Brady Construction might be the next big business addition to the city of Mitchell, but there’s one small catch — its CEO is still in middle school.

The construction business is just one of many entrepreneurial concepts drawn up over the past week by Mitchell students in Sara Steckel’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) camp at Mitchell Middle School.

The CTE camp, funded by grants through Advantage South Dakota and promoted by the Mitchell Area Development Corporation (MADC), aims to provide students grades four through seven with hands-on learning opportunities to spark creativity in science, technology, engineering, art and math.

This year’s camp is run like Shark Tank — the 15 enrolled students brainstormed their products and services early in the week, and will present their projects to a judge on Friday in hopes to win the imaginary funding to make their project a reality.

“The students are picking projects that interest them,” Steckel said. “So, then they get to dig in. They’re exploring, they’re making, they’re building and creating.”

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The morning session, composed of fourth and fifth graders, chose to focus mainly on robotics; while the afternoon session of sixth and seventh graders ranged from coding video games to a Rube Goldberg-style balloon popper.

Soon-to-be seventh grader Luke Mentele decided he would present Brady Construction to the “investor” using a model of his real-life home — complete with a weather vane, television dish and the sycamore in his yard.

Middle schooler Luke Mentele used building kits to recreate his real life house at Mitchell Middle School's CTE camp. It came complete with a weathervane, television dish and his family's sycamore tree. (Hunter Dunteman / Republic)
Middle schooler Luke Mentele used building kits to recreate his real life house at Mitchell Middle School's CTE camp. It came complete with a weathervane, television dish and his family's sycamore tree. (Hunter Dunteman / Republic)

Luke said he took inspiration from his younger brother Brady, the namesake of the company.

“I don’t really know much about construction, but he really likes construction,” Luke added.

Cooper Star, who also just finished sixth grade, coded his own version of a Star Wars video game in which the player, as R2-D2, moves around a map to eliminate CPU players while avoiding obstacles.

“I like Star Wars and I like to code, so I thought, ‘Why not combine them?’” Cooper said.

Cooper began teaching himself how to code when he was in first grade, and has created 30 basic objective games since August. He said he wants to go to school for coding when he is older.

Middle schooler Cooper Star takes his Star Wars game for a test run. Cooper said he taught himself to code in first grade. (Hunter Dunteman / Republic)
Middle schooler Cooper Star takes his Star Wars game for a test run. Cooper said he taught himself to code in first grade. (Hunter Dunteman / Republic)

Steckel said the camp is one of many aspects that link together Mitchell’s CTE programs. Though it is yet to be an official pathway, she said that encouraging students to identify their interests at a young age could lead to potential connections and opportunities with the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy and Mitchell Technical Institute as they grow up.

“I’ve seen students start to realize where their niche is,” Steckel said. “They’re really starting to realize what they’re interested in.”

More immediately impactful, however, are the collaboration and teamwork skills students practice during the course of the week.

“Collaboration is a big component in here,” Steckel said, as two students offered suggestions to a third on his project. “You’ve gotta learn to collaborate. It’s a big part of life.”

This week’s camp was the third annual, and the students were quick to express their excitement to attend again next year.

Sixth and seventh graders could enroll in the afternoon session of Mitchell Middle School's CTE camp. Back row, left to right: Luke Mentele, Cooper Star and Kaden Nurnberg. Front row, left to right: Colin Wilson, Luke Atnip and Kalan Rients. (Hunter Dunteman / Republic)
Sixth and seventh graders could enroll in the afternoon session of Mitchell Middle School's CTE camp. Back row, left to right: Luke Mentele, Cooper Star and Kaden Nurnberg. Front row, left to right: Colin Wilson, Luke Atnip and Kalan Rients. (Hunter Dunteman / Republic)

Karen Whitney, regional workforce coordinator for the MADC, said camps like this are designed to keep the future workforce in Mitchell, and hopes to see expansion in the funding and enrollment of similar programs.

“We’ve got a lot of tech jobs, but not enough kids,” Whitney said. “(The camps) are about getting them excited for the jobs here in Mitchell.”

The MADC also promotes similar camps for older students, including Tech Camp for eighth through tenth graders and a CNA training camp for anyone 16 and older. Both camps have remaining openings.