Successful collaboration between Caledonia, Mabel-Canton, and Spring Grove high school students and business leaders in these communities is taking place this school year.
Spring Grove Assistant Superintendent Gina Meinertz explained the process for making this multi-school partnership come together. Meinertz had the vision for the project, wrote a Southeast Service Cooperative grant, and made the initial contacts with the schools and businesses. She was also responsible for collecting letters of support and meeting with the teachers last summer to discuss connections, challenges, success criteria, and syllabus. Teachers Karen Tisthammer (Spring Grove) and Paul Tollefsrud (Mabel-Canton) lead the program. The Caledonia students log in virtually. Meinertz continues to support the program and develop future contacts.
Sarah Ness, Program Manager, Southeast Service Cooperative (SSC), explained that the Future Ready CTE grant is a one-time legislative grant SSC received two years ago.
The purpose of the $420,000 grant is to “build capacity and build a skilled work for tomorrow’s workforce in career development,” according to Ness.
Funding was available to all schools in Southeast Minnesota. Schools proposed programs that would build capacity, address equity issues, and develop partnerships with community members to build sustainable communities. Applications were required to have a minimum of one partner; businesses, secondary, or post-secondary schools.
All 17 applicants received funds. “The collaborative of the three schools received a $34,000 Southeast Service Cooperative’s Future Ready CTE Cooperative Program Development grant,” announced Meinertz.
The state has extended the program one year because of COVID-19. At the end of the school year, schools will share their project with business partners, media, schools, and advisory committee members.
Two of the businesses/non-profit organizations the students worked with during the fall semester were the Spring Grove Chamber of Commerce and Gundersen Tweeten Care Center.
Stephanie Gulbranson, Spring Grove Chamber of Commerce president, summarizes the Chamber’s experience working with the students.
“The Spring Grove Area Chamber of Commerce was pleased to recently be involved in the Houston/Fillmore County CEO project. Supervised by Karen Tisthammer and Paul Tollefsrud, this was a great opportunity for the Chamber to utilize the student’s youthful insight and savvy computer skills.
“Members of the community had recently expressed the lack of public knowledge of local events and happenings since the Spring Grove Herald dissolved. This has been notably obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chamber decided that it was vital that we fill this void, especially for the aging seniors in the area that do not use the internet. However, for obvious reasons, this would have to be done at a smaller scale than the addition of a replacement newspaper. After discussion as a board, the idea of a newsletter for residents of Spring Grove was agreed upon. The only issue… who was going to create it? This is where the students of Houston and Fillmore County came into play, offering us the much-needed assistance. For three weeks, I worked remotely with the students to design a template for the newsletter. The students also created an updated business list for the Chamber and reached out to these businesses/non-profits for information regarding upcoming events. The initial release date of the ‘Norsk Beat’ has not been finalized, but the Chamber is optimistic that this free newsletter will be available in January or early in 2021. At this time, the distribution will be limited to the residents of the city of Spring Grove, but that may be extended to rural residents in the future. The newsletter will be included in the monthly utility bill from the City of Spring Grove. Though events/activities are listed, it is important that readers understand that with COVID-19 restrictions, these are certainly subject to change. With the Chamber of Commerce’s primary goal to strengthen and support our local businesses, we feel that this will be a great opportunity to promote their events during these challenging times. If your Spring Grove business has an event in 2021 that you would like included in the Norsk Beat, please email the information to email@example.com.”
Rob Van Craenenbroeck, Gundersen Tweeten Care Center stated, “Working with the students really energized me because of the depth of their research and their ability to extrapolate key data.” I asked a lot of questions and the students demonstrated a deep understanding of their work. I credit the teachers who are growing future leaders. Based on the information the students gathered, Gundersen Tweeten Care Center will be in a better position to market the attributes that make our care center unique. The data the students presented gave the care center the confidence to execute an awareness campaign to help the public better understand the array of cares we provide.”
High school students Emiley Osborne, a junior at Spring Grove Public School, and Sydney Hendel, a senior at Caledonia Area High School, described their experiences and shared what they learned.
“I worked on the newsletter for the Spring Grove Chamber of Commerce and helped Gundersen in Spring Grove create an ad to help attract more people. Working on the newsletter helped me learn about all the different types of businesses that are in Spring Grove and what they have to offer,” shared Emiley Osborne.
Sydney Hendel described the projects she worked on and what she learned. “We first worked with Gundersen Nursing Home in Spring Grove to create an ad that they could use to reach out to different age groups. We created several different Google Forms to collect data for them. We moved on to working with the Spring Grove Chamber, where we helped them make a newsletter for their town to keep everyone informed on what was going on in their community. Lastly, we worked with the Wired Rooster in Caledonia, where they challenged us to create our own business in our town. Brady and I created a recreation store that included bikes, kayaks, and snow gear. We used Google Forms to reach out to the community on what they feel Caledonia needed. I learned a lot about running a business and how many steps it takes to get our community involved. Ads are super important to get your brand out. With COVID-19, it makes it super difficult for everyone, especially small businesses! Businesses love to bring new things to the community and want to be involved with what we are doing!”
The hope is that the legislature will provide funding in the future to continue these school-business partnerships in Southeast Minnesota.