learning plan for students has given the GACTC staff the opportunity to engage with other instructors about their disciplines, something they don’t have many opportunities to do inside the building.

“I really feel that this has given us an opportunity to collaborate as teachers,” she said. “Normally you are in your own room and doing your own thing, but now we are able to see what everyone is doing. They did that already, but I think they took it to a new level.”

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