Pandemic puts damper on potential Penta students

By Marie Thomas-Baird -

PERRYSBURG – Administrators anticipate the incoming class at Penta Career Center this fall will be smaller than usual.

In a report to the board at its January meeting, high school Director Ryan Lee estimated the numbers are down by 300.

Recruitment has been hampered by the coronavirus and the canceling of on-campus events such as Career Night and Sophomore Explore Penta Days, he said.

“We’re trying to do things a little bit different,” Lee said, adding that the school is trying to share its programs virtually.

This year’s sophomores applying to Penta for the fall was at 371 applicants on Jan. 13, down from 675 last year pre-COVID. That number was updated to 500 on Wednesday.

Lee reminded those in attendance that last year’s number set a record.

“That number sounds huge but traditionally we’re a little less than that,” Lee said.

The number of current freshmen applying for this fall’s Sophomore Exploratory program also is down, at 244 compared to 326 last year. That number jumped to 286 by Wednesday.

Lee said other career centers are saying they are experiencing drops of 50% to 35%, so “we’re certainly in that ballpark,” he said.

“When you hear these numbers, we all get a little nervous about what that means. But, we also know that some students will either arrive late or some students are on a list already. So those students will come,” said Superintendent Ed Ewers.

The focus is on those students who are not quite sure, he said. Getting 300 students from 16 school districts is very doable., Ewers aid

Current enrollment is 1,365.

“This is a blip,” he said. “It’s a concern but it’s not a panic.”

Penta has shared virtual lesson plans through new videos with its 16 districts it serves, and as of Jan. 13 five used those plans with their sophomore classes.

Lee has been in contact with the 10 that has not shared Penta’s options with its sophomores.

“We know there are lots of reasons maybe schools chose not to participate, but we certainly hope between now and the time that most schools are signing up for next year’s courses … that they’ll be engaged in more conversations about the career tech curriculum that is offered at Penta,” he said.

Board member Diane Balcerzak, who represents Maumee City Schools, asked if her district has shared the program.

It has not, Lee responded.

“That means they didn’t do the lesson that we provided them to do with their kids,” he said, adding that does not mean they did nothing.

The intent of the programs was for teachers to walk through the videos provided and provide enough information for students to make a responsible decision, Lee said.

Due to COVID-19, Career Night was held virtually in December through web meetings with instructors.

About 309 families participated; usually there are 800-900 visitors when the event is held on campus.

Videos from six of the schools programs can be seen on its website.

Penta’s marketing department has developed television commercials that highlight the school’s competitive advantage.

The commercials, which were started in 2018, have been updated to share how Penta can prepare someone for a career by earning credentials, training on cutting-edge technology and applying those skills on a real work site.

Penta received a number of top awards through the Ohio School Public Information Association, for the commercials; its annual newsletter which is mailed to around 40,000 people; and its virtual Career Night invitation.

Competition for employment and scholarships is helped by the competitive advantage by attending Penta, Ewers said.

“We can demonstrate those things,” he said. “Every student that arrives at Penta is an important number for us.”

The school is working on offering on-campus visits this spring.

Also at the meeting, the board learned more than 700 students have been quarantined because of either on-campus or off-campus exposure since the start of the school year. Four students have tested positive due to exposure on campus, or 0.60% of all the students that were quarantined and 0.002% of total enrollment.

However, students will remain in a hybrid teaching model due to community spread numbers, Ewers said, or until such time that guidance from the Wood County Health Department changes or vaccines become available for staff.

He is hopeful to soon return to a five-day classroom schedule, “but I don’t think the data justifies and supports that kind of move.”

By Marie Thomas-Baird