Gradual return to in-person learning for academy classes begins


Lizzie Stone

Courses were chosen based on industry certification requirements and traditional learning opportunities.

Lizzie Stone, Staff Writer

Career-driven courses in the academy have had extra difficulty with adapting material to a virtual space. Accordingly, students and teachers within these classes have begun a gradual return to in-person learning. 

Junior Jason Vail took Auto Technology this year and was told that he would return to school early in the year.

“The class needs to be in person just because you can’t really work on a car from your house without the proper tools or equipment,” Vail said.

Classes that were chosen to return to the school building first are mostly from the academy, designed to prepare students to enter a specialized career. These include firefighting, cosmetology, pharmacy, culinary arts and others.

“Courses were selected based on required ‘seat hours’ for industry certification and courses that are traditionally supported by more hands-on learning opportunities,” academy administrator Scott Settar said.

Getting students back in classrooms for more effective learning is a priority, but safety is also important to teachers and administrators. The number of students will be limited, personal protective equipment will be provided and classrooms will be sanitized between periods.

We are going to make sure to wear a mask and social distance like everyone should,” Vail said. “It also helps that we are in an open garage instead of a stuffy little classroom.”

Many returning students believe that the benefits outweigh the risk of infection, but this preference is not unanimous. Parents, teachers and students have mixed opinions on whether schools should reopen, including those working toward the transition.

“I think everyone has some degree of fear and anxiety surrounding the decision to return to in-person learning,” Settar said. “I support bringing students back in a slow and safe manner.”

Students were given the option to return to school or remain virtual. Many who feel comfortable with the transition have planned to return for the most hands-on experience possible. 

“We were mostly just learning about proper safety while we’re working in the shop, and all the different tools we will be using when we fully go back to school,” Vail said. “Because we were always one of the first classes planning to go back, communication with my teacher has been constant even from the first couple weeks of school.”

The academy is using the concurrent model all FCPS high schools will be using when they start school later in the year. Students are in each class one day a week and online one day a week. If COVID-19 cases require, the academy will close based on the recommendation of the Fairfax County Health Department. Faculty are working to make the transition fit the needs of students and provide support for staff.

“I met with each staff member as a department and individually to discuss and develop a plan for in-person learning,” Settar said. “I support bringing students back in a slow and safe manner.”