Editor’s note: this is part two in a series about the Greene County Technical Education Center. Part one showcased HVAC and Culinary Arts, and part three will feature Automotive and Carpentry courses.
For decades, the Greene County Technical Education Center has provided hands-on instruction and vocational training courses to high school students in the county, including courses in agriculture, architecture, automotive technology, building trades, cosmetology, culinary arts, heating and air conditioning, nursing and more. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the mitigation strategies in place in the schools, students continue to prepare for careers and industry certification with help from creative teachers this fall.
“The requirements make it challenging in every classroom,” said Greene County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Andrea Whitmarsh. “But when you have a classroom that is completely about hands-on work, it certainly provides additional obstacles.”
In Charmarie Whetzel’s Cosmetology and Barbering class, students were given take-home kits to practice their skills during the days they are learning remotely.
“I sat on a panel of cosmetology instructors this summer from across the state of Virginia to form a plan of action,” Whetzel said. “We had to figure out how we could serve our students in the best way.” Two representatives from the state testing board were also part of the conversation to help teachers determine how to follow protocols while allowing students to still practice skills needed for their credentialing exams this fall.
“I decided to give my students a take-home kit to practice their basic hair-styling techniques,” Whetzel said. “It includes brushes, combs, rollers, clips, perm rods and mannequins. I make small add-ons as we cover things … we are getting ready to cover waxing and each individual will receive a mock waxing kit for their bag. This way they can take pictures or videos of their work at home.” As students work on projects from home, Whetzel is available in person or by video to give feedback or answer questions.
In a normal year, students in Cosmetology and Barbering would practice some skills on each other or on community volunteers. This is not possible this year.
“Services we cannot perform on each other this year are blow-drying, waxing, manicures and facials, or any service that takes longer than 15 minutes of contact time,” Whetzel said. “I have them video any services they perform on family members; this helps me give them the feedback that they are not getting this year in class.”
With the shuttering of schools in March and distance learning in place for the remainder of the spring semester, students in the spring were not able to take their state licensing exams because they could not complete their required service hours. Some skills are harder to practice without live models.
“I’m starting at the roots right now on the mannequin,” said third-year cosmetology student McKenzie Wills as she applied bleach to her mannequin’s hair in sections. “When you do someone’s hair or when I do my own hair, you’re supposed to start towards the middle and down and then you do the top last, because your body heat comes out through your head and it makes the (dye) process faster … you don’t want your roots to process faster than the rest.”
Wills, who was still deciding on the color for her mannequin’s dye job, said she hopes to work in a salon after graduation while going to school to learn cosmetic tattooing.
“The state provides a set of skills to learn each year, so once you get through the basics, each student can practice one versus the other depending on what they need,” said Tech Center Principal Dr. Michael Ormsmith. “(Whetzel) also does little challenges where she’ll pull a skill out of a hat and say, ‘this is what you’re doing today,’ to simulate what happens if you were in a salon. You don’t know what’s coming until you get there so … they get to practice their skills in an environment that kind of mimics what they’re going to do.”
In the Nurse Aid class, state board requirements have had to be reconfigured to conform to COVID-19 safety precautions, according to instructor Tabitha Cole.
“Since COVID-19 is a droplet precaution, masks will be worn during the student’s entire testing period,” Cole said. “The students will not be able to do skill 20, providing mouth care, as this would require a person to remove their mask. Also with skill 10, feeding client who cannot feed self, the person who is the ‘client’ will wear a mask the entire time. The student will have food on the utensil but will not actually be putting food in the client’s mouth.”
Instead of doing dental work, students will only be able to practice using dentures at this time.
“My previous students have done mouth care on each other before the pandemic,” Cole said. “With my current students, they will be practicing that skill at home on a family member and recording a video and uploading it.”
During the spring semester, students were unable to complete service hour requirements which would normally have been performed in area nursing homes. Now that students are back in the classroom, lessons have been carefully redesigned to keep students socially distanced while still learning all the necessary nursing skills.
“Modifying the skills’ lab has been tricky,” Cole said. “Some skills do require that two people need to be within 6 feet of each other. They have been practicing positioning on the side, which we have been doing with a mannequin, but in reality it helps them understand how the positioning really works with a real person. Again, we will be using the family members in the students’ homes to help with some of the skills that require close contact.”
Teachers hope the students’ parents in these courses don’t mind volunteering to have their hair curled, teeth cleaned and act as guinea pigs for the sake of their loved ones’ education.
As the only Tech Center course with a focus in the healthcare field, Cole says her students have spent time discussing the pandemic and the healthcare precautions for front-line workers.
“We spent the first three weeks of school on infection control and prevention,” Cole said as 11th-grade nursing student Casey Vick practiced donning and doffing her personal protective equipment (PPE) during the class. “Since we are in a pandemic, I wanted the students to be aware of the most basic ways to keep themselves healthy and safe. Examples are hand washing and wearing the PPE that are required.”
The beds in the nursing classroom have been set up so that each student can stay at least 6 feet from the next one while working on a wide variety of skills. On one bed, students practice with TED (thrombo-embolus deterrent) hoses, which are like compression socks that prevent blood from clotting following joint replacement surgery. Other activities include measuring blood pressure on a specialized mannequin designed to mimic actual blood pressure and pulse, practicing with PPE, cleaning and working with dentures and moving ‘patients’ on and off the beds to practice positioning.
“Everybody in this school system—it doesn’t matter what your job is, you’re new—it’s like doing it your first year,” Whitmarsh said. “If you’re a bus driver, you might have different routes on different days. If you’re in nutrition, you’re making lunches to be picked up for virtual families on the days kids aren’t in school, or meals are being delivered to classrooms … teachers are learning to teach virtually for the first time. It’s so hard, but I’ll tell you, our staff has done a phenomenal job. We have seen things that are just so creative, and they’re making the very best of a challenging situation … I don’t want everybody to have to stay (distant) from each other forever, but I think we can take a lot of the creativity that we’re doing now and it will stay with us after this. There has to be good things to come out of this.”
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