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ESJH ninth grader spreading word on summer options for all local public school students

RESERVE — Ninth grader Jai Gaines walks the hallways of East St. John High School with a stack of fliers in her schoolbag, ready to pass on information to her classmates about upcoming cost-free, educational summer camps.

Jai is one of seven Louisiana state representatives for LA Gear Up, a federally funded initiative that prepares students for success in post-secondary education, regardless of financial standing.

Grant funding has been available to St. John the Baptist Parish students in recent years, according to teacher Keanna Theriot. This year marked the beginning of East St. John Explorer’s Club, which Theriot said exposes students to college exploration and LA Gear Up opportunities.

Jai was among 40 East St. John students to take a five-day, out-of-state trip over Thanksgiving Break. Under Theriot’s supervision, the students traveled all the way to Georgia and toured eight college campuses.

“The kids put together a lesson plan and they come up with their own projects,” Theriot said. “They decide what colleges they want to go to with ‘Match and Fit.’ It’s a questionnaire that tells them what colleges they could go to.”

East St. John High students tour Clark Atlanta University.

Jai’s dedication to Explorer’s Club on top of her commitments to track and field, cheerleading, band, Beta Club and the Right Choice Project has gone a long way to increasing participation, Theriot said.

“She’s in five or six different clubs, but she maintains all of them, maintains a high GPA and keeps a smile on her face,” Theriot said.

To be accepted as a state representative, Jai went through a process similar to a job application. As a representative, she’s held to a high standard to help her classmates prepare for college.

Jai delivered a speech to increase summer camp participation last week in Alexandria, sharing her favorite memories from 2018 camps. One of those memories included successfully programming a computer.

“The summer camps are really eye opening,” Jai said. “I want to introduce other people to it so they can have the same experience I had. You get to talk to the college students and get the feel of a college experience. It showed me that even if I don’t go to school for veterinary sciences, I could go to school for biology or computer sciences and still be able to pursue the dream I want to have.”

Jai wants St. John Parish students to know there is time to sign up for LA Gear Up camps, which offers something for everybody.

“Even if a four-year college isn’t an option, LA Gear Up still promotes community two-year colleges,” Jai said. “There’s always some type of funding towards scholarships or college itself.”

Jai is attending STEAM Interactive Learning Experience and “POWER” camps this summer.

The one-week STEAM camp, held from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. July 8-12 and July 15-19 in Hammond, focuses on career path explorations, financial literacy, campus tours, energy and physics, literacy and design.

POWER camp expands on career exploration with coding, positive psychology sessions and a campus tour of Louisiana Tech University from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 17-21 and June 24-28.

Jai is most looking forward to the President’s Academy camp at University of Louisiana in Monroe.

The five-day residential program introduces students to computer sciences, law, health sciences and physical sciences.

The camp, also open to incoming juniors and seniors June 16-21, requires a minimum ACT score of 24 or a 3.5 GPA to participate.

Other upcoming camps include a four-week Inspiration to Innovation camp from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 3-28, and a three-week residential Nsula Advance Camp held July 7-27 in Natchitoches.

All camps are fully funded by the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, according to Theriot.

Opportunities are open to incoming freshmen through seniors in St. John Parish public schools. For more information, email jaigaines7@gmail.com or contact Theriot at 985-536-4226.