In support of trades-based education and programs geared to getting students into an ever-changing workforce more quickly, grants and various funding initiatives have helped educators and administrators get things rolling during this unusual new school year. As students tread these uncharted waters, government agencies, corporations, and private donors are stepping up to ensure the continuity of their learning.

“From the onset of the pandemic, most of our traditional programs were halted,” said Shealynn Shave, executive director of the Northern Tier Industry Education Consortium. “One exception is our rebranded ‘School-to-Work’ internship programs.”

“Our career and tech centers are opening in many different ways, with some being virtual, some on a hybrid model, and some with full-time, in-person instruction,” Melissa Turlip, director of programming for Commonwealth Charitable Management remarked. “We are working with our individual schools to meet their schedules regarding the scholarships we provide from Cabot Oil & Gas, and we have adapted the application timeline accordingly.”

NTIEC administrators are hopeful that they can resume traditional programming, including job fairs and on-site offerings like the Energy & Oilfield Career Experience in 2021. Carefully calculated efforts at some of the institutions with which the NTIEC collaborates will help bring those plans to fruition.

The Susquehanna County Career & Technology Center and the Lackawanna College School of Petroleum & Natural Gas in New Milford, for example, have all students back in their labs. PNG is on a 5-day schedule, while students attending the SCCTC have virtual learning on Wednesdays to allow for deep cleaning of the entire Elk Lake School District campus.

Work areas at both tech schools already lend themselves to safe-distancing, and the remainder of COVID protocol as per the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health were met through a number of federal and state grants. According to SCCTC 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 funding streams have helped the PNG school install plexiglass shields, hand sanitizer stations and a wall-mounted thermometer that students visit prior to entering the classrooms each day that significantly decreases direct contact with 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 very eager to return to class, and they are willing to do whatever needs to be done. It’s going well.”

Until the NTIEC can get back into the schools, Shave noted, “We have received several grants and private donations to continue delivering several of our programs virtually.” She cited Cabot as a major donor that helped to cover the cost of computers and connectivity for rural students attending Abington Heights, Wyalusing, and Northeast Bradford school districts with a $15,000 donation. Another $5,000 was earmarked 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 – more importantly – our students that we didn’t know we had.”

“We are definitely hearing of 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.”

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