When enrollment for next fall jumped 20 percent at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center, delighted officials attributed it to several reasons.
But one of the key suspects is a week-long summer camp founded five years ago for middle-school students to give them a sampling of the courses the career center offers during the year for juniors and seniors.
"The purpose is to expose students in the middle school to career opportunities in a hands-on environment," said Catherine Engel, principal of the tech center.
Hands-on is what middle school students like best, but then so do most people, she said. The career center instructors are accustomed to high-school age students, but middle school students are just at the stage where they can take precise measurements and benefit from the projects they do in the camp, Ms. Engel said.
As for determining how much of the increased enrollment at the center is directly attributable to the summer camp, there's no way to know for sure, Ms. Engel said.
"We do know we have students from the middle school camp enrolled in the center," she said. "And students talk to other students about having positive experiences there."
Other reasons for the increase in the center's regular fall enrollment are a greater emphasis on technology and on courses that appeal to college-prep students who in past years might have dismissed the center as a trade school, officials believe.
Several students at the camp said they also plan to attend college, or get some other post-secondary education.
Kristina Baldwin, an eighth-grader at North Carroll Middle School, would like to go to college and then law school. But she also likes the lure of mechanical things, of working with her hands.
Each student in the camp gets a choice of two of the 12 courses. Kristina signed up for engineering and computer technology. She got the engineering course, but computer technology was filled by the time she registered. She took flower arranging instead.
"I [came to the camp] just for something different," Kristina said. But she liked the engineering classes so much, she said, "I think I'd like to do it even more."
As instructors discussed real-life jobs and careers related to the welding and machine technology the students were learning, one caught the attention of Kristina.
"You can be a marine mechanic," she said.
School officials say they also are hoping more girls who come to the middle school camp try the traditionally male trades.
But Kristina was the only girl in the engineering classes at the camp, unless the instructor's assistant was counted.
On her way into the mostly male welding field is Jennifer Houck, 17, a senior at Francis Scott Key High School and the technology center. She will start her second year in the welding program this fall. She first came to the center in a middle school camp and now assists the instructors.
"I came two years in a row," she said about the camp. She studied carpentry, machine technology, drafting and welding. Her father is a carpenter.
Jennifer's intends to go right into the welding trade when she graduates from high school and work her way through college for a degree in welding engineering.
Although most girls at the camp and at the center still enroll primarily in the traditionally female careers, such as fashion design, cosmetology and flower design, Jennifer said more girls are enrolling in the trades once they see the doors are open to them.
"Some girls have the opinion they don't want to get their hands dirty," she said. "This is a messy job."
The enrollment runs exactly even in computer technology -- 11 girls, 11 boys.
But the auto mechanics/auto body course has 20 boys, no girls. Drafting has 20 boys, one girl. Construction has one girl.
On the other hand, fashion design has 17 girls, no boys. No boys took cosmetology, either.
Mike Cashman, 13, who will be a freshman at Westminster High School, also came to the camp two years in a row. He wants to be a race car driver, perhaps a designer, but at least a very good mechanic, he said.
When he's a junior, he'll enroll in the tech center's program, but probably not in auto mechanics, he said.
He'll take computer technology and engineering, because that's the way the auto industry is going: computer diagnostics and electronics.
"I'm taking this so I'm not behind when I go into [the field]," he said.
The middle school camp has increased its own enrollment.
Five years ago, the first camp drew 170 students. On Friday, 225 seventh- through ninth-graders who made up this summer's batch of career explorers finished their week.
Students learned about the camp through in-school demonstrations and counselors.
Last year, the center also mailed an announcement to the home of every seventh- and eighth-grade student to cast an even wider net, and to alert parents directly, said Wayne Leppo, who coordinates the camp.