Students say new career classes making a difference

Four students who are pursuing Louisiana’s revamped career education path said Tuesday the courses are changing lives.

“It is taking kids like myself, who had no idea what they wanted to do after high school, and given them hope,” said Stormy Hunnicutt, a 17-year-old student at St. Amant High School, who is learning to be a welder.

The program, called Jump Start, was set up to allow high school juniors and seniors to earn national industry credentials and revive the state’s long-troubled career education efforts.

Students have to earn 24 course credits for a traditional high school diploma.

Under Jump Start, at least seven credits of the 23 required have to be in a chosen career field to earn a special diploma such as construction, welding and auto repairs.

Hunnicutt said she had no plans to attend college and no idea what she wanted to do when she heard about Jump Start, where students spend part of their high school day learning career skills.

Now she attends classes through Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. and is nearing certification as a stick welder.

“Thanks to this program, I will have all the schooling to start my career after graduation,” Hunnicutt told about 1,200 educators, industry officials and others at the Baton Rouge River Center.

Thomas Lundberg, a junior at Port Allen High School, said he already holds certification as a millwright — installing and maintaining factory machinery — and is working on advanced certifications for the same craft that his grandfather mastered.

Lundberg said his skills will allow him to be paid $25 to $30 per hour, which he said will finance his dream home and a new truck.

“I am happy that I get to become a millwright while I am still in high school,” he said.

State Superintendent of Education John White, a longtime advocate of Jump Start, said the program is about opportunity.

“It is also about students doing something that ignites something within them,” White said.

The program is supposed to be fully operational for the 2017-18 school year.

In the meantime, school districts, two-year colleges and private firms are aligning in regional teams to prepare students for what backers call quality jobs.

White has said that, in time, about 25,000 of Louisiana’s roughly 75,000 high school juniors and seniors will take part in Jump Start.

Last year, state officials said around 700 industry leaders and educators statewide were on hand for the first such gathering.

Rontrell Howard, like Hunnicutt a student at St. Amant High School, said he knew early that he would not be in school for years.

“I like working with my hands,” Howard said.

He is pursuing a career in welding.

“I finally felt like I did something right for myself,” Howard told the group. “It was something I didn’t even know but I grew from it and it was amazing.”

Logan Zimmer, a senior at Lutcher High School, said he is working on credentials for pipefitting and welding, has toyed with a variety of careers and plans to earn an associate’s degree in industrial maintenance.

“I feel like I am ready for it all,” Zimmer said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.

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