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Jon Weisbrod / By JON WEISBROD jweisbrod@owatonna.com 

Blooming Prairie senior Dylan Nirk capped his final year with the Westfield Razorbacks by climbing to fourth place at the Class A individual wrestling tournament last Friday and Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center. Nirk won 34 of his 41 matches during the 2019-20 season and spend most of the past three months ranked comfortably within the small school top five at 285 pounds. (Jon Weisbrod/People’s Press)

Wilson STEAM Night showcases staff training, encourages inquiry by students and families

OWATONNA — The hallways of Wilson Elementary were unusually crowded Monday night, with 60 students and their families visiting different classrooms and learning together through a series of STEAM-related activities.

This week’s STEAM Family Night was a first for Wilson, and built on training that a number of the school’s educators participated in through the University of Minnesota’s STEM Education Center last summer. An acronym for “science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” STEAM — or often just STEM — is a learning approach that tries to integrate these five concepts with a focus on student inquiry.

According to Tom Meagher, the district’s STEAM education coordinator, nearly 60 teachers from both Lincoln and Wilson elementary schools participated in last summer’s training, which was funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

“The university was able to provide free professional development for five days, including paying our teachers a stipend and providing resources for them to purchase STEM materials for their classrooms,” explained Meagher.

He added that the 20 teachers from both schools who weren’t able to attend last year are going to receive similar training this summer. According to Meagher, educators at McKinley and Washington elementary schools had previously gone through similar development — meaning that, as of next September, every elementary and middle school teacher in the district will be trained in STEM.

On an annual basis, Meagher added that the district applies for and receives almost $50,000 in grants to cover STEAM opportunities for both students and staff.

Kacie Clauson, a teaching and learning coach at Wilson, was one of the educators who had the opportunity to go through the workshop this past summer. Part of the requirement of the course, she explained, was for participants to find a way to come back and implement what they’d learned in their classroom. For Clauson, this directive turned into helping organize Monday night’s event for the broader Wilson community.

“It’s one of those ways to bring families together and get them to look at how the students now are learning. When we went to school, things were a little bit different,” she explained.

With activities ranging from Lego challenges to programmable robots, she added that it was fun watching children teach their parents about some of the stations.

Meagher added that every activity available Monday night was also something Wilson students would be doing during the school day, as educators have been working since the summer on STEAM lessons that they designed in part during their work with the university.

“STEM Center graduate students and professors come here, observe the teachers and help them with their lesson designs,” he added. “It helps them to innovate their teaching, and the family nights are a way to let the community and parents see the different things we do.”

In designing the evening, Meagher noted that it was important to staff to have activities spread across the building — getting families to see the entire space and communicating symbolically that these activities are happening across grade levels and throughout the school.

For many of the activities, Clauson noted that families may already have the materials to replicate them at home. At one station, students tried to build a tower out of spaghetti and tape. At another, they spun a wheel and had to create the corresponding shape or structure out of Lego building blocks.

There were also more specialized programming opportunities. Meagher had an area set up with miniature robots that moved randomly, and participants were given paper clips and other materials to try to manually control the machines’ paths.

In a neighboring space, students and their families experimented with Sphero educational robots, which Meagher described as looking similar to BB-8 in “Star Wars.” A futuristic-looking ball, it could either be remote-controlled or programmed with code to move in a specific way.

When arriving, participants received raffle tickets that were then used to award door prizes throughout the night. According to Clauson, these items were all STEAM-related activity kits that the students would be able to use at home with their families.

Going forward, Clauson added that the school hopes to make this an annual event for its community. As far as next steps in the district, Meagher said that as all elementary and middle school teachers will have completed STEM training by next fall, it will be time to focus on the secondary level.

“We have to figure out our new high school program and how all of this will fit together,” he explained, “because now all of these kids are coming up with a way of learning that is scientific, that uses technological and engineering solutions.”

For her, Clauson added that STEM and STEAM learning are ways to teach students to experiment, and to get comfortable with the idea of trying something new and making mistakes.

“One of the things I walked away with from the training was that this process allows students to use both sides of their brain,” said Clauson. “They’re taught how to create, how to experiment and ask questions … it allows for many wrong answers and really taking the time to make changes and improve.”

Guiding his family eagerly down the hallway Monday night, one student explained that he wanted to be sure and make it the origami room.

“I’m bad at it,” he said, “but I want to learn.”

Four nominated for Women of Achievement award

OWATONNA — Four local women have been nominated and one woman will be chosen to be this year’s Woman of Achievement.

The honor, bestowed every year by the Owatonna Business Women’s Organization, will be announced Friday, March 13, at the 48th Woman of Achievement Annual Scholarship Fundraiser.

The four nominees for the 2020 Woman of Achievement are Kristin Haberman, Barb Heerema, Lisa Hyland, and Lisa Kern.


Haberman is an attorney-at-law and owner of Einhaus, Mattison, Carver & Haberman, P.A. and is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations and staff as well as providing clients with legal services focusing primarily on real estate matters and estate planning. She is a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association, Steele County Bar Association formerly serving as the president, the Owatonna Chamber of Commerce, and a graduate of Leadership Owatonna. Haberman is a member of the Owatonna Business Woman and chaired the Woman of the Achievement event from 2006-2008 and 2016-2019. She has served on committees for the St. Mary’s School Night of Knights, North Bluff Estates Neighborhood Block Party, and the Healthy Seniors of Owatonna. Haberman has been featured in Forge magazine and received the Exchange Club of Owatonna Book of Golden Deeds award. Haberman was nominated because she “not only exemplifies the attributes” of a woman of achievement but “runs marathons around them.” The person who nominated her continued on that Haberman is a “woman of character, service, and fellowship.”


Heerema is the co-owner and CFO of Owatonna Granite and Monument and is responsible for the financial oversight of the business, office management, and back-up sales support. She is a Koda Foundation Board Member, an Owatonna Chamber of Commerce Ambassador and previously held the president’s position for four of her 10 years on the Steele County Clothesline Board of Directors. Heerema has volunteered on committees for numerous fundraising events including the Doherty Staffing Annual golf tournament that raised funds for scholarships and she competed with her husband in Dancing with the Steele County Stars to raise money for the Steele County Health Seniors. She was recognized as Owatonna Chamber of Commerce Ambassador of the Year in 2017. Heerema was nominated because of her success as a business owner and for her contributions to the community. She was described as “one of the best promoters of our community and businesses in our community… her warm heart and compassion for others is an asset to our community.”


Hyland is the senior vice president–director of human resources at Federated Insurance and has been employed there for 25 years, holding several roles primarily focused on employee relations and leading teams. Prior to Federated, she got her start at Brown Printing where she focused on recruiting and general HR supervision. Hyland is a member of the Society of Human Resource Management and Minnesota State University – Mankato College of Business Advisory Council. She is active as a Big Sister in Big Brothers Big Sisters and for the past 15 years, Hyland has volunteered to prepare and serve weekly meals for approximately 150 community members through Bethel Church Community Supper. Professionally, she has helped to launch leadership development programs for women in Lean In Circles. Hyland was nominated by a colleague because she is “a champion of women within the company the community” who helps women reach their full potential. The nomination continued on to say that Hyland is “accomplished in her career and gives back to her community.”


Kern is the executive director for Koda Living Community where she is responsible for the overall management of the living facility including providing quality care and a high level of customer satisfaction. She is also a co-owner of her family’s dairy farm, Kerncrest Holsteins, and manages the farm accounting and assists with the overall management of the operation. Kern has been active in the Owatonna Business Women, the Minnesota Nursing Home Social Workers Association, the Care Providers of Minnesota, and her church sacred Heart. She serves free community meals through the St. Vincent de Paul Society and has hosted MN Senators and House Representatives at Koda Living Community. Kern and her husband were recipients of the Steele County Farm Family of the Year in 2018. Kern was nominated because her success is her career was an inspiration to other Owatonna Business Women’s scholarship winners demonstrating what is possible to achieve. After receiving the scholarship, she pursued an education that lead to her promotion this past year.

The Woman of Achievement award has been given out since 1972 as a way to honor business and professional women living and working in Steele County who have distinguished themselves in their careers and communities. A panel of out-of-town judges chooses the final recipient based off the criteria that includes a successful achievement in their chosen career, assistance to others within their chosen career or assistance to youth and young careerists, volunteer effort in service or professional organizations, civic engagement, and other leadership roles within the community.

During the fundraiser next month, OBW will also be recognizing women for the Young Careerist award and a Lifetime Achievement award. This year’s Young Careerist award will go to Andi Arnold, the project coordinator for the Steele County Safe and Drug Free Coalition. The Lifetime Achievement award will be given to Julianna Skluzacek, founder and artistic director of the Merlin Players.

In this Oct. 31, 2018, photo, hogs feed in a pen in a concentrated animal feeding operation in Lawler, Iowa. Southern Minnesota hog and crop farmers are now dealing with falling commodity prices due to fears over the coronavirus. (AP)

Career and technical education emerges as focus for BP schools

BLOOMING PRAIRIE — Following an information-gathering process that started back in the fall, the Blooming Prairie Public School Board approved a new set of goals for the district at its February meeting according to Superintendent Chris Staloch.

The five objectives and an amended vision were decided upon by a strategic planning committee, which consisted of students, staff and community members. The group came together for the first time in mid-December, with the goal of sifting through more than 250 surveys that Staloch had distributed throughout the school and town toward the beginning of the school year.

At a series of meetings ending in mid-January, the planning team read over each questionnaire, taking notes and eventually consolidating the data into key themes and ideas. These ultimately turned into the new vision for the district, which is to “provide a safe and positive environment where all children can learn and grow academically, socially and emotionally,” according to Staloch.

The accompanying goals are to promote lifelong learning and a global outlook, provide advanced educational opportunities across disciplines, attract and retain staff, sustain a competitive edge with technological advances and space expansion, and foster community-oriented leaders.

Following the board’s approval, Staloch said he and other district administrators are now focused on creating action plans for those goals, which they’re hoping to roll out heading into the beginning of the next school year.

At one of the first planning committee meetings, Staloch noted that he wanted to undertake this process since he is still relatively new to the position of superintendent. Before taking over this summer, he spent eight years as the elementary school principal.

Now that the goals have been set, he explained that the leadership team will continue to meet every couple of weeks, and that the board will also continue to be involved through committee meetings. Additionally, Staloch said the district has begun working with some of the local businesses to help plan new curricular goals.

“One of the things we’re really looking to do is enhance some of our career and technical education classes — what we offer our students in some of those areas like industrial technology or early childhood development,” said Staloch, of one of the main focuses coming out of the survey process. “For quite some time, we’ve been pushing four-year colleges, and we know we need quality people in the trades as well. I think we’re revisiting what we need to do in order to reach all students in all areas.”

While career and technical education was a focus Staloch singled out at this point, he noted that it’s still very early on in the planning process.

“I think we’re looking at everything,” he noted. “We want to do what’s best for our students and what’s best for our kids, but we also have to make sure we’re aware of our budget. We have to balance some of that, but I think we also have to look at all of it.”

After first presenting the committee’s findings to the board in January, Staloch also noted that physical capacity will likely need to be addressed at some point in the near future due to growing enrollment.

He added that a recent vote to postpone a shared facility through the Zumbro Education District, which provides on-site educational programming for students needing specialized services, didn’t have much bearing on the district’s direction with these concerns. After six member school districts, including Blooming Prairie, voted to approve the new facility project this fall, the Pine Island Public School Board voted against it last month, having other localized projects on the docket.

Patrick Gordon, ZED’s executive director, noted that a new shared building for these on-site programs may still become a reality in the future, but that he is working with all member districts to revisit plans and timing.