Career center providing ‘real world’ experiences

NEW CUMBERLAND – Going to school at the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center is feeling more like the daily grind every day.

And that’s a good thing, according to students.

“I feel like I’m going from school to work,” said senior Cody Wishon, 18, of New Cumberland, describing his daily trek from Oak Glen High School to the Career Center.

Wishon and his fellow classmates are learning what life is like in the work world as the Career Center makes the transition from traditional classroom instruction to a Simulated Workplace model.

The Career Center is one of 21 sites – but only two career-technical schools – across the state of West Virginia chosen to participate in a Simulated Workplace pilot project this year. State education officials hope to implement the Simulated Workplace concept statewide over the next three years.

As a simulated workplace, the Career Center is beginning to impose requirements on students similar to what they may encounter at a real job – filling out an application, going to an interview, punching a time clock, wearing a uniform, submitting to random drug tests and maintaining a good attendance record, among other things.

So far, students say the additional requirements are not onerous, but welcome.

“I like it better this way,” said Wishon, a carpentry student who hopes to have a career in the building construction trades.

Another carpentry student, Patrick McLaughlin, 17, of New Cumberland, said the Simulated Workplace concept affords students more freedom because teachers expect more of them.

“With the simulated workplace, (the teacher) explains what we have to do and sends us out to do it,” McLaughlin said. “We’re doing it more on our own.”

Career Center teachers say the content of what they’re teaching has not changed, just their methods of instruction. Each career-technical program is viewed as its own startup company with a beginning net worth of $1 million.

The “company” must meet the same standards of quality, productivity and financial performance as real-world companies, said Kathy D’Antoni, West Virginia associate state superintendent of schools. Each company will be evaluated annually, and how well a company does depends a lot on students’ academic achievement, mastery of skills and reliability, she said.

“Everything that they do in this workplace setting contributes to the financial well-being of the workplace,” D’Antoni said, “so they need to show up.”

At the Career Center, each course program now has a company name and operates like a company, said Steve Shannon, carpentry instructor. The carpentry program is known as Mirror Construction, and its company slogan is, “What We Do – Reflects On Us.”

Students have taken ownership of the company identity and contributed to everything from the company uniform to the actual work product, Shannon said.

“I think it’s made them take a lot more pride in what they do,” said Milt O’Mery, auto collision instructor.

Teachers say the real-world atmosphere of the simulated workplace fits well with their actual instruction.

“What we preach all the time is (what it’s like) ‘out in the real world,'” said Jeff Hardy, auto technology instructor. “We all come from the working sector, so that’s what we know. We try to make it as ‘real world’ as we can.”

Hardy said the Simulated Workplace model puts more responsibility on the students, who are seen more as workers than as students.

“The students’ overall approach is more business-like. They’re working for the company now. They represent the company,” he said. “It puts more responsibility on them. We’re supposed to stand back and let them run the business.”

The Simulated Workplace model owes much of its development to Oak Glen High School alumnus Clinton Burch, who graduated in 1994. Formerly of New Manchester, Burch now works as Simulated Workplace project coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Education.

“Within the Simulated Workplace company, the whole premise is to change the learning environment,” Burch said, citing the use of time clocks, random drug tests and uniforms.

Enrolling in a class involves not only seeing a guidance counselor but also being interviewed by an instructor, as if for a real job, Burch said.

The pilot project is being funded through $350,000 in grant money from Workforce West Virginia and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation in Pittsburgh, D’Antoni said.

At the Career Center, the Simulated Workplace applies to all career-technical students, excepting students in the driver’s education, licensed practical nurse and commercial driver’s license programs.

(Huba can be contacted at