It’s a nondescript building on the Southern University campus, but inside the old financial aid facility is something Chancellor James Llorens believes can be a model for the nation — a fun way to get some of the youngest people on campus on the path to a future career.
The Southern University Lab School previewed its soon-to-be opened “Mini-Lab” program Thursday, where lawyers, doctors, businesspeople and engineers are expected to be regular guests stopping by to share the secrets of their professions.
On Thursday morning, about two dozen second- and third-graders crowded into the building’s laboratory furnished like a courtroom for a mock trial.
With the youngsters acting as judge, jury, prosecution and defense, students “tried” one of their classmates for breaking the rule of bringing a pet to school.
The Mini-Labs program is an arm of Southern’s College of Education Arts and Humanities.
Interim Dean Luria Young called it a nontraditional way to get students interested in the opportunities that will be there for them in the future.
“This is a part of the curriculum that will complement what’s being learned in the classrooms,” she said. “We’re just doing something different.”
Mini-Lab sessions will be taught strategically in the engineering, business, health care and legal fields to take advantage of Southern University’s strengths.
Students will also learn about the legislative process, stock market investing and entrepreneurship from the people who do those jobs for a living.
The idea came about as part of a larger strategy to sustain the lab school.
Like other K-12 schools attached to Louisiana colleges,
Southern Lab was created to allow the university’s College of Education to train students and to test out different instructional techniques.
The school receives some state funding, but makes up the rest of its costs through tuition and the support of Southern University.
Things have been tough in recent years as the lab school began losing students forcing the university to pick up more and more of the financial slack.
As campus leader, Llorens explained that a marketing outreach campaign from summer 2011 drew in more than 100 new students putting Southern Lab on a more sustainable path.
The university also committed roughly $1.2 million to renovate the lab school’s main building, while retooling the dual enrollment program allowing lab students to start earning college credits starting as early as the 10th grade.
The Mini-Labs were part of the next phase.
Baton Rouge lawyer and Southern Lab alum Preston Castille Jr., called the Mini-Labs a natural extension of the curriculum.
“When you can act out what you’re studying, it changes the learning experience,” he said. “The great thing about Southern is that we get to start working with children from pre-K through Ph.D.”
Across the hall from the mock trial, Dwayne Jerro, chairman of Southern’s Mechanical Engineering department looks at a small, yellow go-cart shaped like a race car that children will learn about during engineering Mini-Labs.
Jerro said bringing in what looks like a large toy holds the children’s imagination enough for them to learn how chemical energy from a gas and alcohol powered engine converts to mechanical energy as the go-carts chain-driven drive shafts rotate and get the machine’s wheels turning.
“If you don’t get the students interested, it’s like going fishing with no bait on the hook,” Jerro said. “You can’t expect to catch fish that way. You have to lure them in.”
Patricia Melson, a professor in Southern’s College of Education was on hand Thursday not as an instructor but as supporter to watch her granddaughter Taylor Harris participate in the mock trial.
“I believe in experiential learning and I’m a lab school grad,” Melson said. “The fact that I can contribute time and effort to help make this a reality makes this that much more important to me.”