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A look inside Burlington Technical Center’s alternate classrooms

Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 5:29 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Many Burlington Technical Center students are back in classrooms at spaces scattered across the Queen City after students and teachers were forced to relocate after the school district discovered PCB contamination on the Burlington High School campus last month. Christina Guessferd got a first look inside one of the alternate workspaces at Saint Mark’s Catholic Church.

“I love the new spaces,” said Cheryl Niedzwiecki, a BTC culinary arts instructor. “It’s like we’ve been here for a couple months.”

She says the kitchen at Saint Mark’s Catholic Church already feels familiar and that teaching her students in-person is imperative for a career in the industry. “I’m so glad to see them again,” Niedzwiecki said. “You can read about it, you can watch it, but you really need to do it. This is a hands-on program and this is really where they thrive.”

“Having the attitude of actually getting things done at a constant rate is something you don’t really get in many other places,” said," Rhys Danforth, a second-year culinary arts student. He agrees that they’re skills that can’t be learned through a computer screen.

The Mount Mansfield High School senior commutes to Burlington two times a week. He says while he’s disappointed the students no longer have access to the state-of-the-art technology at Burlington Technical Center, he’s grateful the district secured a solution. “We have a lot of extra space, so it’s pretty much just as comfortable,” he said.

Saint Mark’s is a short drive away from Burlington High School up North Avenue. The kitchen there is usually only used for cooking church dinners, but Father Dallas St. Peter says the space is designed to serve as a community center. “To be able to open it up more to the community has kind of been my hope since being here. This whole complex is really built with that mindset,” he said.

St. Mark’s is one of nine locations across the Queen City housing 12 BTC programs in the wake of the campus closure due to high PCB levels. Seven programs, including culinary arts, resumed classroom instruction last week at alternate workspaces. The district says the remaining five should start in about two weeks now that the school board has approved $225,000 in funding to pay for additional sites through the end of the school year.

We asked Niedzwiecki if after working for the Burlington Technical Center for five years, she’s concerned the PCB contamination will have an impact on her health. She says she spent most of her time outside the danger zone, so while she’s not worried about herself, she’s keeping her colleagues in mind. “I’m concerned for their well-being and to make sure they feel comfortable,” she said.

Niedzwiecki says this situation is a testament to how a community can come together in times of need.

Related Stories:

More class spaces obtained for displaced Burlington technical students

Group opposing BHS PCBs closure addresses school officials

Some BHS parents push for return to school, PCBs or not

How widespread is Vt. school PCB problem?

State working on plan to address possibility of PCBs in more Vermont schools

Some Burlington tech students to return to in-person classes next week

Burlington School District to look for new location for BHS students

Burlington school leaders call on state to fund PCB contamination cleanup

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