High schools and regional technical centers have offered career-focused courses for years, always designed with workforce needs in mind. But until now, those courses haven't taught students how to conduct themselves at work. The shift to Simulated Workplace has changed the culture, said Kathy D'Antoni, the state official in charge of career and technical education.
In Sands' class, students clock in and clock out, just like they would on a factory floor. They rotate through assigned positions—shop foremen, safety coordinators, tool room attendants—all of which have different responsibilities. They fill out performance reviews. They wear uniforms. They run meetings.
"Instead of me telling the students every day what they're going to do, the day begins with a five- to 10-minute safety meeting and production meeting that the students do," Sands said. He gives his classes a packet every six weeks, and the students figure out how to complete all their assignments. These days, he only lectures when he has to introduce a concept.
When Byrd heard about Simulated Workplace, he liked the idea of learning how businesses worked and practicing workplace norms, like clocking in. He found it easy to learn the math taught in Sands' course, where concepts are connected to real-world problems. "I never thought I'd enjoy it as much as I did," he said.
Simulated Workplace classes follow protocols the state developed with industry input, such as conducting random drug tests and taking attendance. The model can work for any subject: A journalism class might turn into a newspaper, while a practical nursing class might turn into a clinic. The businesses earn simulated money, or points, based on a rubric that the state developed, again with industry input.
And once a year, industry partners inspect the student-run businesses, just like a public health inspector would inspect a restaurant. This is Sands' second year teaching at a Simulated Workplace, and he says employers are starting to approach him. "These guys are now starting to call us and ask us, 'Can I be part of the inspection team, can I sit on your advisory council, can I help you out?' " he says.
At the other end of the state, a strong partnership has emerged between a science, technology, engineering, and math class at Spring Valley High School in Huntington and a nearby Braskem facility. The plastics manufacturer has been so taken with the student-run business that it has contributed money and supplies, sent in guest speakers, and hosted tours of its facility.
Once employers get inside a Simulated Workplace and meet the students, they tend to stick around. Students' energy and intelligence has pleasantly surprised Braskem's staff, says Tom Gibson, the labor relations leader at the plant. "They have really impressed us with not only their knowledge, but their willingness to learn, and their dedication to that program and that class," he says.