Skip to main content
A1 A1
District partners with OFD to offer new high school class

Firefighters are in high demand across the United States, including here in Owatonna. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating the demand for firefighters growing by more than 7% in the next few years, the Owatonna Fire Department has been brainstorming ways to bring in more firefighters.

Ryan Seykora, OFD firefighter has been wanting to partner with the school district for quite some time. During Monday’s School Board meeting, it was announced a firefighter course will be introduced for the first time as an elective course to Owatonna High School students.

Emily Kahnke / By EMILY KAHNKE 

Owatonna Firefighter Ryan Seykora is excited for the opportunity to partner with the Owatonna School District to offer a firefighter course for the first time next year at the high school. The idea, Seykora said, is the course will also act as a recruitment tool to funnel graduates into potential jobs at the local fire department. (Emily Kahnke/

“It’s a good thing to get the class to fruition,” Seykora said. “It fell in line with Career Pathways and what they’re trying to do with students. The idea is to mirror the nursing program as far as recruitment for students.”

The Rochester Fire Department started a similar program a few years ago in partnership with Riverland Community College which includes not only Rochester schools, but Byron, Stewartville and more.

Being this will be the first year a class like this is offered in Owatonna, Seykora said he would like to expand the offering throughout the county.

“The goal is to keep it in Owatonna, but also open it up countywide based on enrollment,” Seykora said. “If we could expand, it would be great to be able to help out other communities to identify potential candidates and build awareness.”

Director of Teaching and Learning Michelle Krell said she is excited to be able to partner with the fire department to offer this course to students next year.

“Students will be in a hybrid model for the course,” she said. “So there will be online coursework and then weekend drills for hands-on activities and learning. Hopefully, when students complete both semesters of the course they will be able to take the firefighter exam and then become licenses firefighters to help our community and neighboring communities.”

Those who sign up for the class will be assigned a certain class period throughout their day where a teacher at the high school will ensure the student is present and participating in the assigned online coursework throughout the week. The students will then participate in mandatory classes on weekends.

Emily Kahnke / By EMILY KAHNKE 

The Owatonna Fire Department is hoping to inspire high school students to pursue a career in the fire service by partnering with the Owatonna School District to offer two firefighter courses next year, which can fast track students on to their career. (Emily Kahnke/

“The coursework is really just a textbook and then online quizzes and activities,” Krell said. “If a student completes all of the online work before the weekend, they can then basically have a free period during the time they’d be in the class. They will have to complete all the course work before the weekend drills and all of the drills are mandatory that they participate.”

She said this is one of the many ways students have the opportunity to learn the importance of giving back to their community.

“I think this will be a good way to fill the void and continue to ensure the safety of our community,” Krell said. “We always want to continue to teach students the importance of giving back, and what better way to give back as a public servant ensuring the safety of everyone as a firefighter.”

Students who elect to take the course will start with “Fire 1” which will include the basics that all prospective firefighters need to be trained on Seykora said.

“Fire 1 will teach students how fire behaves,” he said. “They’ll also learn how to tie ropes and knots, the basics of search and rescue, ventilation and all of the other baseline requirements the job entails.”

The second semester course, “Fire 2” will take a more in-depth look at the subjects covered in the previous course and look into new subjects such as managing the scene of a fire, advanced techniques for fire suppression and more.

Seykora recalled knowing he wanted to be a firefighter as early as high school, but because a course like this wasn’t offered, he wasn’t sure how to go about pursuing the career.

“I’m really excited to work with the high school because it’ll engage with a different demographic,” Seykora said. “Something like this has never been offered to high school kids before and I think this will give them a road map for how they can pursue a career as a firefighter while they’re still in high school so its a win-win for them and us.”

He said ideally the department would like to add seven new firefighters and the class will allow for a maximum of 24 students each semester.

“Even if a kid takes Fire 1 and elects not to take Fire 2, I still think that’s a positive thing,” Seykora said. “Firefighting isn’t a job for everyone and I think they can have the opportunity to get a taste for the job and if it’s not right for them they can continue on their career journey, but for those that really do find a passion for it, this will give them the right pathway to get ahead and they can take the exam after completing the two courses once they’re 18.”

The firefighter course is just one of eight new classes that will be offered at the Owatonna High School in the fall.

St. Mary's welcomes community for Sunday open house

St. Mary’s School is preparing to celebrate 30 years of preschool and the beginning of Catholic Schools Week with their annual open house event this weekend.

After reading “The 3 Little Pigs,” kindergarten students at St. Mary’s participated in a wind experiment to see if objects would blow away. (Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s School)

Principal Jen Swanson said the last couple of years for the event looked a little different than past years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she and the staff are more than excited to bring the open house back in person for the first time since 2020.

“We’re really excited to welcome families back into the school for this event,” she said. “We’ll have special programs for preschool age children and then activities and stations in the gym for the other grade levels.”

Sunday’s activities will begin with a pancake breakfast at 8 a.m., and the open house, where families will be able to meet teachers and learn more about what the school has to offer, will begin shortly after. Swanson said at 10 a.m., current students will also lead a mass/

“The teachers will have activities and boards set up with the different activities we have that might be unique to St. Mary’s,” Swanson said. “There’s plenty of information about who we are but also if a family is interested, this is a great way to see what is unique about our school and what makes us special.”

She said because of the relatively small size of the school, they are able to do different activities that might not be offered at other schools, and their partnerships with other local organizations allows students to get unique experiences in volunteering and more.

“We have a group of students who volunteer at Community Pathways,” Swanson explained. “The kids get to choose what they’d like to do for learning lab times which is one of the unique things about who we are.”

Students at St. Mary’s School participate in several enrichment activities throughout the year. Parents and families are invited to the school Sunday for an open house event to learn more about what makes the school unique and special in the community. (Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s school)

Teachers are often what makes a school experience special for students, and many teachers have started their career in education at St. Mary’s and continue their career in the school for years. One teacher spoke about how exciting it is to see some of her former students come back as parents when enrolling their children.

“St. Mary’s is a great community and we do great things,” Swanson said. “They’re such great teachers and have been trained well and we stay current on new research and implement new things in the classroom and we are a Catholic school so we have the religious component to live in faith and lead students by example with how we interact not only in school, but with the community and working towards being good citizens and good christians.”

Jonathan Scheeler, marketing and enrollment manager for the school, said he is gearing up to have one of his children enter preschool and his other children are already students.

“We do the open house every year to welcome parents in to learn more about us and the following week is full of activities for current students to celebrate Catholic Schools week,” he said.

Some of the activities throughout the week include Bingo, field trips, art projects, Mass, talent shows and they plan to close out the week with a carnival.

“The kids really get into the spirit and have a lot of fun throughout the week,” Swanson said. “We have a lot to offer here at St Mary’s and we’re just really looking forward to sharing that with parents and families this weekend.”