Over the past five years, Berks Career and Technology Center (BCTC) and Reading Muhlenberg Career and Technical Center (RMCTC) have offered a career exploration camp to middle school students in Berks County. Students would spend one week at the Career and Technical Centers (CTC) and be introduced to the programs, skills, and career pathways offered at the CTCs. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Business-Education Partnership provided a $30,000.00 to deliver this career exploration experience to students. After several months of planning, the camps were cancelled in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After much research and strategizing, BCTC and RMCTC were able to revise the grant and request the monies be reallocated for virtual technology to be used for outreach purposes. The materials were specifically chosen to allow alternate experiences of career exploration at the Career and Technical Centers to all elementary, middle, and high school students in Berks County. The outreach materials included 2 iPads, 2 iPad cases, 2 screen protectors, 2 tripods, 30 Oculus Virtual Reality (VR) headsets and cases, Cleanbox™ UV light cleaner for the headsets, and 10 BreakoutEDU™ kits.
The iPads are used to create and record videos and presentations to elementary, middle, and high school students. The videos have been used to produce different aspects of the career exploration including specific student tasks in the CTC programs to an overview of how a trade or skill is used in the world. The iPads are also utilized for live, virtual presentations from the Career and Technical Centers to students in Berks County allowing an insight into each program and the opportunity to connect to students enrolled at the CTCs. This also allows for a greater understanding of the skill requirements and tools used in the industries. Many of the videos made are available on the CTC’s website and social media platforms allowing students, parents, and the community to view on demand.
The Oculus VR headsets will be used to give students a one minute, 360° visual and audio tour of each program at the Career and Technical Centers. Teachers from Berks County schools can request to borrow the headsets from the CTC. Upon return, each headset will go through a one-minute cleaning process with the Cleanbox™ UV light cleaner specifically designed to eliminate 99.99+% of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The Oculus VR tour of the CTCs would also satisfy a requirement of all students getting exposure to a Career and Technical Education during their elementary, middle, and high school years.
The final purchase from the grant was for ten Breakout EDU™ kits and a subscription to BreakoutEDU.com. The kits are designed similarly to an escape room, but instead of escaping out of a room, they must solve a series of puzzles to break into a box. With the subscription to BreakoutEDU.com, the Career and Technical Centers were able to utilize digital games that were previously developed or have the option to create a customized digital escape room. The kits and digital games are both designed to teach content while students work together in small groups to collaborate and solve problems. Teachers from Berks County schools can request to borrow the kits or a digital game for their classroom. Instructors at the CTCs are also able to utilize the kits and digital games for their programs.
The COVID-19 pandemic challenged many of us to adapt our original plans and be creative to accomplish our goals. Berks Career and Technology Center and Reading Muhlenberg Career and Technical Center were able to revise the original grant intended for career exploration summer camps, purchase virtual technology materials, and provide alternative methods to reach students in Berks County. The iPads, Oculus™ Virtual Reality headsets and Breakout EDU™ kits will not only be used during the pandemic year but will used for many years to come.