Perspective: Focus on Faculty and Student Support During the COVID-19 Crisis

Across the California Community College system (and beyond), the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the ways in which education is planned, delivered, and experienced. These challenges have hit particularly hard around the delivery of high-quality, lab-based education, a critical component of Career and Technical Education (CTE), which is in turn a primary area of focus for community colleges.

With these realities in place for the immediate future, my goal as a R·H·T Regional Director has been to move to support culinary and hospitality instructors and their students, across the North Far North Regional Consortium, in any way possible.

Through the first few months of the pandemic, I kept in close contact with instructors, tracking their immediate challenges as well as successful responses and solutions during the strangest spring semester in memory, and working to provide collaborative responses where possible. 

One immediate solution was to fund gift cards to local grocery stores that participating schools could provide to culinary lab students. Students used these cards to purchase agreed-upon ingredients for assigned recipes and complete them as best as possible from home. Students then submitted photos, videos, and reported on taste and quality to the instructor for grading. While imperfect, this resource gave students a chance at completing those courses that had been immediately impacted by the onset of the pandemic.

It should be noted that this initiative raised some well-placed equity concerns, with questions arising around housing-insecure students, or any student that otherwise may not be in a position to successfully cook at home. After consulting numerous faculty, administrators, and fellow regional directors, the consensus arose that, while these equity-based concerns were absolutely valid, this response was something of a triage measure during an unprecedented crisis. If this resource, while potentially impacting students unequally, allowed even a handful of students to complete coursework that would otherwise be unable to do so, then we owed it to them to try.

After the dust settled and coursework wrapped up in May and June, we convened a region-wide RHT faculty to review successes and challenges, and to look ahead to structure support for the fall. As always, the faculty were a wealth of information, with a variety of support ideas coming out of the call.

One elementary step is the purchase of a number of loaner textbooks for participating schools. Providing culinary or hospitality departments with both physical and digital copies of assigned texts will remove one obstacle for students in the coming year, particularly given both the possibility for restricted access to campus libraries as well as the economic impact to many of our students and their families further limiting their ability to purchase needed books. Another possibility is to fund loaner culinary equipment to complete culinary lab-work assignments at home (within reason).

Another compelling regional move has been the adoption of the Rouxbe culinary video instruction system at several schools. Spearheaded by my colleague Audre Le Baudour, R·H·T Regional Director for the Bay Area Regional Consortium, you can read more about this statewide initiative here. Adopting this industry-approved system as supplemental instructional content will provide culinary and hospitality faculty with an adaptive digital tool with which to address the current challenges around lab-based education, and to provide students with the high-quality, industry-relevant knowledge and skills that will lead to a lifetime of career success.

These are just a few examples of ways in which Regional Directors of Employer Engagement are working with faculty and providing resources to make a direct impact supporting student success and completion during a profoundly tumultuous time for education.

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