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Tech Center students help build outdoor learning space

Tech Center students help build outdoor learning space

Editor’s note: This is third and final story in a series about the Greene County Technical Education Center. Part one gave an inside look at the HVAC and Culinary Arts courses and ran on Nov. 5. Part two explored the Cosmetology and Nursing classes and ran on Nov. 12.

The Greene County Technical Education Center (formerly called the Vocational or Vo-Tech Center) began offering courses in building trades and auto mechanics (along with child care services, medical assistant training and cosmetology) after a major renovation and building addition in 1985. In 2020, despite the necessary COVID-19 mitigation strategies in place, hands-on learning continues for the dedicated high school students in these programs.

“This year has been challenging with social distancing,” said automotive instructor Leslie Tyler-Perkins. “I have to be more aware of every movement of my students as well as myself. They like working together on every project and they forget that they need to stay six feet away from each other. Not being able to group the students in teams to do tasks means that other students have to work on desk activities instead of vehicles.”

As junior Timothy Smith checked tire pressure on one of the test vehicles in the bay, Jared Shifflett choose the right size socket wrench to mount a car engine onto a stand where it can be easily disassembled and reassembled to identify all the parts. A third student works on a computer at the opposite end of the large room, and Tyler-Perkins goes back and forth between them to check on their progress and offer suggestions.

Smith, who does not plan to pursue a career in auto mechanics, said he’s taking the course “just kind of for my own knowledge whenever I get older, to be able to work on cars and restore old cars.” He said it’s important for young adults to have a basic knowledge of how their cars work and how to do basic maintenance like performing an oil change.

To cut down on contact between students, the school purchased individual electronic kits and models this year so that each student can work on their own rather than in groups.

“We will be using models of engines, differentials and transfer cases instead of the actual components for rebuilding because we can’t group the students,” Tyler-Perkins said. “All of the models are working models that still teach the components and operating principles but they are scaled down. I normally have three students to an engine … the real engines will wait until next year for rebuilding.”

As with several other Tech Center courses, students who are otherwise 100% virtual this year are able to come in to the center two days per week for their hands-on course and then return home for the remainder of the week.

“I was amazed at how many students that are virtual were willing to come to the Tech Center for auto,” Tyler-Perkins said, noting that enrollment in her courses is about the same this year as any other. “I have the students doing as much shop work as possible just in case we go virtual; then we can refer back to the hands-on when we cover that system online.”

On the asynchronous learning days, students practice concepts learned in class with PowerPoint presentations, videos and worksheets or quizzes.

“We are using Electude a lot this year because it’s interactive and like a game,” Tyler-Perkins said. “It also tracks the students’ learning and gives me a map of where they are having difficulties that I can recover in class. Electude has simulators for engine performance and electrical diagnosis. Most of my students are not drivers, so it’s hard to practice skills when they don’t have tools or vehicles to work on.”

In the carpentry class, instructor Thomas Mallory and his students have just completed a project to help their fellow classmates with social distancing in school.

In order to put all their building skills to work in a way that benefits the school, upper level carpentry students have spent the fall working on building an outdoor learning space in the building’s courtyard. William Monroe High School business teacher Daphne Tynes had the idea for the project, and enlisted Mallory’s help bringing it to fruition.

“The outdoor space is a common area that all of the teachers have access to,” Tynes said. “The high school has areas that can be used for outdoor classrooms (but) the Tech Center didn’t have a designated area to have class outside. Students enjoy working outside and with the current health concerns, I just thought it would be a good option. The area gives teachers a space to have students working outside with enough spacing to keep everyone safe.”

Tech Center students are often tasked with projects that are relevant to their teachers and classmates, such as the Culinary Arts students baking holiday treats for students and staff to take home to their family members.

“We agreed to purchase the materials and Mr. Mallory’s students would create benches and place them in the courtyard,” Tech Center Principal Dr. Michael Ormsmith said. “Once complete, classes at GCTEC can use the space for outdoor learning opportunities.”

Students Evan Blake, Logan Frye and Hayden Gibson are among those who worked to create the space as part of their Carpentry 3 class this fall.

“They mapped and designed all of it and then they did the woodworking,” Mallory said. “It was kind of cool for them to actually design the benches and that courtyard, according to the governor’s specifications. (The benches) are sitting 8 feet apart and they’re off-center so they have the potential of getting 16 students out there at one time, socially distanced, and they can actually have a class or do something outside to kind of break up the monotony of being at the desk all the time.”

The students utilized their asynchronous or at-home learning time to work out the design of the courtyard so they could maximize their in-class hours for productivity.

“They were working on the design and stuff at home and of course collaborating over Zoom and chat and uploading documents … so it actually worked pretty well,” Mallory said. “I only have them in class two days a week … so it took them two months to complete the project. It’s been a long undertaking and they’ve learned to understand how this kind of things affects time and demand on the job and on the worksite. It was a real wake-up call for them, and for me. It was a struggle, but they’ve done an awesome job and I was super proud of them to get it done today.” The project was completed Nov. 18

Aside from the courtyard project, Mallory says the biggest challenge this year has been keeping students working on individual projects, since they cannot easily collaborate together with social distancing measures in place. He says the smaller class sizes make this easier.

“We’ve been doing a lot of different individual projects that they can do on their own without encroaching on other people’s space,” he said. “It’s been kind of neat; they came up with some good ideas of different things that they want to do. We’re currently building a storage shed—two second-year students are—to put up there at the farmer’s market in Stanardsville. We’ve been doing it outside when we can … a lot of our work depends on the weather outside when we can get out and spread out without being worried about COVID.”

Mallory is extremely happy to be back in school with his students this fall.

“It’s been a struggle … but it’s been awesome in a difference sense, too, because you really see the motivation students have,” he said. “They really appreciate when they do get the chance to get out of the desks and come to the Tech Center. I was really pleased to get back in school with the kids because I was really chomping at the bit to see my students again. I think (the schools) have done an exceptional job.”

Carpentry students utilize the time they are learning from home to watch instructional videos to master the basics as well as completing online training for safety and health certifications.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers an online 10-hour training class covering basic safety and health information for entry-level workers in construction positions, according to Many employers require this certification in order to begin work, so Mallory’s students have been completing the required online courses during their at-home school days.

Mallory has been teaching carpentry at the Tech Center since 2009, when they split up the building trades into separate areas of focus. Originally covering electrical, plumbing, masonry and carpentry, he now is able to focus more fully on carpentry with his three-year program.

“You just kind of pick out the stuff that you want them to learn for the year,” he said. “I know a lot of the high school teachers … have learned that they’re going to have to pick and choose what’s most important. We’ve been doing what we can to make it work, and I think they’ve done an awesome job.”

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