he Pima Joint Technical Education District, which offers hands-on courses to high school students in Pima County, faces a challenge when it comes to reopening and running classes for the fall semester. It’s the same hurdle many schools face: a lack of hands-on learning.

Teachers and administrators are faced with the challenge of delivering an experience that can most effectively mirror the same success as in-person classes. 

PimaJTED teaches local high school students in two different ways. Classes are administered through its own three central campuses as well as through high schools themselves. Combined, there are more than 20,000 students enrolled in PimaJTED courses, with around 2,400 students at the central campuses alone.

PimaJTED offers programs in a multitude of fields such as but not limited to business, engineering, health science and public service. 

Superintendent/CEO of PimaJTED Kathy Prather said that their students can feel more confident when applying to universities with a certificate from PimaJTED.   

“I think what we’re seeing is an awakening in the country that students should be able to experience in high school the things that they’re interested in and develop skills,” Prather said. “And, by the time they make the decision to go on to university maybe they don’t know what career they want to go into but they understand what areas they like.”

Prather said that students are adapting to remote learning.

“We have found an interview program that uses artificial intelligence to get students ready and practice interviews,” Prather said. “Several of our culinary arts teachers did YouTube videos and walked students through how to do certain culinary art types of skills.”

As a corollary to these class modifications, Prather spoke about a possible benefit.

“I think it will help us expand our reach to more rural parts of Arizona such as Ajo, such as Baboquivari,” Prather said. “I think we’ll be able to offer more options to them through this experience.”

If sometime during the semester, it is deemed safe to return to in-person classes, Prather is hoping to continue online classes for those who wish to continue online. But, online classes may not be continued for all programs. 

Prather mentioned the idea of having a staggered schedule where two different groups of students will be on campus at different times, to limit the capacity of students in a classroom. 

Prather said that PimaJTED is not a trade school but rather a part of the high school experience where students generally seek post-secondary education. 

“Trade schools, I think, traditionally have been thought of as what students go to, to get a skill and go right into the workforce,” Prather said. “We certainly have students where that is their plan after high school. They intend to use their credentials and go directly into the workforce. But, for a majority of our students, they actually do go onto post-secondary and continue on in a field or pathway.” 

Greg D’Anna, director of public relations, added an example of how career and technical education can tie into the traditional college pathway. 

“This way they can graduate high school with a licensed nursing assistant certification and work in the field as they attend college,” D’Anna said. “We’ve had around 400 students throughout the years who’ve been hired by TMC and TMC offers their employees tuition reimbursement. So this is a great way for students to enter the medical field early and get help paying for their college while they continue to pursue their trade.” 

PimaJTED is awaiting further instruction from health officials about opening in-person, but does not plan to do so at least until Labor Day. 

Noah Cullen is a University of Arizona journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.