U.S. Dept. of Labor Visits Bay County Schools

Another key to attracting industry is an abundant supply of educated and qualified workforce.

Countries like China and India far surpass the United States in the number of engineering majors who graduate each year. The U.S. is trying to address that problem that shortfall through a grant program called Project Lead, which targets children while they're still in grade school.

Their contraptions look like a game of mousetrap, but the Surfside Middle students are building levers, pulleys and gears as part of their engineering curriculum for Project Lead the Way. If the program succeeds these kids will eventually become scientists and engineers.

"Later in the future I want to be an engineer. I haven't decided what type of engineering I want to do, but I'm still open for all the options," said Colby Chester, an eighth grade Surfside Middle student.

Computers and automation are claiming a lot of U.S. jobs, but Department of Labor officials say the demand for engineering jobs should continue to increase. Some of those labor officials visited Surfside Monday to check out what these young engineers are working on.

"From the 7th graders and the awards they're already winning to the incredible ingenuity that's going on in this 8th grade class as they work on this Rube Goldberg 8-Step apparatus, it's just absolutely amazing. It's a far cry from any 8th grade class I've ever seen," said Helen Parker, Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of Labor.

Getting into the Project Lead the way program isn't easy. These students are all enrolled in advanced math and have excellent grades and attendance.

"We've learned a lot about physics laws and different stuff and just how things work," said Martin Dvorak, an eighth grade Surfside Middle student.

Besides the hands-on projects, the students are also learning how to use AutoCAD architecture computer software.

All of the courses they take should prepare them for high school and beyond.

Surfside, Jinks and Merritt Brown Middle Schools, as well as Arnold High School, are some of the 1600 schools nationwide participating in Project Lead the Way.

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