According to Louisiana Department of Education statistics, only 28 percent of Louisiana high school students end up with a four-year or two-year college degree.

The department says too few young adults have the skills and credentials to assume high-wage jobs offered in Louisiana’s economy.

Enter the Jump Start program, the Education Department’s initiative that launched in the 2014-15 school year for school districts, colleges and businesses to collaborate by providing career courses and workplace experiences to high school students, certifying them for the career fields most likely to lead to high-wage jobs.

The program is in various stages of implementation around the state and includes 12 regional teams representing 52 school districts, most of which applied for Jump Start grant funding.

In October, $645,000 was awarded to regional teams and subteams, with each having the option of using the money for one of two goals: increasing career counseling or developing regional portfolios of workplace experiences for students, Education Department officials said.

The Capital Region team includes 11 school districts that received funding — Ascension, East and West Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Central, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, St. James, St. John and Zachary.

The Capital team was sectioned into subteams, one of those being the North Capital Region team of East and West Feliciana, Pointe Coupee and Zachary school systems.

With West Feliciana as the grant’s fiscal agent, the team applied for its share of the funding and was awarded $125,000 in December aimed at achieving the career counseling goal, according to West Feliciana Superintendent Hollis Milton.

“Sixteen teachers in the North Capital Region will earn credentials as career development facilitators and become part of a counselor support team at their sites,” Milton said.

The National Career Development Association will conduct the training with Malka Edelman as the career development facilitator, Milton said.

The grant funding also will be used for regional workplace exchanges, and Milton said the Baton Rouge Area Chamber has partnered with the region to coordinate summer externships for teachers and field trips for the students.

“We are fortunate to have the opportunity to lead and collaborate as a consortium with our neighboring (school) districts,” Milton said. “Jump Start will provide us with funding to ensure that all students are both college and career ready for the 21st century.”

The North Capital Region leadership team includes Zanovia Curtis, West Feliciana Parish schools; Robin Variest, East Feliciana Parish schools; Karla Jack, Pointe Coupee Parish schools; and Michelle Clayton and Tim Jordan, Zachary Community School District.

“The money will assist us in training some of our counselors and teachers to help get these kids ready for the workplace and workforce opportunities,” Zachary School Superintendent Scott Devillier said.

According to the Education Department, Jump Start is an elective path for students pursuing a university-preparatory diploma but a required path for students pursuing a career diploma.

Education Department officials said participating high school students are being provided more time in the school day and school year to achieve industry certificates or college credentials in addition to their high school diplomas, and the credentials qualify graduates to continue their studies after high school or to launch a career.

Grant funding assists with career counseling by enabling engaged adults to interact with high school students to help them understand their college and career options, according to the department.

The Jump Start program also ensures students have access to state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and professionals by convening industry, higher education and school systems as well as creating public-private partnerships rather than ask cash-strapped high schools to go it alone, Education Department officials said.