For trade students, online classes can't replicate hands-on

Full Screen
1 / 4

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this Friday, May 8, 2020 photo, Christa Schall poses outside her cosmetology school, Casal Avedo Institute, in Austintown, Ohio. More than 8 million students in the U.S. are enrolled in technical colleges, seeking certification in skilled trades like welding, phlebotomy and cosmetology. But unlike students at traditional colleges, their learning can't easily translate into Zoom courses, they learn through hands-on demonstrations. Now, many are eager to get back into the classroom, and some are reeling because they won't get to graduate on time. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

PHOENIX – Like students across the U.S., Christa Schall was working toward graduation when the coronavirus closed her school. But unlike many, she can’t finish her classes online — her cosmetology program, like the coursework at many technical and trade schools, requires hands-on training.

Schall needs to cut, paint and style hair at the Aveda Institute in Ohio to graduate and get her license to practice, but weeks of closures have put her behind. Her last client, a woman who got her highlights retouched every two weeks, panicked when she learned the salon was closing after her mid-March appointment. Schall had her own moment of panic, realizing her life would be on hold. Now, instead of graduating in September, she must wait until spring.

Traditional students "can take that learning anywhere. For us, we have to do it a certain way,” she said.

For Schall and other students at technical and trade colleges, the coronavirus is disrupting their education in a very different way than that of more traditional college students. Learning how to stick a needle in someone’s vein or mix just the right amount of hair color for the perfect shade doesn't translate well to Zoom meetings. Those specialized skills, known as career and technical education, require hands-on learning.

About 8.4 million students are seeking postsecondary certificates and associate degrees in career and technical education fields, according to the Association for Career and Technical Education. Many are black or Hispanic and come from low-income households, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis. For many, technical careers are a path out of poverty. Roughly 30 million American jobs that pay a median income of $55,000 require less education than a bachelor’s degree, the ACTE reports.

Across the country, teachers and students in technical training classes have had to adapt to class closures rapidly and creatively.

Butler Tech, which teaches Ohio high school and post-secondary students subjects ranging from police academy to welding, has started slowly reopening campus after being closed for several weeks.

When the pandemic first hit, it had to transition to online learning quickly. Jon Graft, the school’s superintendent and CEO, said Butler has learned some valuable lessons about having to teach in a completely different way.