How Covid has Changed Hands-on Learning within Northwest Career and Technical Center’s Programs: Part I


NCTC instructor Ross Lavoie gives students instructions. Photo credit: Dino Patsouris

Lianna St. Francis, Writer

Editor’s note:   Lianna St. Francis is a NCTC student in the Building Trades program.

Career and technical education centers around the country have had to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as in the day-to-day curriculum, hands-on activities and the interactions between teachers and their students. The Northwest Career and Technical Center in St. Albans, Vt. has adapted to these changes. The Mercury reached out to the NCTC programs to learn more about how they are modifying their programs due to Covid-19. 

Building Trades

Building Trades works within the field of construction.  According to the NCTC program website, students learn how to utilize various trades such as “plumbing,” masonry, “[electric],” “hanging doors,” “applying sheetrock,” “floor[ing],” “the basics of framing” and more. The program goes in-depth with the training that students receive such as OSHA-10

Due to the pandemic, Mark Capsey, NCTC’s Building Trades instructor, said, “We had to create job space to keep students distanced, along with buying new tools so students weren’t sharing. We created new lesson plans due to virtual learning and limit[ed] the exposure of commercial jobs and field trips.”  For example, students within the program began the year with building scale model sheds during virtual learning, while building 8-by-8 walls that students designed during the in-person learning. 

Recently, the program has had the opportunity for a remodel job of a home on Brainerd St., raising ceilings, tearing up flooring, etc. 

Masks have impacted Capsey’s ability to give instruction in the classroom, as well as on-site, because they make it harder to hear certain individuals as well as being able to know which student is asking a specific question. 

“Due to being hard of hearing, the masks are inconvenient and make it harder to read lips, especially on job sites.  I had to begin learning to read expressions from the student’s eyes to comprehend whether individuals were understanding the discussions, or if I needed to go into more detail,” Capsey said.  

There are some added benefits to wearing masks, however. “As a whole, wearing masks and distancing ourselves has led us to fewer colds and illnesses within the shop and has forced us to practice better hygiene,” Capsey added.

The program is currently designing an outdoor classroom to be approved, so students are spaced more within the classroom. 

Geometry in Construction

Geometry in Construction is a new program within NCTC this year.  According to Leeann Wright, Director of NCTC, “The class is for sophomores.  Students get 2 elective credits for Building Trades and 1 geometry credit for a total of 3 credits.”

When asked how his program has been affected this year, Ross Lavoie, NCTC’s Geometry in Construction instructor, said, “Things have slowed down due to the class size and the inability to expose students to numerous things.  The application of learning is not much different besides being split into groups [with] Green students in the classroom while Blue students are in the shop and vice-versa.”

Lavoie also discussed some difficulties transitioning from virtual learning to in-person four days: “I was hesitant to begin using online learning due to [my] college experience [with it].  With the Tech Center coming back four days a week, we have had more seat time, but insurances make it difficult to commit to projects and hands-on work for people outside of the school,” Lavoie said. 

Currently, the program is in the process of securing the opportunity to add extensions to Martha’s Community Kitchen and possibly an old historic home in Swanton, Vt.

Outdoor Technology 

According to the NCTC program website, Outdoor Technology is a “half-day course…designed for” freshmen and sophomores, and the program is a “combina[tion]” of “fields science, technology,” “community service,” “outdoor education” and “leadership training experiences.” 

Due to the restrictions regarding a safe distance, Jacob Holzberg-Pill, NCTC’s Outdoor Technology instructor, said, “I have avoided activities where students need to work with one another or next to each other, as well as avoiding the bus so students don’t get to go on field trips.  We can no longer have guest speakers from the community and can no longer work with professionals.”

Holzberg-Pill also discussed the challenges facing relationships with his students:  “It is super challenging to build relationships when individuals have to wear masks and stay six feet apart. The students do not know each other as well, and the instructors don’t get to know the students as well.”

Although the restrictions have made programs such as outdoor technology struggle with adapting and changing within the curriculum, the program has found the good within the pandemic.  “We are still able to do planting, tracking, building, pruning and more. For the first time ever since the pandemic, students want to be in school more than they want to be at home,” Holzberg-Pill added.

Stay tuned for future installments in this series on how NCTC is adapting to Covid.