MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) – When you think of a criminal justice class, you might think about law enforcement and courthouses. Inside the criminal justice class at Vinal Tech, these students are dealing with a hands on learning experience in their own emergency operations center.

Department head, David Cruickshank tells News 8, “We now have every class full and wait list for most of our classes.”

The program is just three years old. Cruickshank says the students are already collecting a lot of certifications, “They’re going to come out of high school with more certifications and experience than a three or four year police officer or firefighter.”

The program not only allows the students to get certifications through FEMA and other organizations, it gives them a hands on experience when dealing with catastrophic situations.

Cruickshank tells News 8 the current class helped teams who responded to Hurricane Dorian, “For the team to be able to have communication with the students and their communicating in their own language it was it was really impressive.”

When there’s not a devastating event happening, the teacher creates a made up situation to allow the students to practice their research and skills.

The students practice skills from public information, security and even being incident commanders.

A program beyond its years, helping prepare the students for careers right after graduation.

“The emergency operations center we’ve built here is, as far as we know, the only one at the high school level anywhere in the country.”

Junior, Zac Jahn, is proud of the work that they do and knowledge he is gaining from the program, “It’s heartwarming to realize that we’re doing something that matters right now and we’re only in high school. It’s insane to think about what’s going to happen after.”