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Virtual or in-person, career exploration considered vital for 9th graders
  • Updated

“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 stay 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.”

Inclusive playground gets green light after COVID-19 pause

A project that has been more than three years in the making is scheduled to become a reality this summer after a seven-month hiatus due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, the We All Play Committee and Owatonna Parks and Recreation Department happily announced that construction on the inclusive playground will begin in April and the miracle field construction will begin in May, both in Manthey Park. Walkway and trail work is scheduled to begin in early June and the entire project is slated to be finished shortly after.

In 2017, local mothers Amanda Gislason and Missy Ahrens, who both have children with Down syndrome, began openly discussing that the Owatonna community is desperately missing an inclusive area allowing children of all abilities to play together. The two instantly began advocating for the construction of both a miracle field and an inclusive playground at Manthey, kicking off the fundraiser the community now knows as We All Play. To date, the committee has raised more than $1 million through grants, business collaborations, and individual donations from the community.

The project was originally scheduled to begin construction in August 2020, but, due to complications surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, was put on hold until further notice. Though the decision to postpone was both difficult and emotional, the mothers agreed that it was the right thing to do until it was safe for the community to come together again.

Gislason said the pandemic has shown the group even more how necessary the project is for the community.

“The past year has been a struggle for so many and especially for our kids with special needs,” Gislason said. “The opening of this playground will be the celebration we all deserve and need.”

Though the project was put on hold, donations for the playground and field continued to funnel in from the community. When it was first postponed, funds were sitting at roughly $850,000, with a total fundraising goal of $1.15 million. As of Thursday morning, Gislason said they were only $30,000 away from that goal which would enable them to have “everything we have dreamed of” at the playground.

“This project has been completely a work of heart,” Gislason said. “We have put our hearts and souls into making this a reality and while doing that we have seen our community come together and put their hearts and souls into this project as well.”

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.

Easter Bunny hops over to Medford in Saturday parade
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Easter candy will soon be abundant in Medford as a local nonprofit works to create some cheer during a rather bleak year.

The Medford Civic Club will be hosting its Easter Bunny Parade Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. The parade, which acts as a replacement for the club’s traditional Easter Egg Hunt, will follow a predetermined route. The Easter Bunny will ride on top of a fire truck and waving to parade attendees as the vehicle meanders through the streets.

“The Easter Bunny has found time in his busy schedule to swing by Medford,” said Erin Sammon, Civic Club organizer.

Sammon and other Civic Club members will follow behind the fire truck to toss out generous amounts of candy. She is looking forward to providing an opportunity for Medford residents to get out and celebrate after a dreary year. Parade visitors are asked to adhere to the six foot social distancing rule and be mindful of other people’s property. There will be plenty of opportunity and space for visitors to spread out to watch the Easter Bunny roll by, she said.

Saturday’s parade marks the second time the club has been forced to alter its annual Easter celebration because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a desire to host some sort of Easter event for the community and after the success of last year’s parade, club members decided to bring the parade back once more.

“Hopefully next year maybe we’ll be able to get back to the egg hunt if that’s what our group wants to do,” Sammon said.

In the meantime parents are just happy that their children get a chance to see the Easter Bunny, Sammon notes. She recalls the parade being an emotional experience last year, as reality dawned on her while she and her fellow Civic Club members drove around tossing out candy with masks and gloves on. At the time the pandemic was still new and the experience gave her a greater appreciation for her pre-pandemic experiences.

After this weekend’s event, the annual Straight River Days will be the club’s next big event. This year marks the 50th celebration of Straight River Days and while the club would have liked to host a giant celebration, that simply was not a possibility this year. The group will host a dialed back version of some of the events, specifically the more hands-on activities, according to Sammon. The celebration will be held June 17-19. More information along with event registration will eventually be posted on the website straightriverdays.com.

“Hopefully things will lighten up and the restrictions will lighten and we can just add some more stuff, but it’s kind of hard for us to plan for the unknown,” Sammon said about summer event.

Popular events like the car show, medallion hunt, Explore Medford contest, parade and concert will continue this year, according to Sammon. A virtual pageant will be conducted to crown Miss Medford.

Those interested in getting involved in the club or supporting the club’s activities financially can message Medford Civic Club on Facebook. Sammon also suggests the community can support the club by simply participating in club activities, adding that residents should keep their eyes open for updates as Straight River Days approaches.