A new West Virginia Department of Education program pairs schools and career and technical centers with state parks with hopes of educating students and completing projects at the parks.
The Simulated Workplace program is at work in Tucker County in Blackwater State Park. Cadets at the Rubenstein Center recently completed their first project for the state park.
Rubenstein’s carpentry program was contacted by Blackwater to construct a new rabbit pen. Three cadets worked with Park NaturalistPaulita Cousin on the rabbit cage, which will be housed in the nature center.
The rabbit needed an expanded container, so the carpentry program cadets built a two-story pen off site at the Rubenstein Center.
The schools or career and technical centers that work through the Simulated Workplace program act as subcontractors for the parks. The process is managed as an actual business deal. Although the student led programs are not licensed and they do not get paid for their work, every other aspect of the process is based off an actual business model.
“Everything we do is based off the business model,” Principal JR Helmick said. “It’s kind of a student driven type education. Students become more responsible for their education.”
Harkening back to the precedent set up the Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, the Simulated Workplace program intends to provide a platform for a number of positive incentives for the state.
The state parks provide the resources and the projects, while the students provide the hands and minds. ” Whenever they share needs, we provide manpower and resources,” Helmick said.
In a short video about the program, Chief of State Parks Sam England said, “The needs that we have, just simply, outweigh number the resources at the time, and so we are very excited to see what the potential and the possibilities are for the workplace program to be able to help out state parks.”
“Finding the time to get some things done is difficult,” Blackwater Superintendent Matt Baker said. A park’s maintenance department is often busy keeping the parks running, and the lower priority projects may fall by the wayside.
In addition to the educational opportunities and a much need work force, the program may also provide economic development. The tax money that supports many of the career and technical centers and schools will in turn give back to the economic development of a state resource: state parks.
Other schools in the area are using the program as an educational opportunity as well. Tucker County High School is currently working on a storage shed that will be used at the nature center in Blackwater State Park. The Elkins Mountain School and Preston County High School are building picnic tables for parks.
Cadets and administration at Rubenstein hope to continue their work at Blackwater and expand to the other state parks in the area. “This thing has just really kicked off,” Helmick said. “It’s a win-win, in our particular position. Our kids produce stuff so fast, it’s a challenge just to keep up with them.”
“Right now, I’m in the brainstorming process with JR, but I’m thinking anything from informational kiosks to all the way up to pavilions,” Baker said. “There are hundreds of things that I can think of.”
While funding for state parks is currently in question, the Simulated Workplace program may check off a few items off every park’s maintenance list.