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Virtual or in-person, career exploration considered vital for 9th graders
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“You don’t know what you don’t know” is one of the reasons many high schools start exposing students to career options early, particularly in ninth grade.

According to Gwenn Wolters, regional college and career readiness coordinator for South Central Service Cooperative (SCSC), career exploration is “vital for high school students.” That hasn’t changed during the pandemic, but what has changed is the way career expos have introduced students to potential job opportunities.

One program local schools like Faribault, Medford and Tri-City United often use is Career Navigator, an SCSC program that launched in 2017 to target ninth graders. The program allows these students to explore career fields of interest to them, or careers they may not know anything about. And being in their first year of high school, that early exposure can influence the classes they take in the years before graduation.

“Maybe they drive by a company every day but might not know what goes on in the building,” Wolters said. “I think when you’re a young person, you only know what’s around you. What your family has, your siblings or extended relatives.”

Twenty-five school districts have participated in Career Navigator from the beginning, busing students to South Central College campuses for a day-long informational and interactive event. But during the pandemic, the effort has switched to a virtual program districts have incorporated into the school day.

Medford High School ninth grade students began using the Career Navigator website during a 20-minute advisory period March 15 and will continue using it through April 1, the end of the quarter.

“It’s super self-paced, which is great for most of the kids,” said Wendy Ahnupkana, a ninth-grade advisor at MHS. “They’re able to pick and choose from what’s interesting to them, watch the videos and fill in activity sheets.”

Although she hasn’t attended the in-person Career Navigator program in the past, Ahnupkana said the online version seems like a great alternative.

One of the big perks of Career Navigator, Ahnupkana said, is it exposes students to local opportunities that could keep them close to home if they want to continue living in the area. In Medford, she said that’s especially true for industrial workers.

Bridget Johnson, SCC Career Navigator coordinator, explained that volunteers from area businesses and South Central College deliver talks about their professions during the in-person event.

“It’s not some random person in Florida; they’re seeing jobs in demand in our region and learning about preparation they will need to have when they graduate,” Johnson said.

For the Career Navigator website, Lime Valley Advertising helped with the video content and sent audio media to different businesses that wanted to participate. Some companies recorded presentations on cell phones or used their own equipment.

In class, Medford students have asked Ahnupkana to show some of the videos on the screen. On Thursday, they learned about Indulge Salon and Tanning in North Mankato. Students learned about the different career options within one facility like business ownership and management along with cosmetology, licensing, massage therapy and hair stylists.

The Career Navigator website is grouped into six career clusters: Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; Arts, Communications and Information Systems; Business Management and Administration; Engineering, Manufacturing and Technology; Health Science Technology; and Human Services.

“When they click on a cluster, we want them to view at least two videos to get a sampling, and that’s what we start with but then if students want to do more research on their own or schools decide they want to do a deeper dive, they’re certainly welcome to do so,” Johnson said. “Students really do have unlimited access to all the content.”

The website also includes a keynote speaker and an Exhibit Hall, which offers information about the tools used on the job in five-minute videos.

At Faribault High School, Career and Equity Coordinator Brian Coleman said he isn’t sure how the Career Navigator program will play out this year. In the past, he said, students participated in hands-on projects and attended a question-and-answer session during the in-person program. While students won’t have those same opportunities this year, he said SCC put together a nice alternative with the online format.

Career Navigator is usually a hands-on career expo offered through South Central College, as shown, but SCC has switch the platform to virtual during the pandemic. Pictured in 2018, an SCC student shows a group of Faribault High Schoolers how to perform a phlebotomy on a dummy arm in a medical laboratory technician room. (News file photo/southernminn.com)

The Career Navigator program offers a career interest survey so students can know where to focus their exploration. However, students are encouraged to look beyond their interest because they may not know they like something without giving it a fair chance, Coleman said.

“It’s targeted so that they’re taking the time to take the electives that fit them best and concentrate on areas that they have an interest in as far as their pathway goes,” Coleman said. “They could connect with me if they want to do something more in depth like a job shadow, or speak to a professional to see what that looks like.”

Now that FHS has a seven-period class schedule for the first time in decades, Coleman said students have more options for electives that can put them on a specific career path. Not only that, but FHS will also start partnering with SCC in the fall for a High School to College and Career (H2C) program that allows students interested in the medical field to earn college credit during high school.

Tri-City United High School has used Career Navigator as a job exploration format for ninth graders in previous years, but this year, the virtual option isn’t conducive to its current hybrid model.

Gretchen Lily, TCU High School social worker, said ninth graders will instead attend a career expo in Mankato as a different opportunity this year. The career expo contains an exhibit room with different booths as well as speakers who expose students to what they don’t know.

Additionally, Lily said these career expos help students decide which courses to take in terms of electives like welding or other hands-on trades. TCU also allows students to take college course offerings, mostly in core subject areas. Students may also earn college credit for two-year trade schools by taking elective courses, she said.

No matter the provider, Lily said, “I think it’s really helped to open the students’ eyes to different types of jobs right here in southern Minnesota … The kids just get to see some aspects of careers and see what type of options are out there for them.”

Weed or plant? Commission considers natural landscaping stipulations
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While one person might consider common milkweed, butterfly weed and blue violets to be noxious weeds, others may see an aesthetically pleasing plant or an opportunity to welcome pollinators onto their land.

One city commission has taken a closer look at Faribault’s tall grass and weed regulation ordinance in an effort to suggest some amendment recommendations as it relates to natural landscaping within the city.

Faribault Environmental Commission finished a discussion, which began last summer, regarding a draft amendment to the city’s Tall Grass and Weed Regulation ordinance Monday night. The goal of the recommended amendment is to provide reasonable flexibility for residents looking to plant native plantings on their property while still controlling “rank growth” as well as maintaining public safety.

The commission forwarded its recommendation to the City Council in favor of eliminating a required natural landscaping permit. The recommendation also states an authorized agent of the city would determine if a plant is considered a weed as defined by the ordinance, while also allowing property owners to appeal the decision.

Property owners would be required to maintain their plants to restrict overhang on public rights-of-way and to avoid creating public safety hazards.

It was the commission’s hope to eliminate hurdles property owners might face in their pursuit to plant pollinator gardens and natural landscaping on their property. Along with this, commissioners also tried to balance concerns about the potential for “natural landscapes” to get out of control or lack important maintenance.

David Wanberg, city planner, presented various case studies and natural landscaping examples that could fall under appropriate use of natural landscaping as well as examples that may push the boundaries of the ordinance. What one person might see as a beautiful opportunity to welcome native plants and promote pollinators on their property, others may find a nuisance or unsafe.

“The city is not looking to make things difficult, we’re looking to resolve problems,” Wanberg said at the meeting. “So a lot of times, on a number of things, it’s not an issue and there aren’t complaints and there aren’t safety issues associated with it. I don’t think anything’s gonna be done about it. It’s where there are major problems or where we’ve got complaints that we will have to do something about that.”

Wanberg highlighted a recent situation in which this very became a problem. Last summer, the Faribault Police Department issued a citation to a property owner for “rank growth” of vegetation that had started encroaching on the nearby sidewalk. The owner argued that she had intentionally planted the vegetation in her yard as a way to promote pollinators and had been maintaining the land as a native landscape area.

Currently the ordinance requires a permit for natural landscapes over 8 to 10 inches high.

The commission favored eliminating the need for a permit and its associated fees, but wants to enforce existing ordinances that require maintenance. Commission members considered how both native and non-native plants, such as hostas and day lilies, should be handled when planted adjacent to public right-of-ways, because overgrowth could lead to safety hazards.

Under the ordinance the police chief is responsible for approving natural landscape permits, with the city administrator able to revoke the permit. The Police Department has welcomed the idea of shifting the landscape maintenance enforcement to the city planner, according to Wanberg. Under the recommendations, an “authorized agent” of the city will determine if a plant is a weed as defined by the ordinance. Property owners can also appeal the decision to City Council.

While a property owner may feel their native plant is a welcome addition, others may see it as a weed to be removed. Other plants, such as ragweed, may not be on the state’s noxious weed list, but may be considered inappropriate for growth in a yard.

If approved the updated ordinance would remove the requirement of a natural landscape permit, property owners would be required to trim vegetation that overhangs a public right-of-way, plants over 8 inches high should be set back at least 18 inches from public right-of-ways and 4 feet from neighboring properties.

“Obviously everything we’re talking about will be revetted by City Council as well. I think we’ve done a good job getting closer. Do I think it’s perfect? No, but the council may have different opinions,” member Dan Behrens said.

Walz to expand COVID vaccine eligibility beginning Tuesday
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Governor Tim Walz is expected to announce Friday that all Minnesotans 16 years of age and older will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination beginning Tuesday, March 30.

The final eligibility expansion comes as the federal government has promised an increased supply of vaccine by April, and as Minnesota has become a national leader in getting shots into arms quickly. This week Minnesota was ranked number one in the country for the percentage of vaccine doses administered to Minnesotans. The state has vaccinated 80% of our seniors, outperforming the nation, and has also vaccinated at least two-thirds of our school and child care personnel.

According to a statement from the governor’s office, the Walz-Flanagan Administration will direct providers to prioritize vaccine appointments for older Minnesotans, those with underlying health conditions and those in frontline jobs. Providers will then have the flexibility to provide available appointments to other eligible Minnesotans.”

We worked hard to vaccinate Minnesotans sooner than we originally projected, and we have made tremendous progress getting vaccines to Minnesotans who need them most. Now, it’s time to get as many Minnesotans vaccinated as quickly as possible to end this pandemic.

The governor make the announcement at 11:30 a.m. Friday.

Faribault flood mitigation project gets council OK with help from $2M DNR grant
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Faribault’s City Council has accepted a $2 million Department of Natural Resources grant, enabling it to move ahead with a key infrastructure project designed to keep river water from flooding the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Thanks to funding included in last year’s state bonding bill, the city is set to complete the flood mitigation and bank stabilization project at the Water Reclamation Facility by October.

Minutes after accepting the needed funding Tuesday, the council moved to approve a contract with the low bidder to get the job done. The project was awarded to S.M. Hentges and Sons, with a bid less than $3,000 over the engineer’s estimate.

The Jordan-based construction firm will be awarded only a little over $3 million of a projected $4 million project cost.

The remaining cost was doled out in separate contracts for engineering, design and administration services. The project is a permanent solution to what has been an ongoing challenge for the city over the last decade. In December 2010, floodwaters were so high that the wastewater treatment plant, which sits just east of the Straight River near its confluence with the Cannon, flooded.

The plant went offline for seven days and forced the city to pump untreated sewage, albeit very diluted with floodwater, directly into the river. Doing so is allowable under certain circumstances and with state authorization.

The economic concerns were just as serious, given the number of businesses that rely on heavy water usage in their daily operations. At the city’s request, Jennie-O Turkey Store closed for a week and Faribault Foods reduced its operations.

In both 2014 and 2016, the city and treatment plant dealt with high water, though neither incident was as serious as the 2010 event. Both times the city constructed temporary berms to keep water from the treatment plant and allow operations to continue as normal. However, the levees were hastily constructed which led to both structural and financial issues. Drainage and water ponding issues emerged, and Federal Emergency Management Administration guidelines barred the city from receiving assistance with the berm’s construction costs unless it was removed.

Funding for the city’s portion of the matching grant will come from the Sanitary Sewer Fund. As the city has prepared for the budget hit, City Public Works Director Travis Block has said he’s confident it won’t force other key projects to be delayed.

Included in the design phase will be 1,715 feet of flood barrier, including 995 feet of flood wall and 720 feet of levee along the west side of the facility. An eastern flood wall tieback and road closure system will also be built.

Along the eastern side of the Straight, 1,900 feet of stream bank would be stabilized. Improvements will also be made to the sanitary sewer structure that collects wastewater from the northern part of the city, enabling access it in the event of a flooding emergency.

Despite setbacks, both the DNR and the city remained interested in the project. Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, who served as mayor during the three flooding incidents, made sure that the project was included on the Senate Capital Investment Committee’s Fall 2019 bonding tour.

Jasinski’s successor is also relieved to see the project completed. While flooding issues and general riverbank erosion may be exacerbated by climate change, Mayor Kevin Voracek said that the project should provide a solution that stands the test of time.

“We need to do this to protect our facilities,” he said.