MONROE, La. (AP) — "Can we keep the hard hats?" asked Frederick Threats.

The senior at General Trass High School had just completed a tour of the Graphic Packaging paper mill in West Monroe. He came back with questions about how much the mill pays to start and a desire to investigate careers in technology and engineering.

Threats is seriously considering a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), but he wasn't until his coach convinced him to sign up for summer camp.

East Carroll Parish hosted a monthlong STEM camp in June, the kickoff to adding STEM curriculum to classrooms. West Carroll Parish schools started the same camp for high school students this summer. The camps were funded by the Louisiana Department of Education through Supplemental Course Allotment (SCA) funds.

In the past, West Carroll Superintendent Richie Strong said, SCA money was almost entirely used for dual enrollment in academic courses, but Louisiana Superintendent John White saw a need to make the money available for technical training.

Students from each district signed on for the camps, which gave them an opportunity to learn coding and be exposed to humanities requirements. The teens will finish with a credit in Cyber Literacy I. About 20 signed on in East Carroll and almost 30 did in West Carroll.

The tour group included students from General Trass and all four high schools in West Carroll Parish: Oak Grove, Forest, Epps and Kilbourne. (...)

John Robert Warner lead the camp for West Carroll Parish at Oak Grove High School. He said the course work ranged from robotics to humanities information the kids will needs in a cyber society. He brought 20 for the GP tour.

Kinley Smith and Caroline Kelly both attend Forest High School and. Smith said they were in a summer camp last year that dealt with OSHA training. Because Forest is a small school, they don't get a lot of opportunities to take extracurricular like this.

Kelly said this summer has been heavy on coding and the work that goes into making products.

Smith said Warner and her mother, Principal Lisa Smith, thought the STEM camp would be a good opportunity to expand students' horizons.

Christopher Jackson coaches and teaches Jobs for Americas Graduate at General Trass. He said students have enjoyed the program. (...) The starting pay at GP and in other companies, Jackson said, is a big draw for the teens.

Ruthie Auston, secondary curriculum/CTE supervisor and child welfare and attendance supervisor for East Carroll Parish schools, said the district decided the camp would be a good opportunity for her students. They had the experience of a lifetime learning about robotics. She hopes to offer Cyber Literacy II in the fall and partner with Louisiana Delta Community College for dual enrollment opportunities.

East Carroll also hosted a second camp on workplace safety. They earned industry-based credentials (IBC) and learned about customer service, first aid and OSHA regulations. If students earned a Carnegie credit and IBC, they received a stipend.

Auston said it was a need in her parish. Parents have wanted to know why they weren't doing it sooner, but they had to start somewhere.

It's also a jumping off point for West Carroll schools. Strong said the district is working to start a K-12 initiative to teach coding to every grade.

"The kids love it. We've done everything from robotics to coding, coding the robots to do different functions," Strong said.

Strong said the STEM camp was funded by the Jump Start summer grants program and each attendee will get a $700 stipend, a Cyber Literacy I credit and a CompTIA IT credential.

"Our kids need that because the only way my kids can compete is through the IT jobs that's coming available so readily along the I-20 corridor," he said.

He said if kids buy into the IT concept, they can stay in the parish and basically work from home, starting at $52,000 a year. He sees needs with IBM, CenturyLink and Graphic Packaging, among others.

"Everybody needs IT people," the superintendent said.

He said the district is working to partner with Louisiana Delta Community College to give students access to an associate degree that focuses on cyber security and IT that could transfer to higher ed or make them eligible for jobs at places like the Cyber Security Center in Shreveport.

The West Carroll camp will extend into July for additional field trips to show students what goes on in the IT world, including at SAPA Extrusions in Delhi. He said ConAgra and a local garment factory are automated now.

Strong said it's important for rural students to have high-tech opportunities.

People don't realize you aren't turning wrenches anymore, he said, you're looking at computer screens and writing code. Older farmers are having to hire younger generations to program tractors and calibrate machines. There's a huge market.

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Information from: The News-Star, http://www.thenewsstar.com