Diman Regional Voc-Tech

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Retooled: Diman adapting to challenges of learning trades remotely

Shaylynn Woicik, a junior in Diman's auto collision shop, checks out a relevant video on YouTube [Submitted photo]
Angus Bonoan, a Diman junior and member of the electricity shop, studies at home on his laptop [Submitted photo]
Angus Bonoan, a Diman junior and member of the electricity shop, studies at home on his laptop [Submitted photo]
Manny Botelho, carpentry and cabinetmaking department head at Diman, describes a phase of house construction while being videoed. The house, in Westport, is being built by Robert Kfoury, who has given Botelho access to make instuctional video clips for Diman students [Submitted photo]
Manny Botelho, carpentry and cabinetmaking department head at Diman, describes a phase of house construction while being videoed. The house, in Westport, is being built by Robert Kfoury, who has given Botelho access to make instuctional video clips for Diman students [Submitted photo]
Hailey Roderick, Diman dental assisting
Hailey Roderick, Diman dental assisting

FALL RIVER — In this time of distance teaching and learning, trade shops at vocational schools face, perhaps, the greatest challenge.

Auto technology. Dental assisting. Carpentry. Culinary arts. Electricity. They, as well as many other shops offered at vocational schools, focus heavily on students working with tools and on machines.

But with students, due to the COVID-19 crisis, locked out of the building and physically separated from their teachers, hands-on learning has largely been taken out of the educational equation.

“You could never replicate the hands-on you do in a shop,” said Maria Torres, Diman Regional Vocational Techical High School’s assistant principal of technical affairs.

But, thanks to internet technology, and a lot of on-the-run creativity by educators and students, Diman is doing more than just avoiding a backslide.

Before COVID-19 struck, every Diman freshman had been issued a Chromebook, and the school made sure every student at home had a laptop and internet connectivity, achieved in some cases by Diman purchasing hot-spot connectivity for families and teachers in need.

All teachers are using Google Classroom. Many are doing even more.

Torres said her teachers “are just phenomenal. They’ve stepped above and beyond.”

For examples, she offered plumbing instructor Vincent Karppinen and carpentry-cabinetmaking department head Manny Botelho.

Karppinen, she said, is recording plumbing work he’s doing at his own home and loading the videos onto YouTube for his students. Botelho lives in a neighborhood where three houses are being built. He got permission from the builder, Robert Kfoury (described by Botelho as a “very big supporter of Diman”), to video the various stages of construction, and he has turned those videos into lessons for his students.

“Teachers are looking at things with a different eye now,” Torres said. “They’re saying, ‘I can take that and turn it into learning opportunity.’”

Students, too, are taking the initiative.

Torres said culinary arts students are both photographing and videoing themselves preparing recipes and sending them into their instructors.

“Kids and teachers are being very creative,” she said.

All Diman co-op employment was halted when schools closed in mid-March, even those arrangements which would have placed students in jobs at businesses deemed essential by the governor.

Here’s a quick look at how a few of Diman’s shops, and students, are navigating these unchartered waters.


Derick Estacio, Junior/Senior class instructor

“While nothing can replace hands-on face-to-face learning (especially in a trade setting), I have been assigning students videos to research regarding various areas in the Auto Collision Trade and having students return summaries on the steps and processes used in the repair procedures pertaining to the videos,” Estacio wrote in an email. “Students also get textbook assignments that correlate to the section of the book that we are going over with a quiz at the end of the assignment for content clarity.”

The shop has not forgotten that a class is composed of classmates, even if they are not standing or sitting together.

“Live meetings are also scheduled to go over content with my students, and so that students can see their classmates and keep in touch with each other,” Estacio wrote. “I found that this works well for students’ emotional well-being.”


Steve Cloutier, department head, instructor

“Distance Learning is something we, instructors and students, are all basically learning on the fly. Our new principal, (Andrew) Rebello, keeps reminding the faculty that, ‘We are building the airplane while we are flying it,’” Cloutier said. “Distance learning has proved to be a challenge, especially in a vocational setting where 85% of the instruction is hands-on. It is difficult to replicate that without the daily face-to-face contact with the students.”

But, Cloutier noted, Diman is armed with remarkable technology to combat the challenges.

Google Classroom allows teachers to assign and grade work. The Auto Tech textbook is available as an e-book and the digital learning platforms, Cloutier said, allow students to access video clips, narrated animations, DVOM [digital volt ohm meter] simulations, and additional interactive activities.

When First Ford of Fall River and the Ford Motor Company donated a Ford Focus to Diman Auto Tech, Ford at the same time gave the department access to its Automotive Career Exploration (ACE) program. ACE, Cloutier said, allows students access to the same training that technicians at Ford and Lincoln dealerships receive.

“The [ACE] training is very broad,” Cloutier wrote. “It can range from Basic Maintenance to Engine Repair to Hybrid Vehicle operation. The modules are made up of PowerPoint presentations with assessments. Once the student has successfully completed a module, they receive a certificate for that training session. These certificates are another tool that they can add to their resume as they head out into the job market.”


Flo Lima, instructor

“Vocational learning has to have the face to face and hands component of learning. It is very difficult to instruct the operation of tools, equipment and demonstrate the SAFE and proper use of these tools and equipment,” Lima said in an email. “With the vocational instruction in school, SAFETY is our number one priory. Instructors can not and will not tell a student to make cuts on wood with power tools, grind metal etc. on their own without teacher supervision. We are following DESE guidelines on how to teach virtual vocational learning. It is challenging and difficult. I teach freshmen, and their vocational skills are a work in progress. I teach the freshmen, and most of my students have never operated a tool or a power tool before attending Diman. Therein lies the challenge.”

The building and property maintenance shop, Lima said, has its at-home students working on the following:

  • Safety tests.
  • Watching safety videos.
  • Watching tool and equipment videos.
  • Watching videos on construction.

“I had my freshmen do a project on starting their own company,” Lima said. “They have to pick a trade from our curriculum and build a company. Create a company name, get financing, insurance, how many employees, list of services, research how to promote and market their company. Again, vocational virtual learning is difficult.”


Randy Benevides, department head

Jonathan Root, dining room [Room 251] course instructor

Culinary arts students may have more hands-on work to do than many other shops, and they have voluntarily been taking advantage. Benevides said many of them are making dishes – in some cases innovative dishes – and sharing their work with their instructors via emailed pictures and videos.

Students, they said, have been very good about using email and Zoom sessions to provide their instructors with feedback.

Still, trying to duplicate at home the quantity and quality of food they get to use at Diman might break mom and dad’s bank. And, Root noted, even if they have the money to pay for a given recipe, the Pea Pod order may arrive with only half the ingredients.

There’s more to culinary arts than preparing recipes. Students also learn and perfect dining room skills.

“It’s very difficult to teach students how to serve tables and give them that management aspect when you can’t actually see them in person,” Root said. “We’re not waiting on customers anymore; we’re doing online modules.”

Also lost in the distance learning is the face-to-face component.

“I miss it a lot,” Benevides said. “I absolutely love my job and I love the interaction with the students.”

“The kids miss it, too,” Root said. “You can tell. And I think they’re appreciating it a lot more. Sometimes some of them give you a hard time when they’re in school, and I think now with all of this going on, they’re realizing how valuable school actually is.

“Yesterday (Thursday) we went and delivered the senior [lawn] signs, and the amount of kids that were crying when we showed up, that was a rewarding experience for us.”


Angus Bonoan, junior, Electricity

“COVID-19 has affected the entire country for months now,” the Westport resident wrote in an email. “But our little vocational school in Fall River is home to students who utilize their in-school shop experience to create a foundation that they will build off for the rest of their lives.

“Some students look forward to getting certified in different parts of their field, and they work long and hard in their shops to get these certifications, that they have the opportunity to receive for free being in a vocational school. If they were getting these certifications on their own, they would have to pay out of pocket for them. These students aren’t just being robbed of whatever school year they were in, but they are missing out on an opportunity that not many people get.”

Bonoan said the distance learning is struggling to serve students from low-income families. Some of those students, he said, are picking up more shifts at their jobs and/or taking other part-time jobs at essential businesses.

“The fact that some students help in paying family expenses is definitely overlooked when it is noticed that these students aren’t turning in assignments on time, or even at all,” he said. “During times like these, everyone is under stress. I find that those who were the happiest people to be around before this pandemic hit, now have no motivation to do anything, especially school work. There are also those that believe that ‘it’s already summer,’ and technically yes we won’t be stepping into a classroom until August (hopefully), but we also are still getting assignments, as if we were still in school.”

Bonoan called for understanding and leniency when it comes to grading because learning in a teacher-supervised classroom with 25 other students is a far cry from trying to learn while lying in the bed where you sleep, watch TV and play video games.

“While you can have discussions online, there is just something about being in a classroom that gets you in the mindset that you’re ready to learn.”

Shalynn Woicik, junior, Auto Collision

“Not being able to go into the shop during this all makes me frustrated,” the Fall River resident said in an email. “It makes me feel this way because we do lots of hands-on stuff during our shop cycles that we can’t do online. We aren’t getting the same experience online like we do at school. Reading an article about my trade and answering questions based on what I read isn’t really teaching me much.

“It’s hard to learn a trade if you can’t get the hands on part of it, but my shop instructors have been trying their hardest to get us the information we need the best they can. For example they send us videos on Youtube to watch based on our trade, they’ve been holding google meets to go over lessons, explain things to us, answer the questions we need answered, and give us a chance to socialize with our shop peers.”

Hailey Roderick, senior, Dental Assisting

“While I was in school I was doing co-op with Perfect Smiles so I wasn’t in school my shop weeks,” she said in a text. “I was able to see my teachers while in academic weeks. It’s definitely been a struggle to do most assignments because I don’t have certain supplies and teacher guidance that can help assist me. I was looking forward to my senior year and my last softball season, so losing the last couple of months at school has been very upsetting.”

Zachary Saucier, senior, Auto Collision

“Being deprived of the final months of high school has saddened me because I don’t get to experience them at school, but instead experience it at home on a laptop submitting my assignments through google classroom as my last ‘hurrah’ for my senior year,” Saucier wrote in an email. “My teachers, shop teachers especially, have been extremely flexible with the due dates on my assignments due to the fact that I’m juggling school work with full-time hours. I can’t thank my shop teachers enough for trying to make the best out of this situation by having frequent online meetings, checking in with us through google classroom, making sure we are handing in our assignments, but also constantly reassuring us that everything will work out eventually and we will all see each other again once this is all set and done with.”

Saucier has been working full-time at APC Auto Body in Dartmouth and is doing his best not to let the challenging school situation get him, or at least keep him, down in the dumps.

“I have kept a positive mindset despite what is going on,” he said. “I know eventually we will all see each other again so I have been as they would say Diman Strong throughout this whole situation. In conclusion, I am happy to call myself a 2020 Diman graduate of the Automotive Collision Repair and Refinishing program and nothing will ever change that.”