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RISD: Lack of hands-on learning harms students

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Career and technical education students could lose credits, opportunities

Students in Roswell Independent School District enrolled in career and technical education classes are in danger of losing dual college credits, certification opportunities and scholarships if they cannot get into classrooms soon, RISD officials say.

At Roswell High School, between 60% and 80% of students are enrolled in a CTE pathway such as STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — industrial education or the arts, Principal Pilar Carrasco said.

Within those career pathways are classes and projects in architecture, welding, metal fabrication, automotive technology, arts and more.

“All of our CTE programs are designed to have a career pathway that when they complete that career pathway it can open them to opportunities in a certain field,” Carrasco said.

Goddard High School offers career pathways in engineering and trades such as welding as well as a rocketry class, Principal Brian Luck said.

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The principals said their teachers have done the best they can in those classes with remote learning. Art teachers at Roswell High put together bundles of art supplies for students to pick up and then post photos of their work. Culinary students at both schools have been able to work at home on projects.

But for many classes, the hands-on experience requires tools most students can’t get at home.

“In general, it’s been almost a standstill,” Luck said. “They’re not progressing anywhere near to the level of what they should be. That’s not the fault of students or teachers.”

Both schools offer CTE classes in which students can also earn college credits through Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, but both principals said they have been told if students cannot get the “hands-on” experience, the university won’t grant the dual credits.

Welding is one ENMU-R course students at either high school can earn dual credits in, and it’s the one Luck said Goddard is struggling with most. In order to graduate, students must have at least one dual-credit course.

“A lot of my kids were going to use that as their dual,” Luck said. “You probably don’t have a $2,500 welder in your garage. Most people don’t.”

High school students in some courses are also able to obtain certification from ENMU-R in some fields such as welding, nursing, automotive repair and metal fabrication, but without the hands-on work, won’t be able to complete that either.

“If they don’t get the hands-on experience like we’re doing in remote learning, then we will not be able to really give them that experience to receive that certification that would give them the upper hand in searching for that career technical pathway,” Carrasco said.

That could have implications not just for the students, but also on New Mexico’s workforce, Luck and RISD Superintendent Mike Gottlieb said.

“We’ve got vacancies in our workforce that our kids could be filling, but they can’t get that certification,” Luck said.

Gottlieb discussed the dilemma with CTE classes at the Nov. 10 school board meeting.

“New Mexico has 400 traveling nurses right now. They need 200 to 300 more. We can’t even bring in our girls and gentlemen for the nursing certification portion of it,” he said.

Carrasco and Luck worry the lack of hands-on experience will also be detrimental to students’ motivation in school and future job searches.

“Every student has an ‘it,’” Luck said, defining “it” as the one thing that keeps them coming to school — a club, sport, class or teacher.

“We’re pulling away from a group of kids that that’s their ‘it,’” Luck said of the hands-on learning in CTE classes. “It’s no different than what we’re seeing with kids in athletics. It’s just as detrimental to the students that look forward to those hands-on classes as it is to the kids that are missing out on those other opportunities.”

“One of the things we keep telling our kids,” Carrasco said, “is when this is all over, the world is not going to say ‘Oh, it’s OK, you’re part of the COVID group so you don’t have to complete your job.

“Unfortunately what’s going to happen is the demand for the workforce is going to be very competitive,” he said. “So despite being in this pandemic and being in a lockdown, we have got to take the opportunity to make sure that we’re having the same demands and we’re still thinking of rigor and relevance and depth of knowledge.”

Luck said CTE classes can sometimes create a spark in some students who might not otherwise have continued their education beyond high school once they realize what they are capable of doing through the hands-on experience.

“Maybe a student stops at the end of high school instead of pursuing a two-year vocational degree simply because they weren’t exposed or it was such a struggle to get through that they chuck it and say ‘That wasn’t for me’ when that really was the thing that was for them,” Luck said.

Both principals said they know the teachers, district and school board are doing the best they can with the limits the public health order puts them under, but emphasize students need to be back in school.

Gottlieb, along with several other school superintendents from across the state, sent a letter earlier this month to New Mexico Secretary of Education Ryan Stewart, outlining the case for CTE students to be allowed back in classrooms even in small groups.

Gottlieb said on Tuesday there had been no response to the letter.

“We have done everything we possibly know to reach out. We’re at our last straw,” Gottlieb said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.