DENHAM SPRINGS — For a lot of high school kids, you couldn't pay them to go to summer school. In Livingston Parish and other parishes, not only can you pay them, you can give them classroom credit and job skills, too.
Livingston Parish schools are participating in a $2.8 million statewide initiative to offer career-focused classes to students this summer. Students can earn school credit, an industry-recognized credential and some cash.
It represents the latest effort by the state to expand career-readiness classes in a broad array of fields that high school students could enter after graduation.
"Over the years, for whatever reason, career and technical education was stigmatized. It was a four-year route or nothing for a lot of students," said David Helveston, president of the Pelican Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.
He said the Louisiana Department of Education has created the right accountability framework through its Jump Start program to offer good career and technical education.
The new program is called Jump Start Summer and is being offered this year to about 1,900 students at 46 school districts and course providers across the state. Jump Start Summer launched in pilot form last year.
It is funded through the Supplemental Course Allocation, a portion of the Minimum Foundation Program funding that is earmarked for career-oriented classes, among other uses. Schools can earn points toward their annual accountability ratings when kids earn credentials through the Jump Start program.
"I love taking carpentry," said Kami Cox, 16, who is taking a four-week wood-building course at Denham Springs High School. "Taking other classes is book work. And this, I can actually see things, and I learn better from it."
The courses are offered to kids on the traditional high school diploma path, as well as those seeking a Jump Start diploma, which requires students to take nine of their 23 credits in a chosen career field. Some 200 students applied for 112 spots in the spring, and school officials used a lottery to pare the number down. So far, five kids have dropped out.
"Obviously, we're curious as to the success in obtaining or completing that credential," said Staci Polozola, career and technical education coordinator for Livingston Parish Public Schools.
Livingston students who enroll can earn $400 for successfully completing the course and a $100 bonus if they pass the certification test. For each day of class they miss, students are dinged $20.
"We have tried to allow this to be a true work experience, as opposed to a school experience," said Jody Purvis, supervisor of instruction for Livingston Parish Public Schools.
The East Baton Rouge and Ascension parish school systems are also participating with about 30 students taking classes in each district. Ascension is offering emergency medical and pipe fitter training, while East Baton Rouge is offering micro-enterprise and coding.
Elsewhere in the state, the Lafayette Parish School Board is giving classes in automobile service, construction, first aid and internet business. In Jefferson Parish, the school system is offering classes in industrial machining, automobile service, welding, engineering design, computer programming and first aid. The St. Tammany Parish School System is offering a course in computer programming.
Ken Bradford, assistant superintendent for student opportunities at the Louisiana Department of Education, said the program came about in 2017, when David Alexander, superintendent of Ascension Parish public schools, came to him with the idea.
"Really, this was unprecedented," Bradford said. "Historically, what has been offered in the summertime in school systems across the state has been summer school for students who had failed courses."
The Louisiana Department of Education ran a pilot program in the summer of 2017 with 261 students enrolling in courses at 12 school systems. In total, 251 of the students completed their coursework, earning a total of 304.5 credits, according to state figures. In addition, students earned 445 industry-based credentials, including 91 statewide industry-based credentials.
"It proved to be really effective," Bradford said.
The Department of Education put a call out to every district in the state for the 2018 summer sessions, and Bradford wants to see the program continue to grow.
This summer, courses that lasted four to eight weeks were offered across the state. Students who finished 10th, 11th or 12th grades were eligible to take part. Bradford said the average stipend is $600.
The program has gotten support from businesses and industry groups that partner with the school systems to provide supplies, expertise and job shadowing opportunities. In Livingston Parish, the school system has recruited an electrical company to bring students to a job site and a nurse practitioner to talk with medical assistant students about future careers.
"That's the power behind these courses. Students are not just learning the theory or just the book portion," Purvis said. "They're actually experiencing a true, authentic job experience."
Last week in Livingston Parish, 15 students taking a carpentry course at Denham Springs High School worked on building a wooden gazebo on the front lawn.
The students and their teacher Ken Lang used saws, hammers and nail guns to attach wooden railings the students crafted in the shop earlier in the week. Students said they hope the gazebo would be used for outdoor classes and prom photos.
"I would love to come out here and just learn. It's peaceful," said Cox, who hopes to become a carpenter when she graduates high school.
Along with the hands-on classes, students in the Jump Start Summer program are expected to take industry-based credentialing tests.
Ken Lang, the carpentry teacher, said his students will take Carpentry 1 and 2 tests through the National Center for Construction Education and Research.
Helveston, of the construction trade group, said companies and plants widely recognize NCCER credentials and use them to make hiring decisions.
"It's not so much that you have a Jump Start diploma, but (companies are) going to say, alright, did you get a Level 2 NCCER certification in electrical? I can start you at $20 an hour," Helveston said.
Purvis said the summer classes have allowed kids to try new fields and deepen their knowledge in areas they may want to pursue as careers.
At the Livingston Parish School System's Literacy and Technology Center in Walker, about a dozen students practiced drawing each other's blood and giving injections as part of a course to become medical assistant.
Many of the students in the accelerated course that requires multiple chapters of study daily said they wanted to go into medical fields and saw the class as additional training. Medical assistants work in doctor's offices doing front-desk type work, as well as taking down medical information and administering blood draws and shots, said Connie Jenkins, the registered nurse who teaches the class.
Blake Dickerson, 18, a student in the medical assistant class, said he took the class in advance of starting a nursing degree at Southeastern Louisiana University this fall. Dickerson said he is already looking for a job that might accept his new credential, even though he does not have any clinic-based experienced yet.
"It's been helpful," he said.