Planning for the future can be stressful for anyone, and for high-school students looking beyond graduation the idea of picking the right school and a good career can be daunting.

More and more schools are recognizing the importance of helping students prepare for that next part of their life journey, including the Redwood Area School District.

The school district has initiated and implemented various programs that provide students with a better understanding of those next steps, and educators are on staff to help guide them.

This year the school district has taken a different approach to that portion of education through a new collaborative effort with Redwood Area Chamber and Tourism.

The new initiative is intended not only to positively impact youth but the local business community as well. Anne Johnson, executive director for the Chamber, is teaching a career exploration class at the high school level that highlights area businesses and local career options.

Johnson, who has a degree in education and is returning to the classroom after a 19-year hiatus, said there is a growing concern in the community about youth and their futures, as well as the bigger issue for the community – its future workforce.

Johnson, who is starting her fourth week of teaching said she was a bit surprised about how little the juniors and seniors in the class knew about the business community, adding during the one class she teaches per school day it is now her mission to open their eyes to what is available for them right here in Redwood Falls and its surrounding area. 

“What I want to do is help students prepare for the next phase of their life,” said Johnson.

The class she is teaching goes beyond just asking the age-old question of what do I want to do when I grow up to include why it is valuable to consider the local community as part of that decision.

No, added Johnson, not every student who graduates will return to Redwood Falls, but helping them see there are good jobs in the community might convince many of them to come back to work, live and raise a family.

“I did not leave the Chamber,” said Johnson emphatically, adding this is just one more way she can help fulfill that role and have an impact on its future by helping each student who comes into her classroom prepare for their future.

The process that led Johnson to the classroom actually started a couple of years ago when she and a group of local business leaders met with the Redwood Area Board of Education to offer support and to talk about how the two groups could work together to help the community and its businesses continue to thrive.

“We need our youth to be more knowledgeable about careers in our local businesses in order for them to consider them,” said Johnson. “We’re not encouraging all of the students to never leave, but they won’t ever come back or consider the good jobs that are here if they don’t know they exist.”

For Johnson is it all about making the connection between those in business and local youth. While those connections are happening, Johnson believes it can be much better.

That, she added, means getting those business leaders in front of the students. So, as the class continues through the current semester and during the second semester class, Johnson will be inviting those business leaders into the classroom to talk with the students about their futures and how the local community can be part of that.

“I’m in the process now of contacting businesses to see how they’d like to be involved,” said Johnson, adding so far the response from the contacts she has made has been positive. “That reflects the great people who live here and their commitment to our youth. If your business wants to get involved, we want to hear from you. Tell me what you would like to do.”

Johnson said she tells the students on a regular basis that the opportunities are right in front of them. What they need to do is find a way to take advantage of them. There are currently 20 students in Johnson’s class who come from all walks of life.

“These are awesome kids,” Johnson said. “They are respectful, intelligent and very thoughtful.”

Johnson wants to help students find the connection between their skills and interests and the jobs they can do with them, but she also wants to help prepare them for the world that is waiting for them. That means even helping them grasp the little things, such as how to greet people and how to communicate face to face and in front of crowds.

“I want to help them feel comfortable in their own skin,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who taught English at the high-school level at Yellow Medicine East in Granite Falls, added she is also incorporating some of that knowledge into the lives of students as well.

“I just want to help get these kids ready for that first phase of life after high school,” she said.

Johnson is excited about the partnership that has been started between the school and the business community, and she is looking forward to seeing where it leads.

To contact Johnson about how to get involved send her an e-mail at annejohnson@redwoodareaschools.com, or call her at the Chamber at (507) 637-2828. Remember, if you don’t call her first, you can expect she will be calling you.