Johnsburg High School senior Dawson Peter is operating the John Deere construction simulator, developing his skills on an excavator.
When Johnsburg High School community liaison Gus Schmid first heard about the John Deere excavator/construction simulator, he knew it would be a valuable addition to JHS's vocational arts department. Unfortunately, the cost was prohibitive at that time.
That's when Principal Kevin Shelton had an idea. He reached out to former Marengo superintendent, Dan Bertrand, who is program coordinator of McHenry County Cooperative for Employment Education, for funding ideas. Bertrand advised Schmid on Perkins grants and the best ways to get funding for vocational education resources.
Schmid completed a Perkins grant application in August 2020, and found out in September that the JHS would be receiving $33,000 toward the simulator purchase. Some lucky finds in district warehouses resulted in enough equipment sales and other district funds contributed to the rest of the cost.
"I knew it would be a great opportunity for our students to have yet another avenue of learning," Schmid said.
After the bidding process, the deal was made with West Side Tractor, who provided a discounted price and guidance through the acquisition process. The simulator was ordered, received and has been a very popular addition to Marty Sands' heavy machinery class in JHS's vocational department. The simulator offers a hands-on experience that has no risk of injury. Students learn muscle memory skills transferrable to an actual machine in a construction setting. The simulator also tracks student progress and gives feedback on performance. The response from students has been positive.
"At first the students were amazed, and now they compete with each other for who can earn the best ‘grade' on timing and machine manipulation," Schmid said.
JHS vocational students appreciate the hands-on experiences and real-world skills they gain through their shop and lab classes.
Johnsburg diesel students train on a John Deere compact excavator for SkillsUSA.
This isn't the only way West Side Tractor works with the Johnsburg vocational program to inspire the next generation to join the construction industry. In April, the construction dealership provided a John Deere compact excavator to diesel tech high school students to train for an upcoming SkillsUSA competition. Local construction company Rock Solid Stabilization and Reclamation also jumped in to provide the trucking to transport the equipment for free. The students interact and learn from employees already in the industry about their experiences.
"This is a great example of how school district programs can partner with local businesses in the trades to educate students on career opportunities," said Steve Deller, corporate product support manager of West Side Tractor. "We realize that we have to do our part and put time and resources into developing the technician and construction workforce we need in the future for our dealership. Partnering during middle school and high school for hands on experiences, internships and mentorships is a way that we can do that."
Founded in 1962, West Side Tractor now has 11 full-service locations throughout Illinois and Indiana. The dealership employs more than 300 John Deere certified technicians, as well as skilled teams in heavy equipment sales, parts, service and technology.
Currently, West Side Tractor has structured programs with two local technical training schools. The dealership also has representatives serving on a variety of high school advisory boards throughout the territory to educate school programs on career opportunities in the construction industry.
West Side Tractor works with the Johnsburg vocational program to inspire the next generation to join the construction industry. In April, the construction dealership provided a John Deere compact excavator to diesel tech high school students to train for an upcoming SkillsUSA competition.
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