COVID vs. CTE: The Destruction of Hands-On Learning

COVID vs. CTE: The Destruction of Hands-On Learning

Kristen McClung, Writer

In March of 2020, the Pro-start Culinary Competition Team won 2nd place at the State level and brought home nearly $100,000 in scholarships. Only days later, the schools were shut down due to COVID-19. 

Tech ED classes rely heavily on demonstrations, partnerships, field trips, and competitions to inspire students to go into the workforce or on to tech school. By cutting off all contact with the outside world, all of the Career and Technical Education programs have suffered, especially the Cavalier Culinary Pro Start program at Greenbrier West High School.

Chef Chris Foley runs the program and has valuable working relationships throughout the area through partnerships developed over the last decade. He has helped pave the way for many students to get good paying entry level culinary jobs and has had several students per year that go on to culinary schools all over the country.

When asked how the pandemic has affected his program, Chef Foley said “It’s terrible. We can’t go see any working kitchens or have guest chefs come in to recruit or do demos. There’s no way to teach culinary arts remotely and without hands-on projects to show about sending any seniors out into the industry unprepared.” 

“It’s extremely frustrating to see 40 kids on a bus allowed to play football across the state and we can’t take 10 kids across the county to meet with chefs that are looking to hire them, and are willing to help them with the next level of their chosen vocation. Seems a bit lop-sided, doesn’t it?”

And it’s not just culinary that has suffered because of COVID, every tech ed program has had similar concerns. Health sciences can’t get their students into clinicals because no one is extending contracts, and according to the teacher of the program, Beth Carol, they were “instructed to donate all of our PPE supplies at the beginning of this and they’ve never been replaced.” She said that “ It’s hard to work with student’s basic health care abilities without supplies.”

Angie Leef, the engineering instructor and head of the Cavalier Sweatshop, says, “it’s been horrible. We can’t be hands-on, we’ve lost instruction time, it’s tiring for students, and we’ve lost money from missing bids on contracts.”


  According to FFA Director Sandra Byers, they aren’t allowed to keep animals or operate their pet grooming simulated workplace. They are also banned from field trips and fundraising. Welding says they’ve lost important instruction time, in class production time, and outside revenue. Building construction doesn’t have time for projects and when they do, it’s increasingly difficult to get building materials.

Even the JROTC Program is having issues. First, Sgt. Decker says that they haven’t been able to prepare for accreditation inspection and their Sereon Print simulated workplace production is “dead.”

Understandably, there was no way to expect a systematic shut down or all CTE projects, functions, and all levels of education to take such a major hit. But with the hands-on, industry driven technical education programs losing all contact with the outside world as well as shortened classes, no hands-on work and no field work, college visits, or professional presenters, the future of the CTE classes at Greenbrier West and likely all tech ed programs is at risk. Chef Foley says it best, “This was rough on everyone, but it was devastating to the hands-on programs. I hope we can all make it through the next four years.”