The mandates for social distancing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak have necessitated that schools around the world close their doors and transition to a virtual learning format. Teachers reacted quickly by creating lesson plans for students to complete remotely; however, without any in-person engagement, many students ignored their studies and essentially disappeared from the education system’s radar. This is not true of Alex Pruitt, a senior year student at Mercer County Technical Education Center (MCTEC) in Princeton, West Virginia.
MCTEC Collision Repair Technology Instructor Daryl Barton first boasted about Pruitt’s dedication to his education and the industry in an online forum: “I would like to take a moment to brag on one of my students, Alex Pruitt. While we are mostly a hands-on class, during this corona shutdown, students have had to work at home. During this shutdown, Alex has managed to acquire 95 certificates to add to his portfolio! Even though schools are shut down, many teachers and students are still working very hard, and I’m proud of him and all my students! Way to go, Alex! I am very proud of this young man, and I know he will go on to do great things in life!”
Utilizing his time away from traditional education to continue to learn about the collision repair industry, Pruitt acquired 95 certificates to add to his portfolio. These certificates from OSHA, PPG, 3M and ToolingU help ensure that this soon-to-be high school graduate is prepared to enter the workforce, despite the challenges he has faced in his final year of formal education.
“Despite the shutdown, I wanted to continue my learning because I really enjoy working in the shop, and since this is my senior year, this was the only chance I had since I won’t be back at MCTEC next year,” said Pruitt. “Now, I have these certificates to help demonstrate what a valuable employee I’ll be once I graduate.”
Pruitt enrolled in the MCTEC Collision Repair Technology program during his sophomore year because “I enjoy working on cars, inside and out, and since I already had some mechanical knowledge, I wanted to learn how to do auto body repair too. I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could about all the things I’ll one day be doing in a shop, and the technical center’s machine and collision repair shops have taught me so much.”
MCTEC utilizes a “simulated workplace” where students work jobs similar to what’s available in the collision repair industry, Barton explained.
“Alex was my safety manager and was then promoted to shop foreman. He is a dedicated employee and performed at a very high level. He led by example. When schools closed, students were given online work to do from home, but this work would not receive grades per our state department. Alex really excelled here, acquiring 95 certificates from various programs such as OSHA, PPG, 3M and ToolingU.”
“While we’ve been continuing school remotely, I’ve earned all these certificates, learning so much through the programs that offer them,” said Pruitt. “I’ve also been doing some minor body work on vehicles for family and friends. With all of this, I’ve learned a lot about collision that I didn’t know before, and I feel better equipped than ever to start my career.”
Added Barton, “While Alex might have missed out on some of the hands-on work we normally do, he far exceeded expectations on the online work, which gave him direct information and content from manufacturers and greatly boosted his portfolio. He is already in contact with a couple of local collision repair facilities interested in helping him start his career. While other students have received several certificates, none have stepped up like Alex.”
Where Are the Students?
The current learning environment is difficult on both students and teachers. Because of the virtual learning situation, many students have not been turning in assignments, and teachers have expressed concern for their pupils’ whereabouts. Based on a survey of 4,000 teachers in South Carolina, state superintendent Molly Spearman estimated that around 31,000 to 39,000 (4% to 5%) of students have been unaccounted for since public schools closed. Other students’ attendance and assignment completion has been inconsistent as teachers strive to figure out how to engage their classes during this difficult time.
“The events of this past year are unlikely anything we could have expected,” said Barton. “The news is filled with scary stories and many disappointments of canceled, postponed or altered events. Alex has been a bright spot for me and others around him – his achievements are a reminder that there are still plenty of good things going on and many things to be grateful for.”
As a result of the challenges inherent in distance learning, most classes are being graded on a pass/fail scale, further discouraging many students from honoring their commitment to their educations. Brandon Eckenrode, director of development for the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), pointed out, “Since teachers often cannot provide a grade when students are working from home, many students don’t see a reason to show up. It’s very impressive how Alex has taken full advantage of this unusual situation and found the opportunity to expand his knowledge in such a vast way.”
“Schools are doing their best in these trying times, and we can learn from each other,” said Barton. “The foundation and many suppliers have really stepped up to help out also with online tutorials and other programs. Many have provided webinars with the latest and most current information for our students – everyone has come together to make sure this industry continues moving forward.”
MCTEC has been involved with CREF for four years, and the experience has been a positive one, according to Barton.
“They’ve been great,” he said. “As a public school, our funding is limited, but CREF and their connections have really helped on the cost side of things for us. We’ve received many great donations as well as being the recipient of a $1,000 grant on several occasions. All of this means a lot to a program like ours.”
MCTEC’s collision program for the 2019-2020 school year will conclude in May, and like all 2020 graduates, Pruitt will not get to enjoy the rites of passage normally associated with a high school graduation. Yet, the devotion and motivation he has demonstrated during this lockdown is a clear indication that his future will hold plenty of celebrations and opportunities.