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‘We love what we do, and we like being together’: In-person learning underway around Carroll County

Century senior Gavin Marshall works a deep fryer as Manchester Valley seniors Sophie Panagakos, left, and Miniya Davis look on during a baking and pastry arts class at Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 where limited in-person classes have resumed in some programs.
Century senior Gavin Marshall works a deep fryer as Manchester Valley seniors Sophie Panagakos, left, and Miniya Davis look on during a baking and pastry arts class at Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 where limited in-person classes have resumed in some programs. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Cathy Harris had six high school seniors in her textiles and fashion careers class Friday morning.

Everyone sported white work shirts over their regular attire. Harris led the group with energy and enthusiasm, and each student participated when asked to do so, albeit while keeping their face coverings in place.

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The Carroll County Career and Technology Center wasn’t bustling with students, teachers and administrators. However, there’s school life in the building for the first time in six months amid the coronavirus pandemic, and everyone involved seemed happy to be back.

“It was almost without words because I missed them so much,” Harris said. “We love what we do, and we like being together.”

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Instructor Catherine Harris, right, helps Westminster High School senior Caroline Peloquin, as she creates a fabric face mask during a textile and fashion careers class at Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 where limited in-person classes have resumed in some programs.
Instructor Catherine Harris, right, helps Westminster High School senior Caroline Peloquin, as she creates a fabric face mask during a textile and fashion careers class at Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 where limited in-person classes have resumed in some programs. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

The Career and Tech Center is holding shop, culinary and cosmetology classes for a little more than 100 students during the week. Other in-person learning taking place around Carroll County include Behavioral Educational Support Team classes at East Middle School and Westminster High School, and autism-focused groups being held at Shiloh Middle and Winters Mill High schools.

Harris is in her 26th year teaching with the Carroll County Public Schools system and said it’s as normal as possible despite classes not being at full capacity. Her textiles and fashion students are still working toward their final exam of putting together a public fashion show, just as Harris has done for the last quarter-century.

Trying to get through such a project would be more difficult with virtual learning, Harris said.

“They bounce ideas off of each other,” Harris said about having kids learn in person. “I might say it one way and they still don’t get it, but wow ― when they say it to each other, it’s really fun.”

Betsy Donovan, principal at the Career and Tech Center, stood in the lobby a few minutes before students arrived for their 8 a.m. classes. Joining her were Cindy McCabe, chief of schools, and Bill Eckles, supervisors of career and technical education.

Eric King, director of high schools, entered the building after a slight delay because he trailed behind some buses and said it felt like school again.

“So far it has been great. This first week has gone seamlessly,” Donovan said. “The kids have come in ready to learn ... in uniforms and masks. They know what to do.”

The Career and Tech Center usually holds around 700 students, Donovan said. For now, that number is trimmed and students arrive for classes during different morning times as another way to keep crowds to a minimum.

Donovan said the hands-on aspect of Career and Tech Center classes is essential for learning, as evident by Harris’ class and the handful of students in Joan Alder’s culinary arts class.

“You can only teach this stuff virtually so well,” Donovan said. “You can do the theory behind everything, [and] you can do the safety stuff behind everything. But you can’t build a trellis watching YouTube.”

Century High School senior Gavin Marshall took a break from preparing some french fries in Alder’s cooking class and talked about his feelings in getting back to in-person learning.

“I’m not going to lie. It was kind of nerve-wracking, just trying to imagine coming back,” he said. “Trying to think of all the safety precautions. But it has actually been pretty smooth, at least with our program. I think it was a smoother transition than I thought it would be ... I think it’s really nice to actually be back.

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“It feels like it’s finally coming together.”

Westminster High School senior Phoebe Zaranski, left, and Century senior Katelyn Willey pick out fabrics to makle face masks during a textiles and fashion careers class at Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 where limited in-person classes have resumed in some programs.
Westminster High School senior Phoebe Zaranski, left, and Century senior Katelyn Willey pick out fabrics to makle face masks during a textiles and fashion careers class at Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 where limited in-person classes have resumed in some programs. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Classmate Miniya Davis, a senior at Manchester Valley High School, agreed about being able to get back together.

“It’s a lot easier for us to be in the kitchen because there’s not a lot of things we can do at home. We don’t have the supplies," Davis said. “I felt pretty good about coming back. I was excited to come back and be in the kitchen with everyone.”

Meanwhile, Mike Alban spent Friday morning preparing for his 10 a.m. drafting class. Alban will be starting his 39th year as a teacher in virtual mode and said he’s OK with gradually getting things back to normal. As a computer-based class, Alban said he can teach virtually and the content translates well to his students.

“The thing that I do miss is the interaction,” Alban said. “Not being in here is a negative, but we had a whole bunch of positives.”

Alban said he’d rather have students in class, but he recognizes how much computers have become integral when it comes to teaching and learning.

“I try to be adaptable ... when I started, it was all paper, pencil. Computers? They go to the moon,” Alban said. “We have evolved in the program itself. So I’m kind of used to the evolution. ... We can make it happen if we’ve got the tools to make it happen.”

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