Sitting around the tables at the Redwood Area Board Education meeting March 25, Rick Ellingworth, Redwood Area School District (RASD) superintendent, referred to a picture hanging up in his office that was taken May 24, 2018. That photo is of the groundbreaking for the Estebo Career Development and Training Center.
A lot has happened in the months since then, said Ellingworth, and if things go according to plan what has happened so far would merely be the tip of the iceberg.
Ellingworth, Darcy Josephson, RASD director of teaching and learning, Ally Carlson, school counselor, and Rick Jorgenson, Redwood Valley High School principal, talked about what has taken place in the months since the facility opened in January.
That includes conversations which have happened with Minnesota West Community and Technical College, as well as other area school districts, including Wabasso, New Ulm, Red Rock Central, Springfield and BOLD, that could lead to collaborative efforts opening the doors for even more opportunities for high-school students and adults in the area. There are many opportunities that have been discussed.
Among them is a program that would help students who are interested in getting involved with education, said Josephson, adding the idea would be to help “grow our own” educators for the future. This is a collaborative class concept with other secondary schools and Minnesota West that would provide classes to get students started on that career path.
New models in education at the high-school level could mean students in programs like this attend class on a different schedule that could mean focusing on education for a full school day on a less frequent basis rather than for a shorter period of time every day.
Programs focused on healthcare, manufacturing, construction and agriculture are also being developed for students.
According to Carlson, meetings with local leaders in these areas focused on the needs they have in their areas, and, while there are specialized needs in each area, a common focus is on developing soft skills with students. Those, added Carlson, include things like being to work on time, showing up for work every day, communication and problem solving.
Investments are being made by those in the area, such as a recent donation for $40,000 in equipment from the Lower Sioux Community that provided equipment for the healthcare program.
Ellingworth offered a challenge during the meeting to those in other business areas, especially in manufacturing.
“We have heard over and over and over again about the concern for the workforce,” said Ellingworth, adding providing equipment for programs that can prepare students now to do those jobs can help them see the possibilities that exist right now in their community. “We need to see some of the machines they would be using in this facility.”
Carlson said exposing students to trades such as plumbing and electrical by providing hands-on opportunities can help them see the demands of those jobs.
While there are simple skills, such as being able to read a tape measure, that can be provided in the local district, Carlson said the potential exists to help students gain basic skills specific to those trades.
In some cases, students might also see that an area they might have thought about pursuing is not something they really want to do. This way those students can do that without having to invest a lot of money.
The cooperative effort with Minnesota West could mean offering college-level classes in all of these areas, and collaborating with other school districts could ensure getting enough students to enroll in those programs making it more feasible to offer a larger pool of class options.
Of course, getting all of this accomplished costs money, and Ellingworth provided an outline of some of those costs. Some of them have been covered by a $100,000 donation from Orrin Estebo, while others are still in the works.
Ellingworth said the school district, with assistance from Pat Dingels at the Redwood Area Development Corporation, has been applying for a number of grants that could provide funds for these programs.
Local businesses have also made investments in order to help cover those costs, as have a number of unsolicited donations from individuals.
In terms of equipment needs and programming to help cover the costs of providing the people to teach the courses, the district is looking at a price tag of nearly $700,000. However, current donations have covered more than $300,000 of those needs already.
This is a work in progress, said Ellingworth, reiterating his excitement for the opportunities that exist for the school district, the community and the region as a whole through this center.
Successes are already happening, and Ellingworth said new partnerships can take this idea to a much greater level of that success.