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Residents petitioned the Le Center city council to pave the alleyway between Lexington and Park. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

Cleveland student helps teacher who helped him fit in

Ryan Reineke and Joel Boehlke have a mutually beneficial relationship.

High school junior Reineke has someone who can support him, believe in him and look out for him at school in teacher Boehlke. And Boehlke, meanwhile, has someone who will give him the help he’s never asked for in Reineke.

PhilipW / By PHILIP WEYHE philip.weyhe@apgsomn.com 

Ryan Reineke is working to help his teacher, Joel Boehlke to get a new all-terrain wheelchair. Both Reineke and Boehlke live in St. Peter and attend/work at school in Cleveland. (Philip Weyhe/St. Peter Herald)

The student and teacher, both from St. Peter but attending/working at Cleveland Public School, have formed a friendship that extends beyond the classroom. And the latest proof is in Reineke’s efforts to secure an all new, high quality all-terrain wheelchaire for Boehlke, who has been unable to walk on his own since a sledding accident 12 years ago.

“He’s made such a difference in my life, and I’ve seen him make differences in other students’ lives,” Reineke said of Boehlke. “And he’s wanted something like this, but he just hasn’t had the money. He was going to design one on his own, but he hasn’t been able to get everything he needs.”

Reineke started a fundraiser on GoFundMe, hoping to raise $20,000 (or more) for the wheelchair purchase, and as of Jan. 20, he was well on his way to achieving that goal; over $19,000 had been raised from over 300 donors.

Boehlke, who has never asked for much help and has never really felt negatively about being in a wheelchair, was moved by Reineke’s individual act of kindness.

“When he called me and told me about it, I was dumbfounded. I didn’t have the words,” Boehlke said. “I’ve had people offer to do fundraisers for me, but he recognized something I enjoyed doing, and it’s not even something we talked about.”

The all-terrain wheelchair will make it easier for Boehlke to get around in various conditions, especially the winter, a season he has always loved.

“I get to winter time, and truthfully my first winter, I tried to go through snowdrifts and get to places, and it wasn’t as easy as it was when I could walk. And so this opens up a whole new reality,” he said. “A buddy of mine and I have been trying to find a way to get me ice fishing for the last three years, and we started talking about how to get me out there. We have to make sure the ice is thick of enough, then that paths are wheelchair accessible and then he built an ice house with a really wide door. That’s what I’m looking forward to is getting out there and getting some outdoor time I don’t normally get in the winter.”


Reineke has gone through some tough times in his young life. He has a few learning disabilities, which can sometimes make school more difficult. At home, he had difficult circumstances, too, though that has improved now with his mother and step-dad caring for him. He originally attended school in St. Peter, but he was often bullied.

“I was beat up at St. Peter and there were all sorts of bullying issues,” he said. “People were going and making fun of me and making it harder to do school. I was just a little different.”

Reineke and his family thought it would be best to get a new start, and so he transferred to Cleveland Public School. It was still tough for him there, especially at the start when he didn’t know anyone. But over time, he found places to fit it, the most prominent being his electronics and robotics courses with Mr. Boehlke.

“He just seemed to be a lot more responsive and seemed to care a lot more and wanted to know a lot more,” Reineke said. “He helped me get along with people and feel like I was meant to be there.”

Ryan Reineke, back middle, and Joel Boehlke, bottom right, have developed a positive relationship inside and outside the classroom. 

Boehlke said Reineke was quite when he first came into his class, but he quickly surprised him with some insights that not all students come up with.

“At first, I wasn’t sure what Ryan was thinking, but as I’ve gotten to know him, he’s become more outspoken, and now we’re actually staying in contact outside of school, talking about things he’s doing and things I’m doing,” Boehlke said. “It’s nice to get to know a student on this level. It helps a teacher sometimes to understand where a student comes from to really get them to latch on to what you’re teaching in a class. Knowing the history and all the little relationships that make him work really does make for a better teaching experience, I think.”

The two even developed a working relationship. When Reineke went to Boehlke asking for any leads on a job, Boehlke’s wife suggested they have him work at their house. Reineke took the job, and throughout the summer he performed miscellaneous tasks at Boehlke’s direction, helping him get some jobs done that would’ve otherwise been difficult.

“It was fun and enjoyable,” Reineke said of the work. “And it was easy for me to do, because it was stuff I knew or stuff that he could easily teach me how to do. He would instruct me.”

While their bond is certainly unique, Boehlke has told Reineke that he would build a relationship like theirs with any student who wanted it or needed it. Reineke just happened to be the person who asked.

“Seeing students struggle and have to deal with outside influences that just aren’t positive, every kid should be told they can do it,” Boehlke said. “Every kid should be told that, even if it’s hard, there is a worthwhile struggle there to try to figure it out. If a person believes in themselves, it makes things a lot easier.”

Reineke has taken notice of the effort Boehlke puts in, and he just wants to give something back: “I want to help him the way he’s helped me and other students.”

A first look at Cleveland School’s new wing
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Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Students won’t have to eat in the small gym anymore once work is complete on Cleveland Public School’s common area/cafeteria. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

As students trickle back into the classroom at Cleveland Public School, they won’t have just in-person learning to look forward to, but a whole new building.

Construction is almost complete on a 65,000-square-foot addition to Cleveland Public School, which includes new classrooms and new facilities — from an Ag/Tech lab to a STEM lab to a whole new cafeteria — and will house new programming that administrators hope will enhance learning and draw in new families.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

One of the new classrooms available for fifth and sixth grade students in the new wing of Cleveland Public Schools. (Carson Hughes/Le Sueur County News)

Students will get just a taste of everything the new building has to offer at the start of the year. There are still inspections and remodeling to be done on portions of the building to bring everything up to code, so the building will remain at partial occupancy until everything is complete.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

A hallway inside Cleveland Public School’s new building. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

One of the first classes that will get to enjoy the new building are the fifth and sixth graders. A whole wing of new classrooms for the grade level has been constructed in the new space. Cleveland teachers said their students were excited to use the new classrooms, which are more spacious, will have new technology and some new amenities like air conditioning.

“Already talking to my students in Google Meets, they’re excited.” said sixth-grade teacher Bree Meyer. “They’re excited to come back and not only to be in person here at school but also to be in a new classroom. We have been waiting patiently for the new addition and they’re super excited and a little nervous to figure out how to walk to the new classroom.”

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

This open air learning space is part of Cleveland’s building expansion and will allow teachers to give students a space to learn other than their classroom. (Photo courtesy of Cleveland Public Schools)

The teachers themselves are just as excited to have new tools at their disposal. Sixth-grade teacher Brady Hahn said he was looking forward to using the numerous whiteboards in his new classroom for his math class.

“I’ve been doing this job 21 years now, and this is the first time we’ve really had new stuff,” said Hahn. “Teachers are always really good about this switching off and moving things around and using other people’s stuff. Well, it’s a fresh start, it’s all new and clean, the WiFi is great, we’re going to have new projector boards that are going to work a lot better.”

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

The new biology lab at Cleveland Public Schools includes stations where students can conduct experiments. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

The new wing also brings some added convenience to students and teachers, said fifth-grade teacher Katie Wolf.

“I was always down the hall, so the kids would have to travel back and forth and now teachers have to travel,” said Wolf. “So now we’re all right here, so it feels like middle school, like we’re all together. If we can ever go back to the kids switching classes, it will be a lot more convenient.”

Some of the other new facilities opening at the start of the school year include a new biology lab complete with lab stations and sinks to conduct experiments in, a new art room, new offices for the athletic director and school counselor and a brand new STEM lab outfitted with enough desktop computers for an entire classroom.

The STEM Lab will be used to expand Cleveland’s Project Lead the Way (PLTW) curriculum, which currently includes classes on design and modeling, robotics, flight, space, energy and environment and intro to engineering. The new classroom will be used to expand the robotics program from the eight-grade level to the fifth-grade level, which administrators believe will foster a greater interest in technology among students at an earlier age. Fifth graders that learn robotics would have new offerings when they reach the eighth-grade level, such as digital electronics, so that they don’t repeat a course.

More on the way

The parts of the facility that will be open in January only scratch the surface of the new facilities that will soon be available at Cleveland. The massive expansion includes a new common area, gym, shop room, Ag/Tech lab and more, all funded through a $19 million referendum passed in 2018.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Cleveland’s new common room/cafeteria will give visitors a place to hang out and buy concessions during games and tournaments. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

“We had some of the oldest facilities in the area and just about everybody around us has built new or added on since they built new,” said Superintendent Brian Phillips. “We’ve been looking at our facilities for over 20 years, and we had goals to not only update our facilities, but add new programs, because the existing facility wasn’t meeting the needs of our programs.”

“We had outgrown the existing facility, and the only way to grow beyond that was to build a new space,” he continued. “New space meant new facilities. Our gym upstairs is built in the 49 era and the rafters are very low and you have to learn how to play volleyball off the rafters when you play, so we wanted to ask our community if they wanted to invest in our school. It took a while, but I think now that we’ve done it, they can see how this will draw more kids to our community and help our community grow and to be able to offer the types of programs we’ve always wanted to be able to offer.”

One of the main new attractions is the common area, kitchen and new gym. For years, students at Cleveland have had no real space to congregate, especially during athletic games. Lunch was eaten inside the small gym, which also lacked the space that coaches wanted for their teams.

Space is no longer an issue with the common area. The room has more than enough space for a cafeteria with wide floors and high ceilings. The Cleveland Public School logo towers over the room. On the opposite side, two storefronts have been carved out for concessions during games.

“We have all these little tournaments here, and no one knows where to stand or go or watch things, nobody has a place to hang out,” said Hahn. “Well now we have that. So that’s going to be a big benefit. In between games you’re going to have a place to hang out and talk with each other.”

Along with the new cafeteria, a new kitchen is being added, which will allow the school to convert the old kitchen into a space for cooking classes. The cafeteria also leads into a new gym, which is anything but a “small gym.” The room is more spacious and with ceilings tall enough that volleyball players won’t have to worry about how high their next shot will be.

“To have a brand new gym is going to be awesome,” said Meyer, who is also a volleyball coach for Cleveland. “We don’t have a lot of gym space here and we have to compromise and work together to develop schedules, so that will alleviate some of those problems.“

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Cleveland Gym

A new spacious gym is one of the core features of the Cleveland’s new building, allowing more space for players and more opportunities for coaches to coordinate schedules. (Photo courtesy of Cleveland Public Schools)

Philips said that he was hopeful the gym could be available at some point during the winter sports season, but it’s far from certain.

“We’re hopeful, we’re optimistic, but we’re not really counting on it, because we don’t know,” said Phillips. “We have to get full occupancy before we’re allowed to have events again. That means we have to have finished bathrooms, everything.”

Several new spaces have been added to allow Cleveland to expand their programming, including the makerspace, a hub for the school’s new STEAM lab that combines learning with creativity and play. Instructor Kim Germscheid will use the classroom to teach problem solving with all kinds of tools — from LEGOs to paints to games to even advanced technology. Outside the makerspace, passersby will be able to peer through circular windows to observe kids putting their creativity into action.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Equipment for woodworking and welding is being loaded into Cleveland’s new shop room, allowing the school to expand its hands-on offerings. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

A new shop room has been added to expand Cleveland’s technical offerings. New equipment for woodworking, welding and even plasma cutting is being loaded into the space on palettes.

With the larger shop room, teachers like Ag/Tech instructor Kelly Susa hope to implement new programming, including a “Shop for Girls” class, which aims to give female students the opportunity to learn woodworking and welding skills hands-on without the pressure of being one of the only girls in a male-dominated classroom.

“These classes are predominately male; they always are,” said Susa. “So we had the opportunity to have girls go in there and not feel like they’re being made fun of just because high school is kind of a wild time.”

Susa is also receiving her own Ag/Tech lab to teach her classes in, ranging from animal science to horticulture, food products and processing and natural resources. The 2020-21 school year is Susa’s first year at Cleveland and the first year the school has had an Ag/Tech program in decades.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Cleveland’s new makerspace will give kids the opportunity to practice their problem solving skills with various toys and technology. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Passersby will be able to view Cleveland’s makerspace through circular windows along the outside wall. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

But when she started the school year, Susa didn’t have a space of her own, since the Ag/Tech lab was still under construction. She moved between classrooms in the beginning, but when that wasn’t working, Susa moved her class to the nearby Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, where she’s been teaching ever since. But renting the space out has come with limitations, and Susa is excited to give students a full experience once she has a classroom of her own.

“What I promised right up to my animal science class was that we were going to hatch chicks,” said Susa. “I had an incubator and everything set up, but I didn’t really think that would bode well at the church, Sunday morning being interrupted by some cheeping.”

Some other features students can look forward to include a larger band room with sound paneling, a weight room, a new locker room and a new parking lot with student and event parking.

Coming soon?

While the expansion to Cleveland is extensive, there are even more features that could be introduced to campus in the upcoming years.

Plans are already in the works for the construction of a greenhouse after Susa was successfully approved for an $87,000 grant from the South Central Service Cooperative. The greenhouse would be overseen by Susa and students, managing climate control, irrigation, routine and minor maintenance. Students would decide which plants to grow, plant the seeds and run fall and spring plant sales.

Some of the produce would be used in Susa’s Food Products and Processing class, where students will prepare food using the school kitchen and ingredients from the greenhouse.

Philips said that the school still isn’t sure where they will place the greenhouse, but they are looking forward to it.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

A new kitchen is being installed at Cleveland Public Schools along with a new cafeteria. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

In addition, the school has plans to spend $168,000 to lift portions of the back parking lot, repave it and install new fencing to replace the damaged barrier. The new building also has an unused room next to the weight room, which could potentially be used for a new space if Cleveland needs to. The only issue is that it would cost the school more money to bring the room up to code, Philips said.

“Once everything is complete, it will be perfect. Then I can finally retire,” Philips said smiling.

Some things to consider before throwing all that salt down
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Winter is here, snow has fallen, temperatures dip and along comes nature’s slip and slide: ice.

To negate the dangers of ice, people have become accustomed to dumping salt and carefully walking (or rather, waddling) away as the salt works its magic. But after the ice melts, the water soluble chemical does not simply disappear. Instead the chloride sticks around, eventually washing into bodies of water and potentially throwing off the local environment’s biochemistry.

An estimated 365,000 tons of road salt is applied to the streets in just the Twin Cities metro alone each year, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. About 78% of salt applied within the Twin Cities for winter maintenance is either transferred into groundwater or local lakes and wetlands, according to a study by the University of Minnesota.

Keeping an eye out

While the MPCA says salty waters are becoming more of an issue in the state, Mike Schultz, the manager of the Le Sueur County Soil and Water Conservation District, said that salt intake isn’t a major concern for local watersheds right now, but Schultz warned that its still something to look out for.

“It is an underlying issue. We keep an eye on it, but most areas that are dealing with the road salt are metropolitan areas,” said Schultz. “Most of our information on road salt has come from the MPCA, in the fact that they’re finding some of these issues in some of our waters, so it’s starting to become a bigger issue.”

Schultz said that road salt has been a larger environmental issue in the metro area because of higher populations, leading more people to use and overuse the substance. Most of the Le Sueur County SWCD’s instruction on road salt has been absorbed through programs targeting neighboring counties, like Scott.

“We don’t have a lot of guidance in the rural part of the state on road salt applications, but there’s not a whole lot of tools out there that help reduce road collisions out there, so it’s a bit of a catch-22 between use for safety and environmental use,” said Schultz.

Road salt hasn’t had a large environmental impact in the Cannon River Watershed, said Kevin Strauss, the community engagement coordinator at the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, although there is one tributary that has more salt than Strauss said they would like to see in it.

Even so, consideration of environmental impacts is still important this winter, as concerns could later arise if neglected. The MPCA lists both the Straight River and the Cannon River as “not impaired” by chloride on its website.

With high flow volume, the salt is generally carried out of the community and to somewhere else. The Cannon River’s flow volume is three times what it was in 1911, according to Strauss. The Cannon River is flowing more now than it has in history, due in part to more rain due to climate change.

“Another part of it is that the ponds and wetlands that used to be here that would slow down and hang on to the water aren’t doing that anymore, we’ve gotten really efficient at draining water,” Strauss said.

Salt levels can be measured by how easily electricity moved through the water. The more salt there is in a body of water, the more easily electricity moves through that sample. Salty water can impair water by threatening aquatic wildlife and drinking water, although the change is a slow process.

Permanent impact

Once salt enters water, it becomes difficult to remove. It only takes a teaspoon of salt to permanently pollute five gallons of water, according to the MPCA.

“Once you start applying it and you get to levels that are higher, there’s just very few ways to remove that in your water sources,” said Schultz. “When you start pouring salt into a bucket and you mix it up and you just keep doing that over time, eventually the concentration goes up.”

Since salt is so difficult to remove from local water sources, today’s deposits can become tomorrow’s problems. Though watersheds like the Lower Minnesota River don’t see high salinity now, it remains a risk due to buildup over time said Schultz.

Two-thirds of Minnesotans rely on groundwater for drinking, according to the MPCA, but salt can contaminate those sources, impacting the water’s taste and health.

High concentrations of salt can be deadly to wildlife such as fish, aquatics bugs and amphibians. Plants absorbing salt water through their root system negatively impacts their health, altering plant community structure. Meanwhile, excess salt can prompt soil to lose its ability to retain moisture and nutrients, making the ground more susceptible to erosion, the MPCA said.

“That high salinity in that content is definitely going to impact your environment — your bugs, your fish to even your vegetation and grass and flowers. Because they’re all based on the nutrition in the soil and they all have their own separate tolerances,” said Schultz. “There can be unintended consequences like fish die off, certain species that are very intolerant to that higher salinity dose.’

If the negative environmental impacts didn’t cut it, salt also damages and erodes road surfaces, bridges and some metals, potentially raising costs for road repairs.

Understandably, people want to be safe out on the roads and walking around the neighborhood, and salt does help remove ice. But there are ways to prevent excess use of salt and alternatives to salting that should also be considered when determining how to get rid of the pesky ice.

Technically salt doesn’t melt ice, but rather lowers the freezing temperature of water, in effect impairing water molecules’ ability to form ice crystals. However, the salting technique stops melting ice when you get down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus when it’s below that temperature, it doesn’t matter how much salt you put down, it’s not going to melt, Strauss said. So before dumping more salt, check the temperature.

“You want to make sure that you’re only using salt when it’s going to work, so when it’s 15 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. And also, usually people over salt,” Strauss said.

Monitor use

The MPCA says to use less than four pounds of salt per 1,000 square feet, for reference the size of an average parking space is about 150 square feet. They also suggest purchasing a hand-held salt spreader to apply the salt consistently across the pavement. Sweep up excess salt on dry pavement, as the salt is no longer doing any work. Excess can be applied elsewhere or thrown away, the MPCA said.

One way to prevent ice buildup is to manually remove snow and ice early with shovels and ice scrapers. If you can remove snow before it melts and refreezes or before it gets compacted into ice, the better and thus the less salt you have to apply.

“Also making sure that your downspouts and storm drains coming off your house are not aimed toward pavement,” Strauss said. “That’s the thing that we recommend year round actually because that reduces stormwater runoff that goes down your driveway and right into the street and storm drains because it can pick up oil or other things from the street, as it’s flowing down and so it’s on average a lot better to aim your downspouts onto your lawn.”

Sand is an alternative when temperatures dip below 15 degree Faherenheit, because it improves grip on sidewalks and around driveways. While there are alternative products to salting that have less of an impact in terms of salinity, Strauss said these products are generally more expensive and prevention of ice build up is a better option.

While ice-melting salt contributes to the problem, Strauss also mentioned that water softeners are also contributing to the salty problem. Brine, water that contains salt, drains to local wastewater treatment plants, but these treatment plants aren’t designed to remove salt from the water before pumping it back out into lakes and tributaries.

“And many of us, you know, got a home with a water softener and whatever the setting was when we moved in here 12 years ago is still the setting today, which may or may not be the right setting,” Strauss said.

About 65% of the chloride going into wastewater facilities is coming from residential and commercial water softening, the MPCA said.

Convict Trump

Members of Indivisible St. Peter/North Mankato called for President Donald Trump to be tried and imprisoned for treason after the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Photo courtesy of Indivisible)