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Southeastern Vocational’s mock town prepares students for real life

Clautino Monteiro is studying electronics in Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School’s Innovation Academy.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff

Clautino Monteiro is studying electronics in Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School’s Innovation Academy.

Haley Gay was laying out her vision for a new ice-cream shop. Along with the $91,000 in seed money she needs to get the project moving, the East Bridgewater resident said her goal, naturally, is to have a successful business.

Electronics student Michael Hoppe of East Bridgewater tweaked a model of the mock town, which is based on Easton.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Electronics student Michael Hoppe of East Bridgewater tweaked a model of the mock town, which is based on Easton.

“First we’ll find land for our farm, then build the shop and the barn, get cows, make ice cream, and then open up and be happy,” she said, fleshing out the concept she dreamed up with business partner Maria Fernandez of Mansfield.

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Sweet treats carried the day when Town Moderator Ivonna Brown asked for a show of hands on whether to accept the ice-cream proposal, and a sea of arms began waving frantically.

“Motion carries,” Brown declared, as the room erupted in applause.

And so went a Town Meeting for sophomores at Innovation Academy, a school-within-a-school at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School in South Easton that is creating a mock town.

An experiment in its second year, the academy that was introduced by Principal David Wheeler and combines five majors ­— legal and protective services, environmental, electronics, information technology, and engineering/architecture and design —­ as a way of giving students the skills they need to reach their potential in both their major concentration of study and in their future careers.

The abbreviation for those combined classes is LE3AD, a nickname for the program.

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“The academy builds professionalism,” said Pam Foster, a LE3AD teacher who specializes in legal and protective services.

“The students work in teams,’’ Foster said. “And the goal is to get them ready to go out in the work force, or to go on to college, and be successful in whatever skills they’re learning.”

Foster said the five major courses of study may seem unrelated at first glance, but they work well together because students need a variety of overlapping skills as they approach life after school.

Public safety professionals, for example, have to work with security and surveillance, she said. That requires skills in electronics, information and technology, and architecture.

In the private sector, Foster said, developers who work with local conservation commissions have to understand public safety and environmental engineering. And even engineers need to know about product liability law, she said.

Instructor Paul Buck worked with Innovation Academy students before their Town Hall meeting, where Ivonna Brown (right) of Brockton had the role of town moderator.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Instructor Paul Buck worked with Innovation Academy students before their Town Hall meeting.

The mock town uses Easton as the model for streets and major municipal buildings. The students’ job is to fill in the blueprint with everything from a town government to power and water systems, to local businesses.

Justin Harris of Brockton is an electronics major who was elected chairman of this mock town’s Board of Selectmen. He’s been busy getting warrant articles ready for this Town Meeting.

While he admitted that his skills will probably lead him to a job that involves physics more than political science, he said he now appreciates the hard work of public officials.

“I’m not sure I’m ready to do this in real life because the amount of paperwork is insane,’’ he said. “But it’s been a great experience.’’

Stephen Akikie of Stoughton is already involved with his local police department’s Explorer program, so he said it was a natural that he would be named police chief of the town that as yet has no name.

The way things are going, though, Stoughton Police Chief Paul Shastany may want to keep looking over his shoulder.

“I’d like to be chief of Stoughton someday,’’ Akikie said. “I love law enforcement, and being able to create my own Police Department is cool.”

Ivonna Brown of Brockton had the role of town moderator.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Ivonna Brown of Brockton had the role of town moderator.

He and many of the students who are participating in the LE3AD program say they love coming to school because the work they do is more like a job than a class.

“With Innovation Academy, you can do what you want,’’ said electronics major Mike Hoppe of East Bridgewater, who has worked on a solar power supply model. “I like to build things, not be stuck with one particular assignment.”

The academy concept works for kids who are curious, said Paul Buck, the electrical engineering instructor: “We can maintain structure while allowing them to innovate.”

Southeastern serves 1,250 teens from Brockton, East Bridgewater, Easton, Foxborough, Mansfield, Norton, Sharon, Stoughton, and West Bridgewater. The goal, said vocational director Leslie Wechesser, is to have all students employable by the time they graduate.

“This teaches them the steps,’’ she said of the Innovation Academy. “It captivates.”

Wheeler said he has always thought that not only is age 14 too young to pick a major, he knows that most teens want to try new things, and learn in a different, more interesting way.

Emma Couto and her classmates before their Town Meeting at the Innovation Academy at Southeastern Regional Technical High School in Easton.

jonathan wiggs/globe staff

Emma Couto and her classmates before their Town Meeting at the Innovation Academy at Southeastern Regional Technical High School in Easton.

“If four to five majors can work together, it lets them figure things out over time,’’ the principal said. “The difference is, you work outside the traditional school bureaucracy, and it’s my mission in life to blow up that bureaucracy.”

As town moderator, Brown, a legal and protective services major from Brockton, has worked with selectmen to develop proposals, keeps track of all other committees, and has had to make sure that all warrant articles were finished, or updated, before Town Meeting.

“You have to be focused and determined to do what you have to do, to make sure the town is run properly,” she said.

Next year, Foster said these same students, as juniors, will work on tasks that are more sharply focused on their specific majors.

“They’ll learn a lot about how the real world operates,’’ she said. “That’s the goal of everything.”

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.

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