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Wendy Stogner used skeleton and dead body props to create crime scenes in her Broomfield backyard, first warning her neighbors through social media that the realistic looking scenes weren’t actually real.

Her backyard crime scene pictures allowed her Career and Technical Education criminal justice students to continue learning after Boulder Valley schools closed to in-person classes in mid-March amid coronavirus concerns. For Stogner’s classes, the closure meant no access to the school’s crime scene lab.

“I had to get creative,” she said.

Moving hands-on, technical education classes online, from automotive collision repair to cosmetology to welding, was a challenge.

Boulder Valley Career and Technical Education Director Arlie Huffman said teachers found new ways to provide content, compiling video libraries of skill demonstrations and industry speakers. They also sought open source and open access materials in their content areas their students could use.

A more difficult challenge to overcome, he said, was equity while learning from home.

“Some students have the industry equipment and family members available who can help the learning continue, while other students have neither of those,” he said. “We are very worried that many of our students who otherwise would have earned industry certificates may lose out on that opportunity due to those issues.”

Michael Bautista, lead teacher for Boulder Valley’s construction program, said his students couldn’t finish working at Habitat for Humanity build sites as planned because of the coronavirus shutdowns.

Instead, he asked them to talk to their parents about helping with projects around their homes, including repairing doors, painting and remodeling. He supplied some lumber if needed that had already been donated.

He also provided recordings of speakers who talked about their training experiences in the construction industry, as well as creating a challenge where students had to plan habitats for the Moon, Mars and in outer space.

He had several students studying for their commercial drone pilot certification, a couple studying for their general contractor license and one trying to earn a “SmartSheet” certification. For those students, he held virtual study sessions and provided books, DVD’s and lessons. The district is kicking in money for their certification test fees, which are usually covered by auctioning off student-built projects.

“The hardest thing was finding programs that were available to get to these (certification candidate) students,” Bautista said.

For the criminal justice class, Stogner said, students earn credit through Front Range Community College and were able to continue with the online Front Range tests they had already been taking.

Her main challenge was the crime scene labs. For the first backyard crime scene, she placed parts of a fake skeleton in the dirt, partially covered, along with burying some possible weapons and pieces of cloth. She then sent students a series of pictures of the scene, asking them to write a crime story.

For the second, she placed the fake dead bodies in a tent in her yard for a camping crime scene with two murder victims, allowing her to hide the bodies from her neighbors. She asked students to solve the crime using the scene photos and suspect clues.

“While I have enjoyed the ‘thinking out of the box’ teaching opportunity this difficult situation has presented, the hardest part of all of this has been missing my students and teaching them in the classroom,” she said.

Lexi Zoerb, a Broomfield High graduating senior, said she appreciated Stogner’s efforts to make the classes work in an online format, as well as her willingness to help with technology challenges or misunderstanding about directions to complete work.

She added solving crime scenes through photos was difficult, but not impossible.

“It definitely made me think and use my knowledge in a different way,” she said.

At the same time, she said, “we missed out on half of our semester and most of our crime scenes. The class is very hands on and teamwork driven. With not being able to be in the class and be hands on, I felt that part of my education was taken away from me … I felt that I had missed out on something that I loved so much and was supposed to help set me ahead in my future.”

She’s planning to attend Colorado Mesa University in the fall to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, along with peace officer academy certification and double minors in forensic chemistry and forensic psychology. Her dream is to work as a CIA field agent.

Though school closures were a disappointing end to her senior year, she said, she still learned valuable skills.

“This kind of problem solving and learning to adapt and overcome will help the class of 2020 and other classes in the future as other issues are thrown at us,” she said.

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