Students to take classes in person

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff file photo/Education director John Doyle gives a lecture at the Gloucester Biotechnology Academy. Doyle said the academy has developed a detailed strategy for providing the highly hands-on biotechnology training to its students in the safest possible environment.

This has always been John Doyle’s favorite time of the year, as the summer wanes and his anticipation grows for the fall semester that beckons.

This year is no different for the education director at the Gloucester Biotechnology Academy. And yet, in many ways, this year will be very different for Doyle, the staff and students at the academy at 55 Blackburn Center.

Education and training in the time of pandemic.

“It’s a bit of a whirlwind right now,” Doyle said Wednesday morning amid preparations for the new semester and incoming students. “But I can’t wait to get started. I’ve spent enough time at home.”

The academy, which opened in the fall of 2016 as the educational and training element of the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute, will welcome its fifth class on Aug. 31.

Doyle said there was never any question that the classroom sessions and lab work would be performed in person rather than remotely and virtually.

“We can’t run this program as a virtual program,” Doyle said. “The curriculum and the work in the laboratory just don’t lend themselves to virtual. The hands-on aspect is the essence of our training. It’s one of the reasons this program has been so successful.”

Safety strategy

Doyle said the academy has developed a detailed strategy for providing the highly hands-on biotechnology training to its students in the safest possible environment.

The class size, which usually runs to about 20, has been compressed to 15 to allow for appropriate distancing in the lab and throughout the facility. The class sessions are being moved out of the former traditional classroom space and into the lab, where distancing is more easily accomplished along the long lab tables. The academy also has purchased flip-top desks that can be spaced appropriately as needed. 

Students and staff will have their temperatures taken at least twice a day, usually book-ending the lunch hour. Those above the norm will be sent home.

Students will be supplied with a checklist of physical conditions related to COVID-19 virus. “We’re using the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines for symptoms,” Doyle said. “If they experience anything on that checklist, they’re not supposed to come in.”

The students will be issued additional protective masks and face shields, which they must wear at all times. The new measures, he said, will enhance the sanitary protocols already in place for working in a clean lab.

“None of this is really unusual for working in a lab,” Doyle said.

The work spaces, he said, will be tended every day by a cleaning service, with particular emphasis on high-touch surfaces such as lab tables, floors and equipment. Students will be responsible for wiping down their work surfaces each day and using the available personal sanitizers.

“Again, that’s pretty typical in a lab,” Doyle said.

More time

As he prepared for the Class of 2021 in the new world of COVID-19, Doyle knew he needed to build more time into the semester as a contingency for students who might get sick and need additional time to make up work.

In the past, the academy’s school day ran from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. This semester, the day will run an additional hour, from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

“That works out to two additional weeks of time in the semester,” Doyle said. “We’ve also added two more weeks at the end of the semester.”

Fridays also have been designated as an open day so that students who have missed time will have the ability to close the gap. Those who haven’t missed time will be able to use the day to practice lab techniques and other tasks.

Cumulatively, he said, the new schedule will provide up to 15 weeks of instruction in 11 calendar weeks.

Doyle said the teaching staff is comfortable with the new safety protocols.

“The staff is fine,” he said. “Everybody will be (on site) except for two instructors, who are both in their 70s and have decided to join us virtually for at least the first semester, in what I think everybody feels is a prudent decision.”

The academy, which operates in about 3,200 square feet of space, has plans to build out another 3,200 square feet this fall to house a new bio-manufacturing operation.

“The new bio-manufacturing space will allow us to take out second-semester curriculum and totally expand it,” Doyle said.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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