The Owatonna Foundation Building at the Steele County Fairgrounds was filled with excitement as families and friends waited to see Owatonna Alternative Learning Center students walk across the stage to receive their diploma.
The short ceremony started with a review of the 2020-21 school year by ALC Principal Brenton Shavers, highlighting students’ hard work and their resilience, especially given the pandemic. He went on to praise the students for keeping their eyes on the end goal of making it to graduation.
“There were tearful moments, both of happiness and frustration from both our staff and students. And now look at you, you are here, sitting, ready to graduate,” Shavers said to the crowd of soon-to-be graduates.
Shavers went on to acknowledge staff members for their efforts in building relationships with students and encouraged students to maintain those relationships after graduation.
Math teacher Raymond Ostfeld then spoke about students’ ability to navigate change. He recognized that students had to endure a lot this year, from the various learning models to the digital curriculum. He encouraged students to embrace the “new normal” and this academic year’s pandemic-induced changes as students go on to live out their lives.
“My challenge to graduates here is please embrace what is good and do your best to get really good at it, whatever technology you start to use, get really good at and incorporate wherever you need to do, and discard what’s not good,” Ostfeld said. “You don’t have to do it all, just do what works best for you and make it your new normal and you’ll be successful at whatever you do.”
He closed by wishing students good luck with their future and said they would be missed by the ALC staff.
On behalf of the Early Edition Rotary, Shane Sattler announced graduate Devon Porter as the winner of this year’s $500 scholarship. Porter’s application essay included information about his volunteer work and his goal of becoming a peace officer. Porter was also one of two seniors who spoke at the afternoon commencement.
Porter briefly shared his experience at the ALC. He recalled the lack of motivation he had when he first started high school in Mankato, eventually transferring to Owatonna High School his sophomore year. School felt pointless, he began hanging out with “the wrong crowd” and struggled to discover what he wanted to do with his life. It wasn’t until his parents enrolled him at the ALC in hopes of motivating him to focus on school and graduate, he said while wearing his gown and cap. Porter will be going to Riverland Community College to pursue a police officer certification.
Porter went on to thank his teachers for building meaningful relationships with students and for their efforts to get to know him as a person. They took the time to get to know his interests, strengths and struggles.
“Through those relationships they tricked me into learning things that I thought were boring and had no meaning for. I am not the only one that feels this way, without them none of us would be here today, moments away from getting our diplomas and being a 2021 graduate of Owatonna Public Schools. It may have taken us a little longer, but nobody at the ALC gave up on us.”
Lorraine Huerta stepped up to the microphone next, sharing her own experience at the ALC. She began by thanking her friends, family and ALC staff through the challenge years.
Huerta came to the ALC in ninth grade hoping for a better education experience. As a young parent she had missed out on some school in order to take care of her son. It was a challenge to be both a parent and a high school student. Despite the occasional tears and the feeling of being overwhelmed, she still came to school with a “backpack full of good encouragement from others.”
“Now I stand here today as a single mom of two with a permit, a place of my own, a car and now a physical diploma,” Huerta said through tears before applause erupted from the audience.
She is looking forward to what the future holds for her and her children and concluded her speech by thanking the people who supported her through the years.
Graduates were individually invited up on stage to receive their diploma and shake the hand of school officials and school board members. Multiple ALC staff members stood just off stage waiting to hug students and shake their hands.
“We all mean it when we say we truly love you. You are a part of our family, and please come back and visit us,” Shavers said.
After taking a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Spay Neuter Assistance Program – known as MN SNAP – mobile vet clinic is set to hit the road again beginning in July, with one of its first stops being Owatonna.
The first of three low-income spay/neuter clinics provided by MN SNAP and the Steele County Humane Society will take place on July 10. SCHS Board Member Liane Peterson said due to the overwhelming popularity of the clinics in years past, MN SNAP has agreed to come back to the area multiple times to provide their services.
“I hate to say this, but we have had to turn animals away in the past because we can only take so many in one day,” Peterson said. “We are very fortunate to be able to get MN SNAP to come down in July, October and November.”
The clinic provided by MN SNAP is specifically targeted at those who are restricted by their financial situation. Peterson said participants must qualify and provide proof of low income or federal assistance. The services provided by the clinics are then at a lower rate than they would be at a typical veterinarian practice or animal hospital.
Aside from the spay and neuter program, MN SNAP will also be providing necessary vaccinations for cats and dogs as well as microchipping the pets at a reduced rate of only $20. Peterson said people would be alarmed to learn how many lost pets are reunited with their owners solely because they were microchipped.
“It is a great service that they are providing,” Peterson said.
Peterson said the mission of MN SNAP is to help end the suffering and death of animals due to overpopulation, an issue that occurs in Steele County. Currently in the middle of what Peterson calls “kitten season,” volunteers with the humane society are seeing an overabundance of kittens this year with no one to care for them. Ultimately, these kittens will grow into adult cats and then produce more kittens that are also without a home and proper care.
“It is just better for the animal,” Peterson said about getting pets spayed or neutered. “If you have outside animals or animals that go inside-outside, this option is better when looking at the overpopulation we have. It’s just nice to have them fixed because we already have so many stray animals out there.”
Helping with the overpopulation of stray or feral cats and dogs in Steele County is crucial, Peterson said, specifically because the humane society is still a strictly foster-home service for the pets they take in and try to adopt out. The overpopulation is on the verge of overwhelming the volunteers, though hopefully not for too long.
“We are still fundraising for our new shelter – it’s like everybody that had to put everything on hold during COVID – we had several things lined up including a shelter campaign kickoff that we had to postpone,” Peterson said. “We are now looking at setting up that kickoff, but we are hopeful that if all goes well we will see some digging start next spring.”
The SCHS has already purchased the land next to the dog park in Owatonna as their future shelter site.