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Students escape into career opportunities

Students in Suffolk worked in teams to build contraptions, safeguard products and learn more about career opportunities while dodging “slacker zombies” on Saturday.

The Youth Career Center of Hampton Roads and Opportunity Inc. partnered with Paul D. Camp Community College to host “Escape the School” at the college’s Suffolk campus.

About 67 students from Suffolk public and private high schools — plus Western Branch and Sussex high schools — faced nine career-themed “escape rooms,” which required teams to use clues, hints and strategies to complete objectives, Paul D. Camp High School Career Coach Stubenrauch said.

Each room had a 30-minute timer for randomly-assigned teams. Students found career possibilities in fields like medicine or manufacturing through these hectic obstacles, Stubenrauch said.

“Students come in that don’t know what they want to be,” she said. “They just have ideas or pieces. They don’t see how they can turn those into professions or careers.”

Active-duty military, retired shipyard engineers, medical specialists and others volunteered to supervise the students and guide them with their own career experiences.

“It’s a really good way of having fun while solidifying that knowledge, rather than the traditional lecture format,” said Christina Brooks, youth services director with The Youth Career Center of Hampton Roads and Opportunity Inc. “We’re always looking for new and exciting ways to teach career education.”

One class room featured maritime pipe fitting, welding and shipbuilding using graham crackers and paper towel rolls. Teams worked to keep their pipes from leaking water and their graham crackers held tight with icing under the watchful eye of Robert Spruiell, a Newport News Shipbuilding nuclear quality inspector with 35 years of industry experience.

“The first group didn’t get through the task, but I think they had a bit of fun,” Spruiell said.

Other rooms had students align laminated text of HTML computer code to properly build a website on the floor. Elsewhere, students combined pipes and boxes with plenty of tape for descending marbles, and celebrated when they succeeded in the engineering exercise.

“That’s been a favorite,” Brooks said. “They get so into it.”

Several students were selected to be “slacker zombies,” a deterrent that slowly walked towards others and encouraged them to work faster before they became slackers themselves, Brooks said.

Teamwork was another challenge for the students, at least at first.

“We were all just diving into it, but then we learned to slow down and work with each other,” said Nansemond River High School junior Sarah Scott, 17.

Another room at the school was prepared for Virginia Education Wizard to allow students to apply the career knowledge that they learned in the Saturday challenges.

“Some kids don’t know what they actually want to do, but this gives us ideas,” said Lakeland High School sophomore Sydney Stubenrauch, 15.

In the room for manufacturing, transportation and distribution, Opportunity Inc. Career Developer Amy Rodriguez told students to follow the clues in order to safely package a tiny house made from marshmallows and sticks.

Each time a student began pushing their team’s package on a cart, Rodriguez would occasionally swipe, toss and kick it.

“We’re simulating what a box could go through in the shipping process, but in a very short amount of time,” she said.

Unfortunately for King’s Fork High School freshman Rayangel Soto, 15, and his team, their package wasn’t strong enough for their marshmallow construct to survive the ordeal.

“I didn’t like that a lot, but it did make us want to come up with new ideas to fix the problem,” Rayangel said.