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Staff at St. Olaf’s Piper Center for Vocation and Career greet students via the video-conferencing platform Zoom. According to Senior Associate Director Kirsten Cahoon, her team has been working with employers to try and find ways to make internships remote and project-based, as similar opportunities become more challenging to find due to COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of St. Olaf College)

Miller hired as new Waseca Junior Senior High School Principal

Waseca Public School Board named WJSHS Assistant Principal Jason Miller as the new principal.

Miller is taking over the position from Jeanne Swanson, who is retiring after 20 years as principal. Miller has been the assistant principal at the WJSHS for five years.

“Many times, I have told people that my role as assistant principal is the hardest job I have ever loved,” Miller said. “For me, the most significant asset of my time in Waseca has been the relationships I have developed. From the students, parents and community to the amazing, dedicated staff at Waseca Junior and Senior High School, I have found the place where I belong and it seemed like the natural next step in my career.”

Prior to coming to Waseca to work at the school he was a secondary English teacher and instructional coach for 20 years in Mankato.

“Dr. Miller is a man of integrity and models it for staff and students alike,” Swanson said. “The opportunities I have had to witness his leadership have only increased my respect for him over the past five years. His dedication to our students and his passion for being a Waseca Bluejay make him a great fit for this position. I am so pleased for him and for our school community to have him fill the role of Waseca Junior and Senior High School Principal.”

Since joining the Waseca team as the WJSHS assistant principal he has contributed immensely.

Some of the things he has been involved at the school include partnering in advising the student council, promoting a school community based on relationships and mutual trust, coordinating emergency procedures and scheduled safety drills, monitoring students on a daily basis, collaborating with parents and staff regarding the academic progress and behavioral concerns of students and numerous other responsibilities and involvements.

Outside of the WJSHS he is a member of the Minnesota State High School League on the Region 2AA committee. Through this he participates in promoting and managing the Region 2AA program of activities for youth in athletics, speech, music and dramatics on a competitive basis. This committee works to pick the Region 2AA “Triple A” award winner and something Miller has been a part of since 2017.

He is also part of the Waseca Exchange Club. Miller assisted in the coordination of the students of the month and year as well as the ACE Award programs.

“I am excited to continue the work we are already doing,” Miller said. “We have been on a journey of determining what a personalized approach to learning would look like for our students. The recent months have accelerated our learning for sure, and the incredible work our staff has invested will provide us with a lot of great informational data for our movement forward.”

County 4-H groups find innovative ways to provide programs to kids

The mission of 4-H is to develop citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills in youth through experiential learning programs and a positive approach, tapping into the organizations’ original motto of “head, heart, hands, and health.”

With COVID-19, no part of that goal has changed — though the way the program coordinators are making it happen has.

“There are a lot of kids out there with that void for the summer, a lot has been canceled or changed in their world,” said Tracy Ignaszewski, the program coordinator for the Steele County 4-H. “We starting talking and thinking as an area, maybe there are other things and ways that we can still connect.”

Working in collaboration with the 4-H groups in Waseca, Rice and Freeborn counties, virtual programs have started popping up in the area to continue to serve 4-H students and promote the organizations values and goals. Taking the same approach as many companies, municipal boards, and civic groups, the 4-H crew has resorted to Zoom conference calls as a way to connect with area children.

“I’m not sure if I was inspired by something or if it just kind of came to me,” said Amy Nelson, the program coordinator for the Waseca County 4-H, who started a virtual supper club for the local 4-H kids. “Some of the challenges for our youth is that they may not have access to supplies, and when we are face-to-face we can solve that by bringing our tote of stuff with them. But, everyone needs to eat, and families are at home – so it seemed like a no-brainer to work on some cooking skills that will be lifelong.”

For the last couple of weeks, Nelson has logged on to Zoom to walk through the process of cooking a meal from the very beginning to the end.

She said that registered participants are given the recipe and ingredients list a few days prior to the meeting so that they can be prepared for the virtual cooking session.

“Of course being face-to-face would be more fun, but this has been really fun,” Nelson said. “They are still able to ask questions, when we are chopping vegetables we tilt our screens down so we can see what each other are doing, and we can still interact with one another while teaching some new skills.”

Nelson said that she has been receiving feedback from her Supper Club participants on what they thought of the activity and how their families enjoyed the meals they prepared.

She added that seeing parents post on social media about their child’s accomplishment is always fun and gratifying as well.

The Supper Club in Waseca County has been going over so well that Ignaszewski is adapting the program for Steele County 4-H kids, as well as any area child who would like to participate. While the meals are cooking, the group will hear from featured speakers or learn a different lesson related to culinary arts, nutrition, or even budgeting.

“These are the type of things we can easily open up to our neighboring counties,” Ignaszewski said. “If we have to do a Zoom call for 40 kids, why not do it for 60 and be able to all do it together. With that kind of outreach we will be able to serve more kids.”

Ignaszewski said the Steele County 4-H group has already utilized Zoom for other programs with the kids, including a Super Science Saturday that took place at the end of April. That weekend, 45 kids from Steele County received a science kit in the mail and signed on to the video chat platform to do a lesson together.


In Rice County, 4-H Program Coordinator Kelly Chadwick said they kicked off their virtual programs by providing an interactive 30-day challenge via social media. Chadwick said that the challenge promoted kids interaction with their families and finding different things to do.

“We’re always looking for new challenges to put out there and keep the kids busy trying different things,” Chadwick said. “It’s tough for us to not be in person working with the kids, it’s a huge part of our job, but a lot of good things are already out there so we don’t have to recreate the wheel as we provide different opportunities for our kids.”

Chadwick agrees that it’s hard not to be able to continue to connect in-person with the kids she serves, it has been amazing to see how the organizations are able to be innovative while staying true to the 4-H mission.

“This all just speaks to what 4-H is all about,” Chadwick said. “It’s just ringing true to what our organization believes in, we’re just doing it a bit differently now.”

One thing that the 4-H groups have always provided that they are determined to continue is the annual 4-H camp. While they won’t be having an in-person camp, Ignaszewski said that they are gearing up to provide a virtual camp from June 15-17.

“Camp will still happen,” said an excited Ignaszewski. “We have 15 counselors who are putting together lessons and will be sending out videos, connecting on Zoom, providing virtual campfires with singing, and even sending out videos of them beating on some pots and pans to wake up the campers and get them out of bed in the morning.”

With the programming taking on such a different look virtually, Nelson admitted that it was intimidating at first, but that it’s evolved into something fun and potentially permanent in some areas of the 4-H world.

“It has been interesting to see how this has shaped our programming,” Nelson said. “I don’t think a lot of people considered doing our work this way, but there is a lot we can do know when we can’t get together because of schedules.”

Ignaszewski agreed that the silver-lining of being apart has shown what the future of 4-H could look like.

“This forced us to look at and do things differently,” Ignaszewski said. “But some of these things might really work, and hopefully some of this stuff will stick when we look at next year.”

Waseca captains Ryan Dufault, Kyreese Willingham and Andrew Morgan hold up the 2AA south subsection championship trophy. The trio have all gotten looks to play in college but the recruiting process has shifted due to COVID-19. (Nick Gerhardt/Waseca County News)

Itron has confirmed case of COVID-19

Itron in Waseca has a confirmed case of COVID-19.

To ensure the safety of the employees Itron is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Minnesota Department of Health recommendations.

As of Monday, May 11 Waseca County has a total of 16 confirmed cases, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

“The health and safety of our employees is our top priority,” Alison Mallahan from Itron Corporate Communications said in an email. “Itron has already taken steps to protect the plant, and we are following medical protocols from national and state health authorities, including social interactions, hygiene, deep cleaning and screening measures. Specifically, we have instituted safety trainings, established additional cleanings per shift, made sanitizer readily available within our facilities and provided appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to manufacturing employees.”

Itron is considered an essential service since it provides critical infrastructure solutions.

Mallahan said in the email that the continued operation of Itron’s facilities, supply chain and contract manufacturers are critical to enabling Itron’s utility customers to reliably deliver energy and water during and after this pandemic.

In response to increasing financial strain on child care providers, the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation awarded nearly $255,000 earlier this month to both home-based settings and centers across the region. While some are needing to bolster their capacity for distance learning or increased participation, others are seeing a sharp drop in enrollment as families face pandemic-related unemployment or underemployment. (Photo courtesy of Red Bird Hills Photography)