While most of her friends spent the early part of their summer vacation swimming and singing around a campfire, Sophie Kwin learned how to build an engine, change the oil in a car and bake turnovers.
Although she was surrounded by boys in her automotive technology class, the 14-year-old said she was not intimidated. She was happy to be learning a new skill and knew it would please her parents.
"My dad was happy and told me he wants me to change the oil on his car now," she joked.
She also learned some new baking skills, like how to make chicken parmesan and how to decorate cookies, which could come in handy for her plans to possibly open a restaurant one day.
Sophie was one of 45 middle school students enrolled at summer career camp at Parkway West Career and Technology Center in North Fayette.
Seventh- and eighth-graders from Cornell, Montour, Moon Area, South Fayette, Upper St. Clair, Sto-Rox and West Allegheny spent 12 hours over two days this month at the camp, where they were allowed to choose two programs from these options -- automotive technology, cosmetology, culinary arts, masonry and welding technology.
The camp was free, lunch was provided and some of the districts provided transportation.
Elizabeth Lanshcak, Parkway West public relations coordinator, said the camp gave students an inside look at what it would be like to have a career in specific fields, allowing them to see whether they like or do not like a certain program.
"What's great is that the students are able to figure out if they are really interested in something through our curriculum," Ms. Lanshcak said. "Maybe they love it or they realize it's not for them. Either way, it's good to know."
Exploring interests at a young age could save time and money. It's better to know before enrolling in an expensive and long program, Ms. Lanshcak said.
A dozen middle school boys, in addition to Sophie, gathered at the garage to learn automotive skills, including how to change a tire.
Although Andrew LaGrosse, 15, who attends Holy Trinity Catholic School in Robinson, is not old enough to drive a car, he wanted to learn those skills so that he can apply them when he turns 16.
Andrew said he heard about the summer camp from friends who encouraged him and now he is glad that he enrolled. One day when he owns a car, he said, he thinks he will be thankful.
In one of the cosmetology rooms of the building, about a dozen young girls learned six different braiding techniques and how to perform hand massages.
Most of the girls went home to give their parents hand massages after class, which they said made their mothers happy.
Even though the consensus in the room was that most of them probably won't study cosmetology, they appeared happy to have learned the techniques.
Mackenzie Deorio, 13, said she knew only two styles of braids before she attended the camp and she plans to teach all of her friends.
"I've always really liked braiding and feel more confident now," Mackenzie, of Montour, said.
"I didn't know this kind of stuff could be a career."
In the masonry classes, students were taught how to make decorative wall art from ceramic tiles.
Down the hall at the welding technology session, students cut and welded steel using different techniques.
Ms. Lanshcak said that a handful of students from camp usually enroll in the technical school upon entering high school.
At Parkway West, most students are in grades 10-12.
Jessica Tully: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1159 and on Twitter: @jessalynn4.