ATLANTA—As Georgia grapples with navigating in-person and virtual learning this school year, Atlanta Technical College (ATC) is fusing innovation with ingenuity to host “limited labs” – a hybrid of online and in-person learning.
ATC’s on campus approach is designated for key technical careers that require the face-to-face interaction for mastery of designated crafts. Wearing required personal protective equipment, students and faculty will engage in classroom learning for hands-on activities and training. The number of students is restricted per class to adhere to social distancing protocols. Both students and faculty will undergo onsite COVID-19 screenings and the facilities utilized during the limited labs will undergo a deep cleaning between classes.
Many technical careers can often be a “hands on” learning experience that requires a level a mastery and methodical process best studied and perfected in person. With the national guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state leaders, the approach to teaching has shifted to embrace best practices while keeping the door to upward economic mobility opened to the college’s 3,400 students.
“Some of our technical careers require hands-on training for our students to become proficient at key aspects of their future careers. Because the health and wellbeing of our students, faculty and staff is our top priority, our limited labs are only implemented when necessary for specific coursework,” said ATC President Victoria Seals. “The bulk of our day-to-day learning takes place online, which has been a critical component to ATC’s ongoing success during this pandemic.”
For many students, returning to the classroom was a critical component to gain the confidence in their skills and techniques. “Even in a pandemic ATC has made it possible for us to learn and succeed,” said Tatiana Fritzgerald, a cosmetology student at ATC. “This provides me with an opportunity to still achieve my goals in a safe environment.”
As ATC shifted portions of its classroom curriculum to include virtual learning, a number of students experienced a lack of digital resources needed to continue their coursework. Thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and the success of the recently launched #ILOVEATC fundraiser, the college has been able to provide students in need with laptops and access to the internet.
According to ATC’s leadership, the global pandemic not only exposed the existing digital divide among the student population but also highlighted the tough financial reality faced by many students who also worked full-time and part-time jobs.
“The coronavirus is a two-fold crisis. On one hand, we have a public health issue that has shifted our approach to teaching, learning and going about our daily lives,” said Seals. “On the other hand, it also carries a financial strain that has taken a toll on families and individuals in all phases of life. We are working collaboratively with partners to address those needs that are derivatives of the current state of affairs.”
Since March, ATC has provided assistance to almost 1,600 students with CARES Act funds as well as over $100,000 through its #ILOVEATC emergency relief campaign, for items such as computers and mobile hotspots to support students in need of technology to continue their education.
According to regional workforce development leaders, striking a balance during the pandemic is critical to flattening the number of coronavirus cases in Georgia while maintaining a strong pipeline of critical workers.
“Maintaining and strengthening our robust supply chain and preparing frontline workers for essential careers remain an important component to rebuilding our economy during this pandemic,” said WorkSource Atlanta Executive Director Katerina Taylor. “ATC has created an innovative approach that strikes a balance in maintaining a safe learning environment while students gain the valuable hands-on skills needed to advance their respective education journeys and future professions.”