More than a dozen area middle and high school students told local officials Tuesday about their expectations upon entering college, along with ways local colleges can better prepare them for that transition.

During a discussion at McNeese State University, students discussed securing internships; getting an in-depth look at the programs offered at local colleges; offering ACT prep as an enrichment course; making sure students know about scholarships; and ensuring safety for students at school zones. The panel included Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter, Calcasieu Parish School Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus, McNeese President Daryl Burckel, and Paula Hellums, Sowela Technical Community College vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Hunter said the event is the city's way to connect its administration with high school students. He said it also helps local officials prepare the community for teens who plan to leave after graduation and may return years later.

"You have a voice, and it should be heard very loudly," Hunter said.

Hellums said Sowela maintains partnerships with local industries to help its students get internships. Burckel encouraged students to get involved with student organizations to take advantage of internships.

Emma Faul, a junior at St. Louis High School, said high school students should be able to interact with college students to get a better perspective of life on campus.

Aubrey Caldwell, a junior at Barbe High School, suggested McNeese and Sowela officials visit all of the high schools, rather than just one each year, to inform students about what the colleges offer.

Hunter said student safety at crosswalks has been an issue in the city for years. He said the city is working to educate drivers and pedestrians to be more aware of their surroundings.

Bruchhaus said students who wear ear buds are often distracted when using crosswalks.

Bruchhaus said the school system is trying to help teach students necessary life skills, such as using a credit card responsibly, conducting job interviews and communicating with adults. He said the system is working with the Junior League of Lake Charles on ways to help students learn those skills.

Burckel said going to class is important, but he stressed students to get involved with the college and meet new students as part of the overall experience.

"The more you're connected in the institution, the better chance you have of graduating," he said.

Students also talked about which teaching style best benefits their learning experience. Chadd Smith, a senior at Washington-Marion High School, said he enjoys classes that include activities to keep students engaged, rather than just lectures. Ariel Harrington, a senior at Barbe, said she wants college courses that allow students and teachers to have open discussions.

Several students also gave feedback on a policy that would allow high schoolers to have limited use of their cell phones in and out of class. Harrington suggested holding an assembly to explain the rules of allowing cell phones on campus. Caldwell said some teachers already allow students in advanced and gifted classes to use their phones if they're visible.

Hunter also asked students to give feedback on how the city can make its programs, like Downtown at Sundown, more attractive for teens and young adults.

Last year's event was held at Sowela. Hunter said the event will rotate from McNeese to Sowela annually.

Calcasieu Parish Government and Cameron Parish Reporter

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