‘We try to give them a little taste of everything’

Continuing the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Next Career Pathways series, we will highlight individual schools and communities. For this highlight we will turn our focus to Bigfork High School. Student Caden Kallinen; Technology Education Teacher Stuart Ostendorf; and Chief Operating Officer of Bigfork Valley Hospital Angela Kleffman all shared their perspective on the Career Pathways program in their community.

Career Pathways Student

Kallinen is a senior who plans on attending Luther College next fall to pursue a degree in Physical Education, and also plans to get his coaching license. Kallinen has been a part of the Education Pathway at Bigfork High School and is currently taking the Introduction to Teaching class.

Through the Education Pathway, Kallinen has learned about building relationships with students and staff at a school. He will be helping out Mrs. Maxas’s 6th grade classroom as a part of a field experience day and is looking forward to helping the younger students grow in their education.

“Career Pathways has definitely helped me in deciding what degree to pursue next year, by giving me classroom experience in highschool I have been able to see the classroom from more of a teacher perspective,” Kallinen said. “I would recommend Career Pathways as they give high schoolers great opportunities to see what career they may pursue in the future.”

Career Pathways Teacher

Ostendorf has the unique perspective of working in the field before becoming a teacher. He graduated from Bigfork High School in 2001, went to Bemidji College where he earned his Associates of the Arts degree. Next Ostendorf transferred to North Dakota State University where he received his degree in construction management.

He moved back to his hometown area and was working in the construction industry when a family member showed him a job opening at Bigfork Schools for a shop teacher. He applied and has been there ever since. Since Ostendorf’s original background was not in education, he taught on a variance for the first few years. He is now applying for a Tier 3 teaching license.

Ostendorf noted that St. Cloud University is the only higher education school to offer a Technology Education program in the state, and there are low numbers of students in the program. Ostendorf speculated that one reason for this may be that it is easier to make more money in the field than it is teaching. However, there are upsides to teaching such as having more time with family.

“For me, the benefit of having time with family outweighs the extra money that you could make in the field,” said Ostendorf.

Ostendorf teaches a variety of classes to students in 7-12 grade. From carpentry, project management, welding, small engines, general automotive, and other technical education classes, many of his classes fall under the Manufacturing and Construction Pathways.

Students in his classes get to work on many projects such as building dugouts for the new ball field in Bigfork, cabinet making, building toboggans, learning how to make snowshoes, and more.

“I try to make something that’s fun to make, something they can take pride in and use for the rest of their life,” said Ostendorf.

He also strives to give students an opportunity to sample different industries while they are in school.

“The shop is almost like a salad bar. Here’s a little taste of welding, here’s a taste of carpentry, here’s a taste of electrical. We try to give them a little taste of everything,” Ostendorf commented.

Going on field trips is a nice change of pace for students. Recently, Ostendorf’s classes were able to tour Swan Manufacturing, L&M Radiator, and Blandin Paper Mill to see what it would be like to work in these trade industries. He hopes that the Career Pathways program at Bigfork will continue building these connections between students and outside organizations.

“It would be nice to get a few more business partners so every semester they [students] could get to go up to a shop and do some small engine repair, or some body work, or work with a local contractor,” said Ostendorf.

Career Pathways Business Partner

Angela Kleffman shared more about how Bigfork Valley has worked with the schools through Career Pathways and the Healthcare Pathways, primarily through hands-on experiences such as job shadowing and internships. Healthcare staff are also able to present to classes to speak with students about their profession. With COVID-19, these opportunities for collaboration have decreased. However, Kleffman shared they would love to develop remote opportunities for students and also expects the summer healthcare internship program to resume again this spring.

Kleffman began working with IASC in 2017 and shared more about why Bigfork Valley wanted to work with Career Pathways. She focused on helping identify areas of need, as well as looking at what are the education requirements and experiences needed.

“We recognized the need to encourage and support local recruitment and retention efforts for healthcare as the staffing shortages loomed,” said Kleffman. “

Since some of the teachers teaching in the Healthcare pathway may not have direct experience in every field of healthcare, Bigfork Valley wanted to help fill that gap.

“We collaborated with high school instructors across the county and even had a teacher from Greenway spend time in each of our hospital departments one summer to be better informed about what working in healthcare looked like,” Kleffman shared. “Participants building the framework of the IASC Collaborative were motivated and passionate about the work and those involved understood the need.”

Kleffman’s hopes for the future of the Career Pathways program are to continue showing local students what healthcare careers are available to them and to build a strong workforce for the future.

“I’m hopeful that this program will continue to encourage healthcare opportunities for students by providing early exposure and knowledge about rewarding career paths,” said Kleffman. “I believe that this collaborative has the ability to not only build a stronger healthcare workforce but also retain students in our rural areas by creating career opportunities in their home communities.

Principal of Bigfork Schools Ken Decoster also shared some thoughts on the Career Pathways program. In his first year as principal, Decoster has gathered that the program is good both for students who know what they want to do after high school and those who don’t.

“I love the names, they’re pathways. They are things that can lead students in certain directions and help get them better prepared if they know what they want to do after, or even find out what they want to do after high school. So I’m excited about the program,” said Decoster.