The Times West Virginian

January 15, 2014

New initiative changes the education setting: PHOTOS & VIDEO

By Emily Gallagher
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — West Virginia Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathy D’Antoni is passionate about the simulated workplace: a new initiative that will document student knowledge and skill sets, and change the culture of career and technical education (CTE) while providing the business and industry field with qualified employees.

That was the topic of discussion at a meeting Tuesday at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center between D’Antoni, and several business owners and educators. D’Antoni said a simulated workplace changes the education setting.

“It transforms that setting into an actual company or workplace setting,” she said. “Students start to understand that the work they do in school and skill sets that they achieve all relate to a company’s bottom line.”

D’Antoni said these simulated workplaces do not change the instruction. They enhance what CTE instructors are already doing well. She said because of the demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) skills in West Virginia’s business and industry fields, simulated workplaces can ready students for careers in those fields.

“It doesn’t change the way we teach welding, robotics, engineering or electrics. It will change the culture,” D’Antoni said. “And that in itself is more of a difference in our schools than anything that you could imagine.”

D’Antoni said there are 21 pilot stations across the state in high schools. She said at these stations, students run simulated companies.

“They can earn money for the company or lose money for the company,” D’Antoni said. “That classroom then becomes a company instead of a regular classroom.”

During the presentation, D’Antoni said employers in the STEM fields have expressed to her that it’s hard for them to keep workers because of drug use and low technical skills. She said employers have openings for technician-level jobs in the state, but they cannot find employees who routinely show up for work, can pass a drug test and possess a positive work ethic.

Simulated workplaces are supposed to be the answers to these problems. D’Antoni said expectations of a simulated workplace include everything from using time clocks to random drug testing of the students.

“This is a whole different mind set for kids,” she said.

Although there are only a few stations in place now, D’Antoni said instructors have told her attendance with the CTE programs has skyrocketed.

“One instructor told me the attendance at the beginning of the simulated workplace was 75 percent and after a few days, it went up to 95 percent,” she said.

D’Antoni said the biggest piece of the simulated workplace involves business and industry leaders. She said the students’ companies will be evaluated and rated by outside business and industry inspectors.

“We are working with businesses and industries throughout the state to give us one day of their time to come into these various programs and inspect the companies these students create,” D’Antoni said.

The inspectors will review and rate those CTE programs. D’Antoni said if a CTE program is rated high, it will receive a West Virginia Industry Endorsement. The ones that rate low will be placed on a plan of improvement and will be eligible for another review after the problems are corrected.

D’Antoni said 147 inspectors are needed and only 70 have applied. She said if a business would like to apply, it may do so at www.simulatedworkplace.com.

With the few stations that are currently running, D’Antoni said the response from the simulated workplaces has been tremendous.

“From the students’ side, they’re loving it,” she said.

Email Emily Gallagher at egallagher@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.