La Salle-Peru High School offers free summer courses to junior high students

Week-long program offers trade and technical education across 10 school districts

Robbyn Partain, fire science instructor, helps John Biggs with the Jaws of Life tool to help with a demonstration of an auto extrication during the La Salle-Peru Township High School Area Career Center Summer Hands-on Showcase on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

For some students, classes such as woodworking and 3-D modeling help keep them in high school so they can graduate. It can also help put students on a career path they are passionate about.

La Salle-Peru High School is offering these classes to middle school students in a program to engage their interests early.

Computer Technology instructor Harold Burr said this program is important because it shows students early on what classes are available at the high school level and gets them excited and interested. Burr said these classes, depending on the student’s interest, may keep them engaged and in school in the long run.

“We have quite a few students that, if we did not have these classes for them, they would’ve dropped out,” Burr said. “[The students] may be ready to give up and we stick with them and have faith in them and the next thing you know they are out working in the community.”

The program is put on by the Area Career Center, which includes 10 districts. This is the second year of the one-week program that spans across the districts, including DePue, Hall, La Moille, La Salle-Peru, Mendota, Ottawa, Princeton, Putnam County, Seneca and Streator.

The courses are free to students, completely funded by the government through the Carl Perkins grant for career and technical education. Class offerings include computer programming, computer aided design, graphic design, residential wiring, building trades, machine technology, fire science and culinary arts.

“The fact that they [the students] say ‘I want to give up some of my summer to go sit in a classroom’ speaks volumes to what we’re trying to do,” said CAD and engineering teacher Andrew Wiercinski.

Eighth grader Lenee McCoy is taking woodworking and fire science. She said she likes being able to build things in woodworking and enjoys the hands-on nature of the classes.

“I learned how to make a tool box and how to use different types of machines,” McCoy said. “I also learned about what firefighters have to do when there is a big fire.”

There are four sessions throughout the week. The same class will be taught Wednesday and Thursday in either a morning or afternoon time block. Monday and Tuesday classes had the same structure, making one class total six hours over two days.

Zac Hary is going into eighth grade this year and has participated in the program for two years. He’s one of the only students taking a class all week in both the morning and the afternoon.

Hary said his favorite thing is being able to take home his projects, like a lamp and robot he created in his classes. He also enjoys making new friends during class and said everyone is nice and helpful.

“It’s almost like a trade school,” Hary said. “It’s free, but you learn so many life skills like how to wire outlets. Or if you want a future job in making video games, you learn how to 3D model and program all that.”

Director Dwayne Mentgei said the goal of the program is to introduce students to trade and technical education opportunities so they can find something they’re interested in and love to do.

Mentgei credits the idea for the program to Jeanette Maurice, special population coordinator. The goal was to promote these types of classes while making it accessible for parents. Maurice said the school also wanted to raise awareness about their career center so they can better offer guidance to students.

“I think it’s important for people to be aware [of these opportunities] and have these kids understand that they are extremely intelligent and capable if someone just gives them a chance to show it,” Mentgei said.

All the teachers of the program teach at the high school year round. Most instructors had a career in their industry before deciding to teach. Mentgei said he is most proud to be working with the teachers and admires the unique skillset they bring and their dedication to helping their students.

The school plans to expand their course offerings, with culinary courses being new this year and healthcare and childcare classes to be added next year.