NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — McCann Technical School students will return to school Wednesday, Sept. 16, in person but only for vocational programming.
Principal Justin Kratz said on Monday that the School Committee last week approved a hybrid learning plan that would have students return to school only for shops.
"They [School Committee] voted and approved moving ahead with a plan that we do not have completely finalized yet," he said. "But our plan is to pursue remote learning for academics and then hybrid in person for vocational."
He said shops would rotate weekly with Grades 9 and 12 in school one week and Grades 10 and 11 the other week.
To meet social distancing requirements, Kratz said the cohorts would be split in half. For example, half of Grade 9 and half of Grade 12 would return to school Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The other half would return to school for shops Tuesday and Thursday.
When not in school during shop week, students will be participating in remote vocational classes.
Kratz said to ensure that each cohort has an equal amount of time in school, students will "flip flop" days of the week they return to school each shop week.
"Over two shop weeks they would have five in-house vocational days and five remote vocational days," he said. "We played with a bunch of different models, but we ultimately settled with this one because we felt like it gave us the opportunity to see our students the most often."
The principal said his team did consider giving each grade level its own week in school but then students would have to go three weeks physically out of shop.
"I don't feel like that is a very good set up," he said. "We are trying to increase the frequency we get to see the kids."
Grades not in shop week will take their typical academic classes remotely, and Kratz acknowledged that it may be beneficial to allow for some in-person academic experiences.
"During those days we want to build in some office-hour time for kids to check in with teachers in very small groups," he said. "Just to touch base and go over some things ... we are not sure exactly how that is going to work yet."
Kratz said McCann still has to solidify a memorandum of understanding with the teachers union, finalize how they will return to school, and what the curriculum will look like.
"Things that you take for granted like how do the carpentry kids use tools without sort of sharing?" Kratz said. "We don't have an infinite amount of table saws."
Shop teachers are rearranging their curriculum in this context so fewer students are in contact with machinery or equipment at a given time.
"Vocational teachers are coming to me and brainstorming ideas," Kratz said. "...They are doing a lot of work right now in planning how their curriculum rolls out in a logical way that will keep students safe."
He said McCann is using guidance from the state in regard to reopening vocational programming. He said culinary and cosmetology guidance reflects the current industry standards and that, where applicable, new industry safety standards will be brought into other shops.
"Those have been put under the guidance of what restaurants and barbershops have to follow. So basically whatever the industry has to do," he said. "So we are going to take a look at what the industries do in some other areas."
He said beyond creating a safer work environment, these standards can help prepare students for the actual COVID-19 work environment.
Kratz said students and teachers will be fully masked and hand sanitizers will be installed in each classroom. He said his team is also working toward creating safe traffic flow throughout the building.
As for lunch, both the cafeteria and gymnasium will be utilized allowing students to spread out.
Kratz said, like other schools, McCann did consider going fully remote and fully in person. He said fully remote learning is not optimal for vocational programming that requires some hands-on learning.
And full in person was simply not possible.
He pointed out that following the state guidelines for busing, McCann would only be able to bus 120 students.
"It was pretty much off the table to start with because there is no easy way to get 520 kids here transportation-wise. Nevermind we would not be able to accomplish the social distancing in the building," Kratz said. "Hybrid was sort of the option out of the gate."
For families who prefer to keep their children home, Kratz said McCann does plan to offer a fully remote option. Although they would like to work with these families toward some in school time.
"We will have that conversation to see where parents’ comfort level is," Kratz said. "But we will offer remote learning so when they do go back to school they will have some basis and can do the hands-on work but we will work with any family."
School starts Sept. 16 in some form and Kratz said the freshman class may enter the building first to help them acclimate to the new learning environment.
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