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'I don’t think you can replicate the hands-on approach': Diman preps for return to in-person classes

Diman staff and students
Diman Voc Tech principal Andrew Rebello (front) poses with students and staff. Submitted photo
Audrey Cooney
The Herald News

Ahead of the state mandating high schools’ return to fully in-person classes, Diman Regional Vocational Technical School already has a plan for when students will see increased time in school buildings, with a plan for all classes to be in person by the end of May.

“We really wanted to prioritize planning,” said principal Andrew Rebello. “We didn’t want to throw something at them two weeks before the commissioner releases the high school date.”

Earlier this month, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary education mandated that most elementary schools throughout Massachusetts return to offering five days of in-person learning each week by April 5. Middle schools must follow suit by April 28, with no official date for when high schools will no longer be permitted to keep students in remote and hybrid learning. There is an exception for students who choose to remain fully remote.

Diman students typically follow a pattern of two weeks of hands-on vocational instruction for every two weeks of academic learning. Currently, the school is in a hybrid learning model, with students seeing one week of in-person vocational learning paired with one week of remote vocation and two weeks of remote academic learning.

Rebello said teachers have had impressive success with making remote vocational learning a success, with focus on the theoretical aspects of their trades, but acknowledge that it can’t fully compare to time in a shop.

“I don’t think you can replicate the hands-on approach to vocational education,” he said. “You need it.”

Beginning Monday, March 29, all Diman students except those who have opted for all remote classes will have all of their vocation instruction in person. In addition, freshmen will be in person for half of the academic classes.

And on May 17, the school plans to move to having all classes be fully in-person except for students who want to remain fully remote. In a survey of all 1,500 Diman students, less than 200 said they wanted to stay in remote classes.

Rebello said he and other school leaders were prompted to be proactive about the move to in-person classes by the difficulties of translating vocational classes remotely, but also because COVID-19 case numbers are trending in a positive direction. The school will be taking precautions like telling shop teachers to only be in close proximity to students while demonstrating something when necessary, and to limit doing that to only a few minutes, in keeping with CDC guidelines defining "close contact."

“It is going be safe coming back. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have cases or close contact, but it’s about how we handle it,” he said. “We’re ready to deliver effective education for our students.”