As students begin a school year unlike any other, the community has come together to ensure a productive learning environment for all students. Grants and funding programs from government agencies, corporations and private donors are helping educators encourage students to get back to school and enter programs geared towards trade careers that will give them a leg-up in the workforce.
“Most of our traditional programs were halted,” said Shealynn Shave, Executive Director of the Northern Tier Industry & Education Consortium (NTIEC). “One exception is our rebranded ‘School-to-Work’ internship programs.”
“Our career and tech centers are opening in different ways. Some are virtual, some are on a hybrid model, and some returned to full-time, in-person instruction,” Melissa Turlip, Director of Programming for Commonwealth Charitable Management, remarked. “We are working with each school to meet their schedules regarding the scholarships we provide from Cabot and have adapted the application timeline accordingly.”
NTIEC administrators are hopeful they can resume traditional programming, including job fairs and on-site offerings like the Energy & Oilfield Career Experience in 2021. Collaboration with the institutions NTIEC works with is helping to bring those plans to life.
The Susquehanna County Career & Technology Center (SCCTC) and the Lackawanna College School of Petroleum & Natural Gas (PNG), for example, have students back in their labs. PNG is on a five-day schedule, while SCCTC has virtual learning on Wednesdays to allow for deep cleaning of the Elk Lake School District campus.
Work areas at both schools already lend themselves to safe-distancing. Other COVID-19 protocol, per the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, are met through federal and state grants. According to SCCTC’s Executive Director, Alice Davis, the school garnered nearly $640,000 for mitigation efforts via the Federal Cares Act, the PCCD/COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, and a state Education Emergency Relief Grant.
Similar funds have helped the PNG school install plexiglass shields, hand sanitizer stations and a wall-mounted thermometer that students visit prior to entering each day, which decrease direct contact with each other and school faculty.
“Because what we are teaching is hands-on, we need to be ‘in person,’” Sue Gumble, PNG Program Director, related. “Our students were eager to return to class, and they are willing to do whatever needs to be done. It’s going well.”
Until the NTIEC can return to schools, Shave noted, “We have received several grants and private donations to continue delivering several of our programs virtually.” Cabot was a major donor that helped cover the cost of computers and connectivity for rural students with a $15,000 donation.
Another $5,000 was allocated specifically for the NTIEC’s COVID-19 needs. “The students have exceeded our expectations while adjusting to masks and increased safety and sanitation requirements,” Davis remarked. “Overall, the pandemic has revealed strengths in our faculty and students.”
“We are seeing creative and innovative ways for students to learn,” Turlip concurred. “It’s great to see how everybody is working to ensure that the level of learning is maintained as high as possible with all of the challenges of the pandemic.”