Business as usual at PRCTC for students’ return

Business as usual at PRCTC for students’ return

In the photo above, Kelly Duarte, a maintenance worker for Pickaway-Ross Career & Technology Center, drills holes into framing that will get attached to a protective shield and installed at the school’s Crouse Chapel Road campus.

by Craig Lovelace

CHILLICOTHE — Starting the 2020-2021 school year amid a global pandemic is really at best a guessing game.

Schools have planned for it through meetings among administrators and staff, by gleaning attitudes from families through surveys, buying vats of sanitizer, and, in Pickaway County’s case, determining what method of learning the four districts would employ at the outset based on a health alert level developed by the state.

Yet nobody knows what’s going to happen once the doors are thrown open and students begin filtering through hallways and interacting with their peers and teachers. 

That is the case with each local school district in Pickaway and Ross counties. However, one school stands apart from the others because of its mission and its students.

Pickaway-Ross Career & Technology Center is the career-tech educational institution in the area that serves those two counties. Ten local schools comprise the system that attracts 1,200 students to its four campuses in Chillicothe and Circleville. 

Its curriculum leans heavily toward career-based programs designed to prepare students for the workforce upon their completion ceremony, which traditional high schools refer to as graduation. At the school, students can study in carpentry, cosmetology, health care, IT and welding, for instance. 

Each of those programs rely on a hands-on approach to learning and is the school’s bedrock philosophy, Superintendent Dennis Franks said. It’s why juniors and seniors choose to attend PRCTC, he added.

“It is hard to train a firefighter online,” he said.

The programs are conducted in labs that reflect the industry workplace and teach students the hard and soft skills they’ll need for their chosen industry.

PRCTC is opening with a traditional five-day school week starting Aug. 20. The school will follow the recommendations of the Ross County Health District, under whose primary purview PRCTC falls. The school also is following recommendations from the Pickaway County Public Health as it relates to its Circleville campus.

Jason Vesey, PRCTC’s director of Secondary Education, said dealing with COVID-19 last spring and everyday since, they’ve concluded that guidance recommended one day may change the next.

He said there has been collaboration with PRCTC’s partners across the board, including each school district in the respective counties and the two counties’ boards of health. However, operation and recommendation guidelines can change on a dime in either county, forcing PRCTC to adapt.

For instance, Pickaway County schools planned to have a traditional school year with students on campus each day, but school officials pivoted when the county was placed in Level 3 of the Ohio Public Health Advisory System on July 9. When they announced their individual plans around July 20, they included staggered schedules and remote learning for students partly because of increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases at the time.

“We never wanted to hang anything on the alert system,” Vesey said.

He said with each change in guidelines, PRCTC staff would meet to discuss them and how it applies to the school, Pickaway County and Ross County. 

“Quite frankly, it changed weekly,” he said.

Pickaway County was taken off Level 3 and placed in the less severe Level 2 on July 30. The schools, as of this writing, will keep to staggered days and a remote learning mix.

Vesey said it is important students attend class on campus because as much as half their day is spent in labs where students receive the hands-on education in their program of study. It’s also essential for the economy going forward, he added.”

“If we don’t continue with our career training, we will see a huge impact in a few years,” Vesey said about a shortage of workers in the labor market.

In preparation for the new year, the career center, like other school systems, is taking steps to decrease large gatherings of people, practice social distancing, and installing protective plastic shields throughout the building– among other measures.

Career center teachers also will receive training in the Google Classroom online platforms in case PRCTC must switch to another plan that includes remote learning.

Franks said the career center must also follow state procedures for many of its disciplines.

“We must follow the same protocols for our cosmetology program that the salons follow, and [it’s] the same with our health programs and shop-type programs. Add to that, the simple fact that it’s impossible to learn how to do certain things without actually doing them. You can’t watch a video of someone building or repairing something, without actually swinging a hammer or turning a wrench” he said.

The superintendent said there’s discussion about getting the state to recognize the essentialness of career centers in educating the future workforce. He said when much of Ohio shut down earlier in the year, Ohio Technical Centers, which provide adult education programs across the state, successfully lobbied officials to keep them open. 

“They were allowed to come back in May if they practiced social distancing, etc., because they train firefighters, they train paramedics, they train health-care workers, and they train HVAC technicians.

It also is what secondary education centers are doing, he said.

“We are trying to get that same allowance for career-tech,” he said.

This is the link to the career center’s opening plans for the 2020-2021 school year.

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