COVID-19 no match for culinary teaching team


A stint at subbing and co-teaching culinary arts has led to a change in career goals for one Merrillville High School teacher’s aide. sean

Culinary Arts Educator Patti Tubbs was hit so hard by COVID-19, she spent 12 days in the hospital last November and still has oxygen needs.  

“I was diagnosed on Oct. 31, and within days was in the hospital,” Ms. Tubbs said. “I was put on a BiPAP machine when the high flow oxygen did not work. 

“I was given 10 treatments of Remdesivir and two treatments of convalescent plasma,” she continued. “I went home on seven liters of oxygen.”

How does a teacher whose health was greatly affected by COVID-19 conduct a hands-on class remotely? Enter Teaching Assistant Sean Kavois, who has never taken a culinary class in his life, but instead brings to the table a unique familiarity with Merrillville’s program.

“I know Ms. Tubbs very well,” he said. “My mother Shelley Ray is a Family and Consumer Science teacher and has been for the past 26 years here at Merrillville High School, so I am very familiar with the department and each coworker.”

Mr. Kavois, a 2006 graduate of Merrillville High School, has a bachelor's degree in history from Purdue University.  

He started out as a teacher’s aide in math at MHS. His career path veered a bit with time teaching at Northwest Indiana Special Education Cooperative (NISEC), but for Mr. Kavois, as well as many, all roads lead back to Merrillville, where he now works as an aide while he switches his education license. 

Mr. Kavois thought his coverage of the culinary arts classes would only be for a few days. Prior to that time, he said he may have subbed only once or twice for Ms. Tubbs, so he said he had very little knowledge of the class. 

In addition, not only was Mr. Kavois faced with the challenge of teaching a hands-on class he never took, but he also had to teach virtual students. 

“In the beginning, I think both the students and I thought my time with them would just be temporary,” Mr. Kavois said. “So, we started a little slow; but over time, they warmed up, and I wanted them to feel comfortable with me.”

Time went by, and his coverage of the class continued.  

“Sean is the most capable of teaching assistants and was most familiar with me and my curriculum,” Ms. Tubbs said. Ms. Tubs is a 1989 MHS graduate. 

Her first few days back at home, Ms. Tubbs said she was able to move some and would work from her hospital bed. She said she would give him directions and some tools, but would find herself unable to work further, because she was so tired and hooked up to so many machines. 

“As I got better I would email, post assignments, and text additional directions to Mr. Kavois, as I was still very tired and could not talk,” Ms. Tubbs said. “When you’re struggling to breathe, you use your energy to focus on that.”

She said Mr. Kavois ran her classroom with daily check-ins for a couple weeks. patti

“I really started missing my students the week before Christmas, and I started sitting in on my classes and interjecting into Mr. Kavois’ lectures here and there,” Ms. Tubbs said. 

Their common goal was to make sure the students received the best education and experiences possible and make the most of the challenging and unusual situation. 

As she became stronger and less dependent on oxygen, Ms. Tubbs thought she would be able to go back to school; however, she could not be near open flames while on oxygen. In addition, her doctors worried about her catching a cold and having a setback. 

As time went on, Ms. Tubbs started joining the virtual classroom for some of the classes, and the pair started co-teaching. 

“Sean has never flinched at attempting a recipe with the students,” Ms. Tubbs said. “Students have continued making many complicated recipes under his direction, which has put me at ease.”

“Mr. Kavois has had previous teaching experience in our building and performed very well when this occurred,” said CTE Principal Michael Knocke. 

“I knew instantly from these experiences that he was a terrific candidate to take on this task,” he continued. “They both have such an openness about them that they are able to easily collaborate as they co-teach.

“It is because they both have such a positive attitude, they were able to facilitate a productive classroom that students were always happy to learn in,” Mr. Knocke added.

“I love my job and the positive impact it has on our students,” Mr. Kavois said. “I am currently in the process of passing the Indiana CORE Assessments for Educator Licensure. 

“Once completed, I will be able to apply for a full-time position,” he continued. “I would love to be Merrillville High School’s first male Family and Consumer Sciences teacher.”

As far as the subject of history and even math, Mr. Kavois said he’ll still be teaching them in culinary arts, in addition to a lot of other subjects, showing students how all subjects have relevance in the food industry.  

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