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Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Taylor Rogers, left, fist-bumps catcher Jason Castro after their victory over the Kansas City Royals on Sunday in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)


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Cruising in style - Gus’ Station Car Show sees big numbers after reschedule

OWATONNA — A two-week delay may have proven to be a best-case scenario, according to the president of the Gus’ Station Car Show committee.

Wade Westphal said that the car show has never had such a large turnout than it did on Saturday after the fifth annual car show experienced a rain delay last month. The fundraising event for the Gus’ Station located at the Steele County Historical Society’s Village of Yesteryear in Owatonna saw a total of 147 registered vehicles with an additional 20 unregistered vehicles that were eligible to win the People’s Choice award.

“It’s great to see everyone from their 70s to little kids come out,” Westphal said, noting that the crowd turnout was even greater than that of the cars. “These people put a lot of time into their passion, so it’s always good to see the community support.”

Westphal stated that it is no surprise to him that the car show continues to grow each year, especially when it comes to attendance from the public. Despite being heavily involved in the event for the last four years, Westphal admits that he himself does not own a vehicle that is entered into the show.

“It’s on the list to get someday,” Westphal laughed. “I just love being around the vehicles.”

Westphal added that he believes the car-loving community is universal and reaches beyond factors such as age or class, explaining why the show has continued to be a crowd pleaser for the kid in all of us.

Though the number of automobiles and vintage vehicle fans proved to be the silver-lining of the July event being rained out, Westphal admitted that he was worried that the postponement would have the opposite effect.

“I knew that some of our people with the specialty vehicles wouldn’t be able to make on the new day,” Westphal said in reference to some of the antique models and race cars. “I would definitely worried that we would lost people.”

Thankfully, Westphal’s worries were proven wrong as the area around the Steele County History Center remained bustling with activity throughout the morning. Open classes trophies were awarded to the top 15 vehicles voted on by participants and three were awarded best in show. The event concluded with a “Cruise to Hope” where the vehicles caravanned to Spurgy’s Bar and Grill in Hope for lunch.

All proceeds raised during the event go to the Gus’ Station restoration fund and the proposed addition of a recognized service bay to be located next door. Westphal said that a service bay has been in discussion for the Village of Yesteryear for a number of years and could predominately be used for storage purposes for items such as historical tools.


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Blooming Prairie Elementary adds new playground equipment in time for new school year

BLOOMING PRAIRIE — When students return to Blooming Prairie Elementary this fall, they’ll be able to enrich their recess time with new playground equipment, installed in June.

“We want all of our students to be active and healthy,” said Chris Staloch, who was the elementary principal for nearly a decade before taking over as superintendent July 1. “Lots of emotional and social learning takes place at recess.”

“We didn’t have a merry-go-round or swings before, and there are all sorts of things they can grab, climb, and move on” with the new equipment, Staloch said. “It’s a neat opportunity for our kids to have something new, exciting, and fun.”

Playground equipment is expensive — these items cost roughly $75,000 — but, fortunately, “we had lots of donations” to cover a preponderance of the costs, he said. The Blooming Prairie Education Foundation and the local Lion’s Club were major contributors, but even “families donated funds.”

“We felt it was a learning tool for kids, and that’s what we’re all about,” said Karen Fouarge, a longtime member of the BP Education Foundation board. “We want to give back to the kids of the district.”

The education foundation does “allocations twice a year,” typically in February and October, and individuals can make requests, Fouarge said. The allocation committee meets to decide if requests meet guidelines, and then goes to the education foundation board with recommendations.

“If it’s a good idea, and we have the funding, we’ll fund it,” she said. The playground equipment request followed the usual protocol, and “I really think it’s going to be a big hit with the kids this fall.”

“There are so many new things, like swings, and lots of slides,” she added. “It is pretty cool.”

In addition to monetary donations, roughly 25 volunteers devoted a couple of days in June to installing and setting up the equipment, Staloch said. “It was the perfect amount of people.”

Fouarge and her husband were among those volunteers, and “I was amazed” by the finished product, she said. “It’s nice community members can pitch in to help get it done.”

The installation this summer was the second part of a two-step process, as the school removed “a bunch of tar and put in green space,” Staloch said. That included a soccer field, and the additional green space helped spread out various games and activities so “kids aren’t all on top of each other.”

The green space and new equipment will “make a big difference with students,” he concluded. “Being healthy physically and emotionally are two important pieces to a playground.”


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OHS to implement REACH program this school year

OWATONNA — Following the successful implementation of REACH at Owatonna Middle School in 2018-2019, Owatonna High School is adding the program for its students in 2019-2020.

“It’s a really good program to connect kids with adults,” and having Matt Skala, a special education teacher at OHS, lead REACH while assisted by Katie Wanous, who moved over to OHS from her guidance counselor position at Wilson Elementary, is “a huge benefit,” said Mark Randall, who was the OHS principal when the school decided to add REACH. Both Skala and Wanous “connect well with kids.”

“I listen, I don’t judge, and I’m very honest,” said Skala. “I take a lot of pride in building relationships because I think relationships are everything.”

When OHS was considering adopting REACH, Skala “was the first person to come to mind,” Randall said. “He has a unique way of understanding students and taking them where they are.”

REACH — an acronym for Relationships, Education, Accountability, Character, and Hard work — was created for OMS students in need of additional support, and there are two sections of sixth graders, two of seventh graders, and two of eighth graders. It is an elective class, though middle school staff members will suggest to certain students it may be in their interest. Jess Hanson teaches REACH, and Carol Belmore is the REACH social worker.

Nearly 40 districts in Minnesota have adopted REACH programming, and Hollie Jeska, OHS assistant principal, toured Stewartville to learn about its long-standing REACH methods.

“Stewartville has an extensive booklet they gave us,” Jeska said. “They have data” from REACH dating back more than a decade.

The best advice received from Stewartville and Hutchinson was simply to “go with it and adjust,” Skala said. “We’ll have to stay patient, because we know it might take some time — some of these kids have struggled for years — but we know it’s going to make a difference.”

Schools utilizing REACH have seen not only academic growth among students in the program, but their needs outside of academics are also met, Jeska said. The students in REACH “need their person,” which REACH provides.

“I’m excited to build it into a family,” Skala said. “It only takes one meaningful relationship for a kid to feel valued and soar.”

REACH at OHS is funded in part by an Achievement and Integration Grant, and it will function “very similar to how it does” at OMS, Jeska said. Mondays will feature “weekend check-in” and goal-setting for the week, Tuesdays and Thursdays will offer character and skills building, Wednesdays will be devoted to team building, and Fridays will review the week and look-ahead to the weekend.

Though OHS “has been doing a lot of these things already, it wasn’t every single day,” Skala said. “Now, we’re having an actual class.”

OHS estimates 80-90 students in REACH this year, and each of them had a choice whether or not to take the course, Jeska said. Every student was approached by a staff member with a personalized invite, and they were allowed to decline.

OHS REACH will have two sections of freshmen, two of sophomores, and two of 11th and 12th graders combined, Jeska said. Students were selected for REACH bases on a number of factors, including Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and, eventually, students will likely be able to opt into REACH on their own, as they can in Stewartville.

“An ACE score is a tally of different types of abuse, neglect, and other hallmarks of a rough childhood,” according to NPR. “The rougher your childhood, the higher your score is likely to be and the higher your risk for later health problems,” from substance abuse to suicide.

Skala already knows most of the students who will be in REACH, and he and Wanous have met multiple times with the incoming freshmen who will be part of the program, he said. “We talked to every kid,” and, in the vast majority of cases, “it was a relief” for students to learn they’d now have REACH as a dedicated resource.

Rising freshman LaVant Shaw is among those students Skala already has a relationship with, and Shaw plans to remain in REACH this year after joining it last year as an OMS eighth grader. Shaw has already experienced success through REACH, qualifying for the honor roll at OMS and being named MVP at a REACH football camp operated by former Minnesota Viking Chad Greenway.

Randall was struck by how many students at OMS asked him about initiating REACH at OHS when he visited the former this year, he said. “Students were advocating for this program.”

In addition, “it was an inviting” atmosphere, he said. “You could just feel there was an immediate connection.”

“There is a major need” for REACH at OHS to “educate the whole student, tapping into their social-emotional needs,” Skala said. By attending to those concerns, “academic success will follow.”

Due to scheduling at OHS, REACH for juniors and seniors will be a longer class in duration each day than for freshmen and sophomores, Jeska said. That will allow expanded possibilities for the upperclassmen, such as visiting local businesses to learn about employment opportunities or colleges to further their education.

“It’ll be a little different with each grade, and we’ll have more real-world experiences with older groups,” Skala said. “It all depends on students, and students will drive (it).”

REACH has succeeded with so many students because it’s predicated on relationships, Jeska said. These students “can see somebody every day and work on building their skills.”

“Goal-setting and skill-building” will be primary in REACH, and “we’ll be looking to partner with the community often,” Skala said. “The community will be heavily involved—we’ve already had multiple organizations reach out — (including) Big Brothers Big Sisters.”

“We’ll be flexible and adjust” throughout the year based on “what is going on with students,” he added. “I’m excited” to create a place where students “feel welcome” all the time.