TECUMSEH — Seeing the towering turbines of a wind farm near Calumet on a field trip this year impressed and inspired teenagers DeVonte Matlock and Dyllan Hulsey.
But it wasn’t your typical educational field trip. Matlock, 18, and Hulsey, 17, are juvenile offenders at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh, one of the state’s two institutions run by the Office of Juvenile Affairs.
The outing to Canadian County earlier this year was the beginning of a new training program to expose the teens to some of the skills needed for careers once they are released from custody.
The teens got to celebrate their accomplishments on Wednesday as educators from the nearby Gordon Cooper Technology Center helped them erect a small wind turbine on the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center campus.
Matlock and Hulsey were among 12 offenders from the Tecumseh facility chosen to learn about wind turbines, electricity and machining at the CareerTech in nearby Shawnee. A few teens didn’t finish the program, but those who remained called themselves “The Chosen Five.”
“We wanted to give them more comprehensive CareerTech training, and we did it via what we call project-based learning,” said Marty Lewis, superintendent at Gordon Cooper. “The wind turbine was reverse engineered so they would be exposed to some specific skills we felt like would be a good launching pad for the future, and that was machining skills.”
Matlock and Hulsey said they learned about designing parts, fabrication and manufacturing assembly. The group spent the first part of the training program learning online about safety processes and the precise measurements needed in manufacturing. After completing their regular classes and counseling sessions, they studied in the evenings and went to several classes at Gordon Cooper.
“I learned how to use a micrometer that I never thought I’d learn how to use,” Matlock said, referring to a tool used for the precise measurements of components. “First it was hard, but then it was just like basic math and stuff, and I got the hang of it.”
Hulsey said he didn’t get that excited by some of the lectures, but he enjoyed the hands-on experiences at the CareerTech.
“The talking was a little boring, but in the long run, it was worth it because we got to build this,” he said, pointing to the wind turbine. “It will be here longer than me. There’s all kinds of things that I could use in different fields, and not just in windmills. We also learned how it builds electricity from the wind and how it will conserve it in that (battery) box.”
Hulsey, Matlock and the others in “The Chosen Five” got to mark their initials in the tail of the small wind turbine, which generates 600 watts. It will provide enough electricity for some lights at a landscaping feature near the entrance to the juvenile center.
Jerry Fry, superintendent of the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center, said the teens who started the program were picked after reaching behavioral and educational goals. The center has 70 youthful offenders, many of whom also have learning disabilities.
“We wanted to make sure they had the ability to comprehend the material and they were excited about it,” Fry said. “It ended up being a lot more than just assembling a windmill.”
Richard Yahola, a Department of Rehabilitation Services counselor who is based at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center, said the training program is the latest partnership among the three state agencies. Gordon Cooper CareerTech last year offered first aid, precision measurements and food-handling certification training for teens at the Tecumseh facility.
Yahola provides vocational evaluations, career counseling and follow-up support after youth with disabilities leave the facility.
“After three years, our outcome data indicates COJC residents leaving detention and staying with training and jobs are less likely to be arrested and enter the adult prison system,” Yahola said.