Creativity Is Key to Skills Training Amid Pandemic

Left: Perkins student Penelope Harders found a creative way to help her classmate manage distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Harders is a student in the Practical Nursing program at Meridian Technology Center. Right: Practical Nursing student Candace Johnson experienced technology challenges during the recent remote learning period at Meridian Technology Center. Johnson relied on the kindness of a classmate to access a stronger Wi-Fi signal so she could complete her training at Tech.

Story and photos provided by Meridian Technology Center

When Penelope Harders and Candace Johnson left Meridian Technology Center on March 13, the Practical Nursing students expected to see each other the week after spring break.

Because of COVID-19, one week turned into two. Then two weeks turned into three. Three weeks turned into four.

While they didn’t resume their on-campus training at Tech until June 1, the students relied heavily on their friendship and shared resources to make the school’s distance learning plan work.

Johnson quickly found out her only computer and her access to the internet, a wireless hotspot, weren’t enough to meet the technology needs for her and her two children. She was able to borrow a laptop from Tech, and Harders stepped in with a creative solution that would give both moms a place to safely study and their kids a place to play.

“At first I invited her to come to my house,” Harders explained. “Then I thought wait – she’s got two kids, and I have four. This isn’t going to work.”

Harders realized her family had access to the church where her husband is a youth leader. She contacted the church to explain the situation, and she was granted permission to turn Sunday school rooms into makeshift classrooms. Several times a week, Johnson made the 45-minute commute from her home in Pawnee to Johnson’s church in Perkins.

Since starting nursing school in August, juggling home, work, kids and school hasn’t been easy for the two mothers. The pandemic only made it worse. In addition to managing their remote learning requirements, each also had to facilitate distance learning for their children. This led them to focus on their training at odd hours.

“We would have conversations and study at midnight and even at 2 and 3 a.m.,” Harders recalled. “Sometimes, that was the only time we didn’t have kids running around and pets barking.”

Now that a few programs are back on the Meridian campus, social distancing and safety remain a priority. Rather than sitting at a table studying students are spread out. Clinical rotations in local health care facilities are being replaced with virtual training and skills demonstrations across campus. Instead of working directly with patients, Harders, Johnson, and their fellow classmates are distributing prescriptions of Skittles, M&M’s and Sprite to Meridian staff members for their program’s medical pass rotation component.

Dolores Cotton, the Practical Nursing program coordinator, indicated creativity was key in developing ways to teach hands-on skills while protecting students and staff.

“We feel good that we have a way to provide a positive experience for our students,” she said. “We couldn’t have done it without staff members patiently allowing us to interrupt their day.”

Values-Centered Education

Innovation is one of Meridian’s six core values. The integration of new ideas with courage is an integral part of the school’s guiding philosophy. In March, as instructors began to develop plans for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, innovation led the way. From making the transition to virtual learning to accessing technology and meeting industry credentialing requirements, instructors in the schools 20 plus hands-on programs found creative solutions to ensure students were able to complete the school year with the skills they needed to succeed in the workplace.

Meridian’s full-time adult training programs – Evening Cosmetology, Health Informatics Practical Nursing and Radiologic Technology, as well as the school’s personal and professional development short courses, resumed on-campus training on June 1. With masks and social distancing practices in place, classrooms and curriculum look a little different for students.

Health Informatics students were able to continue their coursework from home since their program’s curriculum is entirely computer-based. Now back in the classroom, students are able to safely socially distance. Other programs have divided students into cohorts by assigning students specific dates and times to be in the lab for skills assessments.

Evening Cosmetology instructor Malena Curtsinger split her students between learning theory in the classroom and getting hands-on practice with manikins in the program’s salon to gain the hours needed to sit for the state licensing exam.

“This organized approach really helps us accomplish a lot,” she said. “The Pivot Point LAB streamlines the curriculum so that students can go back and cover any information that they may have missed or for some, they can study ahead. The resources are there for them.”

Curtsinger said she plans to permanently implement many of the changes she made as a result of COVID-19.

“It’s been a learning opportunity for most educators,” she added. “But we see what the possibilities are now. We can do it.”

Meridian will offer a variety of online and in-person short courses for the fall. Explore upcoming classes at meridiantech.edu/catalog.

Meridian Technology Center has been a driver of economic development since 1975. With a mission to educate, enrich lives and secure economic futures, Meridian offers full-time career training programs, short courses, Business and Industry services, and entrepreneurial support to residents from the Agra, Carney, Glencoe, Guthrie, Morrison, Mulhall-Orlando, Pawnee, Perkins-Tryon, Perry and Stillwater school districts.

For more information or to enroll visit www.meridiantech.edu or contact a career counselor by phone at (405) 377-3333 or toll-free at (888) 607-2509.