More than 200 Lafayette Parish high school students are heading back to the classroom Monday, but instead of returning to improve a failing grade, they’re going back for cash and credit.
The students are part of Lafayette’s Jump Start Summers program, a month-long summer course that allows students to earn a summer wage, industry-based credentials and high school course credit. The program is part of a statewide initiative that was piloted in 2017.
Stephanie Marcum, senior educational technology consultant with the Louisiana Department of Education, said roughly 3,000 students will participate in the Jump Start Summers program through 56 school systems and three private providers this summer. The total state cost is about $4.1 million, she said.
It’s the second year Lafayette is participating, career and technical education director Larry Alexander said. Last year, around 48 students participated in the district’s program and this year 230 are slated to attend. About 450 sophomores, juniors and seniors applied for program slots this spring, Alexander said.
The students had the option to choose from nine pathways, including entrepreneurship, web programming, industrial scaffolding, welding, manufacturing, digital media, automotive technology, drones and NCCER CORE. NCCER CORE covers safety fundamentals and other skills necessary before earning higher-level certifications in construction-related technical fields.
Alexander said the diverse options and skill levels covered in Lafayette’s program helps it stand out from Jump Start Summers programs in other districts. The school system’s goal is to prepare students for life and career success, and having a robust professional education program is a crucial component, he said.
“There’s a large percentage of folks who need post-secondary training but not a four-year degree. The idea that we have multiple tracks and provide opportunities to get training early on puts them on a faster road to being successful,” Alexander said.
Jump Start Summers students will attend training at the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center in the mornings Monday through Friday. Participants in the industrial scaffolding program will spend part of the program working at South Louisiana Community College’s New Iberia campus, and NCCER CORE students will take classes at Northside High School, Alexander said.
The students will work about 80 hours for the month of June, and at $7.50 per hour the students will earn a starting stipend of $600. Students who complete the course with perfect attendance will earn a $50 bonus and those that pass their certification test will earn an additional $300 bonus. Altogether, students can earn about $1,000 during the four-week program.
Alexander said the program will cost roughly $400,000 this year, with about $250,000 coming from the state and another $150,000 funded by the school system. While districts aren’t required to provide matching funds, Lafayette decided to devote money to the program after students showed significant interest, he said.
During class the students will learn the practical skills of their chosen discipline, but also soft skills including collaboration, communication, working in a team and how to dress and conduct yourself in the workplace, he said.
Part of the curriculum involves visits to companies in Lafayette, including Chevron, Opportunity Machine and Halliburton, he said.
“Not only are they earning those credentials but we’re taking them into the workforce and letting them see what happens in the real world,” Alexander said. “Those things are critical to be able to go out in the world of work and keep a job once they’ve gotten it.”
Lafayette-based engineering and surveying firm Fenstermaker is one of the program’s company partners this year. President Charles Fenstermaker said showing students a behind-the-scenes look at the industry is important to help them discern if they’re interested in a career path his company offers.
Doing research to determine what your passions are is crucial to future career fulfillment, he said.
“Getting a deeper dive into an industry is a helpful way for you to figure out what you want to do with your life,” Fenstermaker said.
Students visiting Fenstermaker will learn about how the company uses drones to collect data for surveying, coastal restoration and project planning, and how the millions of data points are utilized by engineers, environmental biologists and surveyors to execute projects, he said.
He also said his team plans to show students the variety of career paths available, from engineering to field operations. The company recruits from a variety of educational backgrounds, including from technical schools, and there isn’t one path to success, Fenstermaker said.
Not everyone wants to be an engineer, Fenstermaker said, and students can have a talent for working in computer design systems or other programs without a four-year degree. It’s possible to work under a licensed engineer or surveyor and work their way up in the company, he said.
“There’s multiple ways to climb a career ladder,” Fenstermaker said. “To me that’s one of the neat things — watching someone come into an organization in one shape or form or fashion and watching them grow.”