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Colleges work around pandemic restrictions for their training programs

By LISA MONTI

As the spring semester began winding down in late April, educators and school administrators were making changes to safely educate and accommodate students and staff during an uncertain situation. Typically, classes moved online and graduation and other year-end ceremonies were postponed or delayed due to Covid-19 health-related concerns.

Training programs that require hands-on learning and on-the-job internships presented some of the biggest challenges for educators and their students at colleges around the state, including Pearl River Community College and Hinds Community College.

In the spring, Hinds Community College administrators were making what they called “small, measured steps toward resuming regular business operations.” Most classes remained online for the summer semester as did student recruiting and other activities. The college also reported in its employee newsletter that students in the career and technical programs such as agriculture and aviation used virtual learning platforms for live and recorded lectures. Lee Douglas, agribusiness technology instructor, said the ultimate goal was to “maintain quality instruction.”

Federal law for licensing  aircraft mechanics license was temporarily relaxed during the coronavirus situation, according to the college. W.P. Marsh, who teaches the Airframe & Powerplant course in the aviation maintenance program, said that before April 13, the Federal Aviation Administration required colleges offering the program to use face-to-face classroom instruction.

“However, the agency has encouraged flight and aviation schools like Hinds to authorize distance learning as long as we show how we planned to make contact with students daily, deliver the content and provide reasonably secure testing,” Marsh said.

The college used Canvas and Zoom to create study assignments and provide instructional videos so instructors could evaluate course delivery, student attendance and interaction, officials reported in its newsletter. Two FAA inspectors joined students and instructors on a session held the first day after restrictions were relaxed.

Brad McCullouch, district director of Commercial Aviation, said, “The federal inspector who approved us said we have set the stage in the future to utilize Canvas in possibly a hybrid model of teaching. This could greatly expand the numbers we see every year in the A&P program.”

School officials report the college continues to be focused on providing a safe environment and top-notch instruction for students returning to campus.

“Our administrators, faculty and staff worked tirelessly to formulate an effective plan for our students to complete the hands-on learning objectives in their respective courses, while keeping their safety our top priority,” said Dr. Chad Stocks, vice president for Workforce Development and Career-Technical Education. “I am confident that, despite the interruption COVID-19 brought to the spring semester, our students will possess the skills necessary to be successful in their future careers. I applaud our students for their determination to succeed amidst this global pandemic.”

At Pearl River Community College, workforce classes range from single-day courses such as forklift operation or first aid/CPR, to multi-week or semester-long programs that prepare certified nursing assistants, structural fitters, manufacturing operators, emergency medical technicians, welders and certified clinical medical assistants. PRCC also serves companies directly through customized training of employees with job-specific competency development and technology adaptation.

“Some of the classes that were in progress already in March were temporarily suspended, then returned with additional measures in place such as splitting into multiple sections of smaller groups with additional social distancing measures in place.  Many were able to finish the training in progress by completing assignments at home through online curriculum,” said Rebecca Brown, Community and Economic Development Coordinator of PRCC’s Lowery A. Woodall Advanced Technology Center.

Brown said people still want to train and prepare for whatever their next goal is, but they want to do it safely. “That’s what we’re here to do—to prepare students for whatever the world of work looks like, now and in the next few years.  If employment will be different because of COVID-19, so will our training so that we never stop meeting the needs of jobseekers and local industry,” she said. “ For some individuals, as unfortunate as the current global situation is, it has actually given them a chance to take stock of where they want to be in the near future and what steps they will need to take to achieve those goals.”

Because PRCC offers students training is a variety of workplaces, the college works closely with local companies to learn from and align their  safety strategies “to make sure we are employing the most effective processes to keep our staff and students safe.”

Brown added that as the need for healthcare workers increases, so does the demand for related training.  “Our medical courses are filling quickly,” she said. “The next three rounds of the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program are already filled.”

Looking to the upcoming school year as the pandemic continues, Brown noted that PRCC’s instructors and staff “have been flexible from day one—first about working from home, then about returning to work safely to collaborate on how to best serve our diverse student population.”

The upcoming program year, Brown said, “will certainly include a much higher percentage of online training than we have seen in the past.  However, we are also learning that the constraints of planning in these conditions are also fostering unmatched levels of creativity and innovative thinking.  The lessons we take from this time about how to understand every aspect of the student experience will drive us for years to come.”

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About Lisa Monti