Three hundred Lee County students are spending July in the first-ever 2009 Summer Youth Explorations: Careers Plus.
The Lee County School District teamed up with the Southwest Florida Workforce Development Board to host the four-week exploratory program at the county's three comprehensive high schools - Ida S. Baker High, East Lee County High and South Fort Myers High.
Students applied to be a part of Careers Plus and qualified according to family income, according to Sue Roshon, director of Lee County's Technical and Career Education.
Brandon Cobon, foreground, and Kyle Overhoff work on computers during the IT Academy portion of the four-week Summer Youth Exploration: Careers Plus program at Ida S. Baker High School. Cobon will be a ninth-grader at Ida S. Baker High, and Overhoff will be an eighth-grader at Diplomat Middle.
Funding for the monthlong program came from stimulus money in legislation passed by the Obama administration.
"The purpose is for summer employment, but because of our current economy it's hard to find summer employment for these kids," Roshon said.
School officials wanted to see each of the students find a summer job, but with unemployment in Lee County creeping over 13 percent, it was virtually impossible. So, their job is participating in Careers Plus, where they are eligible to receive a stipend as high as $910.
"This is their job," she said. "It's based on attendance and work ethic."
Even in its first year, a spot in Careers Plus was highly sought after. Roshon said more than 700 students applied for the 300 vacant seats - 100 at each of the comprehensive schools.
Because so many students applied, the district had to use a random lottery system.
Once enrolled in the program, students at each of the schools are split into three groups and take turns rotating through three career areas: medical, information technology and engineering/green.
By rotating among each of the areas, the students are provided a taste of each field to see which, if any, is a viable career option.
The students also took a week to learn important "soft" skills needed for success in the workplace. They learned the basics of finance and business, budgeting, teamwork, problem solving and work ethic.
Mock resumes and interviews were used.
"The kids found they have skills, but don't understand if you come late, can't problem solve or get along with others that you won't keep your job," Roshon said.
Career Plus' Medical Academy offered students the opportunity to tour the departments at Cape Coral Hospital and the health industry program at Edison State College.
"Their career exploration starts off at Edison College," said Jamie Gross, Ida S. Baker's Medical Academy department head. "Edison gives them nine classes where they are participating."
The students took classes in physical therapy, radiology and nursing, for example. At Cape Coral Hospital they toured the emergency room and other departments.
Students in the medical session wore scrubs and practiced CPR on mannequins Tuesday morning. Groups of six took turns administering CPR and applying pads to use an automated external defibrillator, or AED.
"It's teaching us how to stabilize. You never know what happens, so it's good to be prepared," said Claudia Diaz, a junior at North Nicholas High.
Diaz said she wants to help people and plans to study to be a psychologist after she graduates from high school.
"I love saving people and helping them," she said.
Sheila Sarver, the district's health occupations coordinator, said some of the students came without any notion of what they liked to do, but later acquired an interest in one or more specialties.
"Most of them didn't know when they first entered, but at least one-third are interested by the time they leave," she said.
In another part of the school, 14-year-olds Kaitlyn Bramlett and Estefani Espana built miniature wind turbines in the engineering/green session. As a team they were handed a box with no instructions and had to build a model turbine that stood approximately 3 feet high.
It took them two days to finish.
"It was really hard, it takes a lot of math and science," said Espana.
Once the turbines were complete, the students measured how many volts they produced and those with the highest voltage won.
Bramlett and Espana won first place for generating 3 volts, the highest level in the class. Second place, also a team comprised of two girls, generated 2.5 volts.
As winners Bramlett and Espana received a prize of $15 from their IT teacher, Aaron Quaintance.
Approximately 30 students tested solar panels in a nearby classroom. They held panels up to the light and tested the PV cells.
A highlight of the engineering/green session is a field trip to Babcock Ranch, where students saw the applications of wind turbine technology and solar power.
"I want kids to go away with something," said Roshon.
Even though Careers Plus is administered through temporary stimulus funds, Roshon hopes the school district and Southwest Florida Workforce Development Board find a way to continue funding the program after the stimulus money dries up.
"My hope is that the community, work force board and school district sees this as a valuable enough program to keep it going," she said.