Reading-Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center will start the new school year virtually | Coronavirus

When the new school year begins Monday, the hallways, classrooms and labs inside the Reading-Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center will be devoid of students.

Like the two local school districts it serves, the school is opting to start the year the way it finished last year — virtually.

The center, like schools across Pennsylvania, closed its doors in mid-March following a shutdown mandate by Gov. Tom Wolf aimed at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state has given local schools the option of how to start the 2020-21 school year: in-person, virtually or a mix of the two.

Both the Reading School District and the Muhlenberg School District, the two school districts the center serves, have opted for fully virtual learning.

Eric Kahler, administrative director at the center, said the decision to do the same is the result of the three entities collaborating over the past several months.

“Our motto the last couple of months is we’re trying to walk arm in arm, all three of us,” Kahler said.

Kahler said leaders from center and the districts have had ongoing conversations about what they feel is best for students, community sentiment and how to best protect staff. The result was the decision that students should not yet be returning to classrooms.

Kahler said there’s a desire to resume in-person learning as soon as possible, but figuring out when that may occur is like trying to hit a moving target.

“We’re constantly reevaluating,” he said. “I think it’s an ongoing discussion that we will continue to evaluate on a weekly basis.”

While eight school district across Berks County are opting to start the school year virtually, doing so at the center creates some unique challenges.

The very nature of a career and technology center is for students to do a lot of hands-on learning, which is impossible if they’re sitting at home in front of a computer screen, Kahler admitted.

To address that, Kahler said, the center will place an early focus on the classroom work portion of the school’s programs.

“We will front-load the theory part of things, safety certifications,” he said. “Let’s do those things first so when we come back we can apply it in the lab area. Before we cut anything, we’re going to learn how to measure first.”

Kahler said that while some prerecorded lessons will be used during the online lessons, they will mostly see students taking part in livestreams with instructors.

“We want teachers to be on during the normal times they have class,” he said.

Kahler credited the staff for their work preparing for what promises to be a rather unique school year that will likely have lots of curves and hurdles and require nearly constant adjustments.

“Flexible and kind are our words for the year,” Kahler said. “These are strange times, we need to be flexible and kind.

“But we’re excited and we’re ready. And we’re really hoping we can get kids back in school as soon as possible.”

The county’s other career and technology school, Berks Career and Technology Center, is planning to start the new school year with a mix of in-person and virtual instruction.

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