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Adjusting the toolbox: Vocational schools craft creative ways to keep students engaged during pandemic

Adjusting the toolbox: Vocational schools craft creative ways to keep students engaged during pandemic

“Career and technical education is by its very nature hands-on,” said Edward Bouquillon, superintendent of Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School, located on the Lexington/Lincoln line. “So we have to have kids in their shop or laboratory environment.”

Recognizing the importance of in-person instruction, many of the state’s regional vocational schools have found ways to offer students at least some in-school time for their shop programs, and in some cases for academic classes. The situation is in contrast to last spring, where the pandemic forced vocational and all other schools to switch entirely to at-home remote learning.

Massachusetts has 26 regional vocational schools. Vocational programs also are offered at about 30 comprehensive high schools.

At Blue Hills, officials have devised a schedule for prioritizing in-school learning for its shop courses, which — as is typical with vocational schools — are held in alternating weeks with academic classes. Students this fall have two in-school days every shop week. Their other vocational classes and all academic classes are taken virtually at home.

Officials said the plan provides students in all four grades some in-person vocational instruction while also enabling the school to operate at 25 percent enrollment capacity — one quarter of the student body attending in person on any one school day —which is necessary to meet social distancing guidelines.

Christopher Alcimbert at his cosmetology class at  Blue Hills Regional Technical School.
Christopher Alcimbert at his cosmetology class at Blue Hills Regional Technical School. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

“Students really need the hands-on experience,” said Blue Hills Superintendent Jill Rossetti. “How could you hire someone who has never changed a tire but only read about it? How do you hire someone to use an acetylene torch who has only watched it demonstrated online?”

To make the plan work, the school is following such safety procedures as requiring students to wear masks, remain 6 feet

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