HAVERHILL– More than a year after first closing its facility due to the pandemic, Whittier Tech will transition back to fully in-person learning by the end of the month.
Over the past year, educators have worked tirelessly to adapt to new technologies and adjust their curriculum for learning in-person and remotely.
“All teachers have had to juggle new methods of teaching, while taking care of themselves, and their students,” Superintendent Lynch said. “Whittier teachers have gone above and beyond this school year as they determined ways to teach hands-on vocational skills and challenge students intellectually through academics, all while maintaining student wellbeing as a top priority.”
More than 60 Whittier educators worked on the district’s reopening plan over the summer, and staff also developed an advisory program to support students as they’ve navigated the challenges and stress of the pandemic.
“Whittier staff and instructors spent many summer months working together to create plans that would best serve students,” Superintendent Lynch said. “Instructors from every vocational area and academic discipline came together with a common mission to support students in this challenging year. The Whittier community is very familiar with the phrase “We are – Whittier Tech” and this year more than ever, everyone has come together to make this past year not only possible but also successful. Whittier staff and instructors are resilient, professional, knowledgeable, and beyond committed to their students and the profession.”
Teachers and students at the school recently shared their thoughts on teaching and learning over the past year.
“It has been amazing to see the resiliency of these students and it is really encouraging to know how much they do love school,” said Jane Moskevitz, a health assisting instructor who has worked at the school for 25 years. “However it has been somewhat socially isolating. There are many teachers whom I have not seen since March 12, 2020.”
This year, Moskevitz has worked to place 20 students in health assisting co-ops, 12 students in dental assisting co-ops, and 7 students in medical assisting co-ops since February.
Moskevitz, also a lead SkillsUSA Advisor, expressed that while students were able to compete at Whittier Tech in the regional SkillsUSA competition, she and students missed the in-person experience of competing with other schools.
“The teachers and staff are doing the best they can, under the circumstances – with that being said, my senior year hasn’t been what I imagined it would be. They are willing to help their students in any way, they completely understand what we are going through,” said Madisyn Weldon, a senior Cosmetology student of Newbury. “Honestly, I give a round of applause for the teachers because it has to be tough, especially for teachers teaching subjects they wouldn’t normally teach.”
Benjamin Zichella, a sophomore plumbing student of Amesbury, transferred to the school this year. Despite all of the changes due to the pandemic, Zichella has appreciated the learning opportunities he has at Whittier.
“I like the ways the teachers teach here – it is a lot better being in person than remote,” Zichella said. “I appreciate that the school has got us back here a lot quicker than other schools have. I like it here, it is a great school.”
Liani Flores, a freshman dental assisting student of Haverhill, feels similarly about her first year at Whittier.
“It has actually been a good year for me and I am doing a lot better compared to when I was in middle school – I like the way everyone teaches here,” Flores said.
“What is frustrating is that we are unable to see everyone in our freshmen class — and everyone is very quiet in the virtual meetings.”
Though thankful for the work teachers have done to ensure their learning experience goes smoothly, many students said learning in person is far preferable to remote learning.
“It is not like any other year I have experienced — I have definitely struggled with remote learning. Now that I am in shop, I am much more in my element,” said Bruce Clough, a sophomore electrical student of Newburyport.
Several educators expressed their pride in their students amid the challenges of this school year.
“First and foremost, I’m proud of my students for staying focused, taking the time to understand complex chemistry concepts, and trying their best to stay positive,” said Jonathan Warne, a science teacher. “We have been able to form real connections despite all of the required COVID protocols.”
Warne also created a series of YouTube videos this year, taking students on virtual field trips and helping them perform simple chemistry experiments at home.
“I am really proud of the way that all of the shop instructors rallied together to help each other in learning new technologies and teaching techniques to assist in teaching our trades remotely,” said Michael Sandlin, a senior carpentry instructor in his fifth year of teaching at Whittier. “I am proud of my students for their continued hard work on completing shop projects and maintaining a high level of quality even with the limited time in the shop. I am also proud of my students for the way that they were able to adapt to a new way of learning while maintaining a positive attitude.”
For Career and Technical Education schools like Whittier, remote learning posed unique challenges as teachers who normally rely on hands-on learning activities worked to identify opportunities to teach their trades virtually.
“This past year has been by far the most challenging year of my teaching career,” Sandlin said. “One downside to remote teaching was that I was not able to teach my trade the way that I was taught and the way that I typically teach which is hands-on. One positive take to remote teaching was that it pushed me to learn new technologies that I was able to implement to help teach carpentry remotely.”
Many educators pointed to technology as both a serious hurdle and a significant opportunity for growth this year.
“We were able to use new technology and programs to help keep our students learning and engaged during remote time,” said Chris Gerber, a welding instructor who has taught at the school for three years. “Some of the programs we used we like so much that we will probably incorporate into our courses permanently. The students were very adaptive, which made my job easier.”
Gerber also wished to acknowledge tech savvy educators who stepped up to help their peers over the past year as they relied more heavily on technology due to remote and hybrid learning.
Kathryn Dye Parsons, an English teacher, coach and special education liaison who has worked in the district for 13 years is one of the many educators who stepped up to help her peers prepare for and navigate remote and hybrid learning.
“I am personally proud of the amount of professional development I created and participated in during the spring and summer, whether it was technology or equity based,” Parsons said. “I am proud of my students and colleagues’ perseverance to come in every day putting their best foot forward. I am proud that I have almost survived a pandemic full time working with three children 6 and under at home.”
For the latest updates, visit the district’s website at whittiertech.org.