LEESVILLE, La. (Fort Polk Progress) - The Vernon Parish School Board is hosting a Jump Start Summer Initiative program throughout June to teach students the welding trade at Pickering High School.
"The overall objective of the program is to provide students with the opportunity to get a 'Jump Start' on a career pathway by enabling the students to earn a statewide basic credential and an additional high school Carnegie credit, while also earning a $500 stipend," said Lisa Lohman, Vernon Parish School Board curriculum supervisor. "Throughout this program, the students will have the opportunity to learn basic welding skills while participating in a simulated work environment."
Preston Broxson, Pickering High School agriculture teacher, is teaching 12 students entering grades 11-12, based on the National Center for Construction Education and Research-Level 1 welding curriculum. The program will go through safety and welding basics, as well as different positions of welding varying in difficulty. "It prepares them for a career in welding," Broxson said.
Lohman said the students will also have the opportunity to complete job shadowing hours with Custom Welding & Design, LLC, who is serving as the industry partner for the program.
"Students are expected to demonstrate punctuality, maintain a good attitude, and display a professional work ethic while completing all assigned tasks," Lohman said. If students pass their curriculum exams and excel in their projects, they will receive an NCCER Level 1 welding certification, which they can use to further their education or enter the workforce.
"They'll have a certification that will follow them for the rest of their life," Broxson said.
The Jump Start Summer Initiative is part of the Jump Start program, which provides high school students with educational opportunities to specialize in different career pathways, including business management, nursing, culinary training, welding, carpentry and more.
Jump Start is part of the Education Initiative, led by Fort Polk Progress, which aims to improve school performance, educate parents on school curriculum and standards, and benchmark Vernon Parish schools against the national average, as well as other schools supporting U.S. Army installations.
Broxson said the response from students has been great. "I'm enjoying the fact that they are here, when they could be sleeping in, going fishing or playing with their friends," he said. "They're here and they're working hard and taking this seriously and it shows that they are dedicated, and will probably do well in life."
Phillip Murray, 16, a camp participant, appreciates how useful welding is in everyday life and plans to use it for farm work, while he also pursues a career as a veterinarian. "Welding is a big part of a lot of industries," Murray said. "There is a very high demand for welders right now, and this right here is going to get us ready for the future."
Everett Comer, 17, another student in the program, said he chose to join the camp to further his welding education.
"I like it because we get to experience new people and make friends, while learning to weld," Comer said. "This will help us with our careers."
Broxson stressed the need for this program in the community.
"Welding pays really well. There's a lot of job opportunities out there, especially right now in the South," Broxson said. "There's a lot of plants being built, and a lot of industry needing welders that are willing to pay big money for them."
He said this camp also opens up opportunities for Vernon Parish students attending schools that do not have a welding program.
There are many additional life skills Broxson said the students can develop through welding.
"Welding teaches a lot patience. It's going to be hot. They're going to have to deal with cramped hands and muscles," he said. "If they're willing to go through all of that, then the reward is the certification and the ability to go out and make a lot of money with this."
Broxson has high hopes for the futures of his students.
"They have the potential to make six figures a year with what they are learning right here," he said. "I hope they're able to go out and really use the information, knowledge and skills they are gaining here to make a good life for themselves."