Our board met in Windom last month for its December 2019 business meeting. A highlight of the day was spending time at the Windom Area High School to learn about the Career Pathways program there. Southwest Initiative Foundation is the hub agency for a Greater Twin Cities United Way grant that’s funding career readiness efforts in Windom, as well as Worthington and Jackson schools.
Windom has implemented a new block class schedule and five pathways for students to explore: Agriculture and Manufacturing, Health Science, Education, Business and Marketing and Information Technology. Many courses offer credits that give students a jump on post-secondary education and connect students to outside opportunities.
Senior student Parker Bramstedt is in the Agriculture and Manufacturing Pathway. “I was able to improve my welding skills a lot and they went really in depth into how everything goes together,” he said. “It opened my eyes to the opportunities that are out here.” Parker landed a work study position at a local manufacturer and went from helping other employees do projects to completing his own.
Meadow Espenson is a senior in the Education Pathway, where she’s been able to prep and teach lesson plans in an elementary classroom. “It set me up to think about what my life would be as a teacher. I’m excited!” Meadow said. “It helped that my teacher was willing to help me.”
In addition to the faculty support, Windom’s business community has taken an active role, including through a Pathways Advisory Committee made up of business leaders. Emily Masters is the Chief HR Officer at Windom Area Health and serves on the committee. She sees benefits from this education model as an employer and community member. The Health Science Pathway provides job shadowing opportunities and weekly speakers on topics like insurance, politics, clinicals and more. She noted that for employers, a partnership like this involves time, energy, policies and some risk. “If you can get past some of these barriers, the return is tenfold,” Emily said.
Local employers have a lot on the line: Cottonwood County experienced the highest job growth of any Minnesota county according to a trend report published by Minnesota Compass. Based on the state’s most recent employment records, it shows Cottonwood County experienced a 4.4 percent job growth. Those job openings are at a time when unemployment is low and hiring is challenging.
Windom’s Career Pathways also collaborates with the local chamber to host Pathways Exploration night, bringing parents, students and businesses together to learn about career and education opportunities. A new 7,100 square foot career and technical education expansion and remodel is underway, too. Windom continues working to secure additional funds through grants and partnerships for more equipment and class offerings.
“We want to set all kids on a path and ensure they feel confident after interaction and experience in the community or business,” said Principal Bryan Joyce. “What does our local economy look like and what are the jobs and also the skills … It’s opening our lens to what the opportunities are. We’re finding alternatives to meet the [graduation] standards and they’re more engaging.”
Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council, Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative, and Minnesota West Community and Technical College are partners in this work, ensuring this grant project compliments and leverages other education and workforce development underway, including the regional LYFT career pathways initiative funded by the state legislature. Projects like these are part of Southwest Initiative Foundation’s Grow Our Own efforts, which aim to support all southwest Minnesota kids from cradle to career.
Pictured, left to right: Amy McNamara, Medical-Health Science Career Teacher; Stephanie Kelley, Business Education/Computer Teacher; Valerie Halter, Community Education Director; Jacob Johnson, Industrial Arts Teacher; Emily Masters, Windom Area Health HR; Bryan Joyce, MS/HS Principal; Meadow Espenson, Education Pathway Student; Parker Bramstedt, Agriculture and Manufacturing Pathway Student.