Wawasee Community Schools adjusts hands-on learning to pandemic

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WAWASEE, Ind. - Michiana schools are getting back into the swing of things of course with some major differences we didn’t see last year.

So this week on our in-depth education series, The Learning Curve, we’re taking a look at one school's hands-on approach to learning and what adjustments have had to be made to make everything possible.

When you go inside Wawasee Community Schools or it's many buildings, it's easy to notice how influential the pathways programs are to the school and its students. Everything from picture proof of houses made by students, a full kitchen with chicken being prepared, to even fixed cars and boats ready to be returned to the owners, it's easy to see that this hands-on-learning approach is beneficial.

"Any kind of challenge is just something you have to work through. And that's kind of what I try to instill in these kids," Ken Long, the Welding Instructor said.

“Not something that they're made to do it’s something they want to do. And they come in and ask like, hey, what's next? What are we doing today? They're just, you know, they're fired up and ready to go," Derrick Fisher, the Marine Mechanics Instructor said.

No matter the program, the hands-on approach to learning this year is just going to have to be adjusted because of the coronavirus.

“This is year two or so I'm just starting my second year of being principal," Geoff Walmer, Wawasee High School Principal said.

And thoughts about how the school year starts will also have to be adjusted. 

“Shortly before school started, and we felt like we had an understanding of how the year was going to look. And so we were we prepared well for the in-person school as we started, and we had preparations made in case we needed to go to virtual learning such as we did this week," Walmer said.

The school was forced to go virtual, at least for the first week.

"We experienced a shortage of substitutes when we had some staff members out due to being close contacts of others, primarily outside of school who had tested positive for COVID-19. And the shortage of substitutes left us in, in a decision-making process of how can we continue school without having to really shut everything down," he said.

But this didn't freak parents out as the school returned to in-person learning.

"I think the parents who have elected to send their kids here for our CTE pathways programs understood the decision that they were making and knew that, you know, if there's a level of risk, that was the high school in our pathways program, we'll do everything we could a limit and reduce the amount of risk or exposure that they would have," he said.

The reason? Walmer says it's because the teachers know what they are doing.

W"e have teachers who are teaching these courses who have years of experience in the field, they understand the safety that it takes to run their classes well, so adding the COVID situation on top of our teachers were so well prepared for it," he said. “Many of these students and parents understand that if they were out of high school working in the autos field, they would be going to work every day. And they would, they would have precautions that they put in place. And so we're treating it that way as well. You know, we're trying to be safe, but we also understand that the experiences they get from these programs they can't learn, you know, by themselves or online.”

“I structure my classes like the workplace I have first shift and second shift. So the kids come in, they get ready to come out into the shop and work they put all their safety gear on and then we come out here and practice welding or build things or learn about the skills of welding and fabricating," Long said.

Long started as the Welding Instructor at Wawasee in 2019

Part of what we do is we will do projects for people, someone will say I need this. Right behind you is a table. We're working on the tabletop. I mean, we've got lots of projects," he said.

Normal schools have to worry about high-touch areas but with Wawasee's hand’s on the approach they have to be much more careful.

“I am fortunate in my classes that other than the disinfecting the distancing, and we're able to distance here because all of our booths are apart. We have a forced-air system that actually draws the smoke off and draws the airway. The kids wear their hoods, we're all covered up, we stay away from each other. I've tried to make it as normal as if you want to call it normal as possible," he said.

“The first day of school that we kind of went over some ground rules that we would be applying and, you know, trying to keep kids to do a project and space out the projects as well. So that there's not congregating and you know, a bunch of students grouped up altogether," Fisher said.

There's a lot to think about day-to-day and when it comes to masks?

“They've been pretty good about it," he said. "I think it's been a pretty easy adjustment. You know, it's just something that we just need to do. As professionals. We know we just got to do it, get it done. And, you know, make sure that the kids are still able to come to school because we want to be here. They want to be here. So we want to make sure that's possible for them."

Of course, all the pathway programs and normal classes have been affected by the pandemic but we could argue one has been impacted more than the others. So on Thursday's Learning Curve segment, we are taking a deep dive into the Wawasee Schools nursing program and how those classes have become more important than ever especially during this time.

If you want your school looked into or have any questions regarding schools reopening email us at learningcurve@abc57.Com and our team will get right to it.

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