What do 50 middle school students, Carbon Career & Technical Institute, Lehigh Carbon Community College, the SHINE after-school program and hover crafts have in common?

The answer is the new Carbon County STEM Career Academy.

Rachel Strucko, coordinator of the career academy, explained that beginning on Sept. 26, 50 sixth, seventh and eighth graders from Carbon County's five school districts chosen by the schools' guidance counselors will participate in the first ever career academy at CCTI in Jim Thorpe. The four-week course, hosted through a partnership by LCCC, CCTI and SHINE, will focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The classes will be held Monday through Thursday.

Strucko said students will arrive at CCTI around 3:30 p.m. for a three-hour, hands-on learning experience. Each week will include homework help, a full meal, and lessons on a different focus area, including green energy, logistics/transportation/mass transit, engineering, and advanced manufacturing information systems.

Students will be instructed by CCTI teachers. They will then apply the lessons they learn on projects based on STEM in CCTI's state-of-the art labs.

"We're going to concentrate on academics mixed with real life hands-on application with some soft skills," Strucko said. "There are a lot of programs out there but we're coupling everything we learned. We're going to utilize science teachers from CCTI and bring in speakers as well."

She noted that projects that students will work on include building hover crafts, using solar panels and learning about hybrid vehicles.

"We've had success in the past (with SHINE)," Strucko said. "SHINE has a 32-week curriculum and science PSSA scores have risen since that program started. We're getting big results from the program so we decided to segue into the next step. We're mirroring what's already working but just changing the curriculum for older students."

Dave Reinbold, administrative director for CCTI, said that the career academy, which has been modeled after LCCC's SHINE after-school program, is "an excellent career awareness activity."

Until this point, the SHINE model has included children from birth through fifth grade and high school through college. This now fills in the gap between middle school and high school.

Strucko and Reinbold agree that they hope to host the career academy every semester, giving more students the opportunity to learn about the high priority jobs of the future. But it will be dependent on funding though, Strucko noted.

Currently, the Carbon County STEM Career Academy is funded partially by LCCC through a Department of Transportation grant and partially through CCTI.

Jeanne Miller, director of the SHINE after-school program, said that this model is working because there are so many partners involved to make the after-school programs a success.

"The unique thing about this is the fact that you have the leveraging funds, the partnerships, and the fact that we're all on the same page in the county," she said. "That's what's exciting because it's part of a bigger plan for this county. It's really creating that birth to college pipeline."

"You want to get these students engaged in these activities and get them involved. That's what the career academy is doing."

Strucko noted that parents will be able to attend each of the classes during the career academy to learn what their child is working on, as well as learn about programs CCTI has to offer. They will also be invited to a career expo, which will showcase the projects the students completed over the four weeks. The expo is scheduled for Oct. 21.

"We want the students' parents to understand this is an excellent resource for students and parents," Miller added.

For more information on the program, guidance counselors and parents can contact Strucko at (570) 669-7010, ext. 1975.