CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Mason County Schools now makes the newest addition to Toyota’s work-based learning program for upper-class high school students.

Toyota West Virginia welcomed Mason County to its 4T Academy during a ceremony at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center Wednesday. It makes the third school system to join the academy behind Kanawha and Putnam county schools after Toyota established the program in the state in 2022.

It’s a four-semester program offering classes in electrical, pneumatics, hydraulics, precision machining, industrial automation, robotics, and more, and it helps connect students with career opportunities in advanced manufacturing by learning from industry professionals.

Point Pleasant High School up-and-coming senior Dylan Grimes told MetroNews that he has been working with machinery at his high school’s vocational program and learning the essentials behind metal cutting. He said it’s now a passion of his that he just happened to stumble upon.

“In my ninth and tenth grade years I didn’t know what I wanted to do and looked at my options, took the tour, and I thought that this would be good for me in life,” he said.

After being selected to participate in the 4T program for the next coming school year, Grimes said it feels good the doorway opened up for him to take his manufacturing skills to a more professional level.

“The fact that they only picked ten juniors, ten seniors from my county in particular is really nice to know that I’m doing something good with my life, you know, meaningful, it just feels good,” said Grimes.

Toyota West Virginia Plant President David Rosier said they’ve been on a path of adding more school systems to the program each year since its onset in the state, with the first year being Kanawha County followed by Putnam County last year.

He said it has been quite a significant investment on their part to keep adding the districts to the program, but with Mason County making a mark at the plant already, Rosier said the opportunity to extend it to the county’s students seemed very much worth the effort.

“We pull a lot of team members from Mason County that work at the plant now, so to be able to extend this to their family members and other students in the Mason County area, and give them that same opportunity to come to the plant is really rewarding for us,” he said.

During the program, students are paired up with a mentor from the plant, allowing the students to gain real-world and industry experience working alongside them.

Rosier said they remain very busy at the plant and can use all of the additional hands they can get, he said particularly after just launching their newest line, the Fifth Generation hybrids.

He said this is an important undertaking that Toyota offers because a lot of students don’t recognize the plethora of opportunities that are available to them in the manufacturing industry in general.

“It really is a large number of diverse careers that are available in manufacturing, so to be able to open this up to students while they’re still in high school and give them that opportunity to learn what careers are available is amazing, and these kids are making decisions that will set them up for the rest of their lives,” Rosier said.

Mason County Schools Superintendent Tim Hardesty said he couldn’t be more excited for the students in the county to have this opportunity, especially amid the ongoing push across the state for more young people to stay.

“This is another opportunity for some of the best and brightest students in our school system to be able to work and live here in our state, have successful, productive lives, and to certainly give back to the community that tries to do so much for them every single day,” Hardesty said.

He also said this is just another facet being added to all of the economic and population growth that’s projected to be coming in.

“I think we’re going to see growth in our area that we have not seen before,” said Hardesty. “I think the potential is unprecedented with not only Toyota, but with the manufacturing facilities we have now, with Nuccor coming in, some of the others that are on the horizon.”

The 4T Academy is performed in partnership with the Education Alliance and Purdue University’s Indiana Manufacturing Competitiveness Center, or In-Mac.