Itasca County School Offers Fishing In The Classroom


Deer River Kids Starting Career Pathways


Building a workforce has never been brighter in Itasca County. The Itasca Area Schools Career Pathways Program continues to expand. Deer River students got a chance to learn about four different pathways on Wednesday. There was a promo day for all Deer River kids.

Instructors and guest speakers shared more about what careers are out there in education, the trades, healthcare and agriculture. They used fun games and demonstrations to keep the kids interested during 20 minute sessions.

One former Deer River grad, Steve Kongsjord, was a guest speaker. He works for RK Construction out of Marcell. “It’s really fun to tell people you can get a job anywhere, and be successful,” he said. “These kids are going to be steps ahead, when it comes to getting those jobs.”

Sophomore Austin Mundt signed up for a class in the trades pathway. “There’s so much opportunity out there, and you don’t need to have a lot of student loans, and you can make a lot of money,” he said.

Even for seniors like Ally Rivas, the promo day gave her a sense of what’s out there. “I’m still having a hard time figuring out what I want to do. But I was interested in the healthcare one.”

School counselor Tanis Henderson said, “We are going to get students more connected, with more hands-on experience in the industries before they even get out of school.”

Classes start in the fall.

Pathways is in 8 different Itasca Area schools now. Support from industry partners and organizations like the Blandin Foundation has been key to the growth.


Area students begin internships with local manufacturing businesses

Via Grand Rapids Herald Review

On Feb. 4, 15 senior high school students from Nashwauk-Keewatin, Greenway, and Grand Rapids High Schools began paid, for high school credit, internships with nine local manufacturing businesses in northern Minnesota.

As a result of three years of design work between local high schools, community colleges, and regional businesses – the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative Career Pathways program has begun offering internships to Career Pathway students interested in Manufacturing. This first cohort of students will be working in businesses between Hibbing and Cohasset to get a first-hand insight into the career field they are pursuing. This course is the capstone experience in the Manufacturing Career Pathway. Students in the pathway have taken courses that prepared them for this experience such as welding and fabrication, machining, engineering, CAD, production management and others. Students interns will spend the afternoons either in a career seminar with Nashwauk-Keewatin instructor Joe Gabardi or out on placement at their job site working directly in the field. Participating businesses for the 2020 course include ISCO, L&M Radiator, Midwest Manufacturing, Zakobe, ASV, Swan Machine, Rox Speed FX, Northland Machine, and Dakota Fluid Power.

The purpose of a career pathway is to provide guidance and experiences to students while they are in high school that helps them have confidence in their decisions in post-high school planning. For Itasca Area Schools, Career Pathways is also about addressing workforce shortages in the region and connecting students interested in these needed fields to local businesses so that they can form their own professional networks. The idea is that students will know the abundance of great career options here and, hopefully, if they decide to stay or come back to northern Minnesota to work, they will already have established relationships to build off of. Career Pathways introduce students to career fields, help them gain the skills to be successful in the career of their choosing, and also provide hands-on experiences like the Internship program so they see first-hand what it’s like to work in that field.

On Jan. 15, the Manufacturing Internship students and businesses gathered at Timberlake Lodge in Grand Rapids to complete a workplace workshop where participants discussed what it will take to be successful as an intern and what a good internship experience for an employer and student looks like. After the workshop, students and employers signed training agreements outlining the details of the internship course. The signing event was a celebration for students, teachers, businesses, and the community and marked the start of many more exciting opportunities to come to the region.

This program is made possible due to funding from the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation and The Blandin Foundation.


Rural communities look to change narrative

Via Grand Rapids Herald Review

A report published by the Center for Rural Policy and Development (RCPD), “Finding work or finding workers? Part 4: Changing the story on careers in rural Minnesota,” focused a narrative often held by high school students that says they cannot find a career in their rural hometown communities. By diving into where this narrative begins, the report reveals ways to change this perception and overcome barriers to providing education about careers in these communities.

According to the report, written by Research Associate Kelly Asche and released in August 2019, organizations and employers in Minnesota are wondering why students leave rural areas after high school even when these areas show an increase in job opportunities.

Regional Workforce Strategy Consultant Jessica Miller with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) stated, “Businesses and organizations have started to take notice of the high school narrative that [says] there are no opportunities for them in their region.”

Asche first looked at where this narrative is beginning. The “primary influencers” of high schoolers perceptions regarding career opportunities are their immediate family, formal advisors and experience. The report found if parents believe there is a lack of economic opportunity and value higher education, the student is more likely to move away. Additionally, formal advisors—such as college admission officials, teachers and guidance counselors—can impact how parents view opportunities for their children.

According to one study, “More employment possibilities, better pay and greater flexibility appeared to resonate strongly with parents, especially with rural parents of first-generation college-goers.”

The last influencer on high school students is hands-on experience where they can learn about careers in their area and opportunities that exist. Internships, get-to-know-you events and career expos, for example.

Here in Grand Rapids, the ISD 318 Career Pathways program is working to grow student interest in their future careers.

The program began in 2017 after receiving a grant from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB). This grant helped to fund the development of the IASC Healthcare and Manufacturing Career Pathway in Grand Rapids High School, Greenway High School, Nashwauk-Keewatin High School and Itasca Community College.

“Career Pathways is a unique model that allows high school students to prepare for post-secondary opportunities in both college and in the workforce,” said Grand Rapids High School (GRHS) Principal Mark Schroeder.

Although communities want to share industry knowledge with local students, there are barriers to this quest. Asche described three of these barriers—transportation, shortage of instructors and state graduation requirements. The latter of these refers to the fact that many classes students can participate in to learn more about specific industries do not count toward graduation requirements.

Career Pathways has been able to address the issue of transportation through partnerships and online opportunities.

“The program partners high schools to increase opportunities for student course offerings through telepresence and allowing students to travel between districts to participate in programming,” a press release from IASC Career Pathways stated.

Asche’s report also examined the “Build Dakota Scholarship Program” from the state of South Dakota. The program provides students going to South Dakota technical schools a chance to graduate with no debt, provided they commit to living and working in South Dakota for three years following graduation. This program is available to in-state and out-state students with 10-25 of the 300 scholarships given each year having gone to Minnesota students.

“As we develop programs to expose more students to technical education and careers, we may end up losing those students to South Dakota for the free tuition,” Director of the Minnesota Valley Career and Technical Education Collaborative Druce Bergeson said. “State leaders need to know that not only are we having to recruit (heavily) our students into technical career paths in hopes of plugging the employee shortage, but we are also fighting a battle with other states who seem to be better armed at getting our students into their schools and committed to working in their state.”

Out of 700 tenth graders in southwest Minnesota, 70% said they would choose the career they wanted over living in the area they prefer, according to a study conducted by DEED. Furthermore, 74.2% believe they could find a career they wanted in the region. It seems the efforts of local organizations are starting to pay off as communities work to educate their students on the opportunities of their individual region.

“By offering these career pathways to youth in our area, IASC will become the student-centered workforce development movement of the region and a connection point for the whole community to use in addressing workforce and economic challenges,” explained Director of Career Pathways Claire Peterlin.

While there are barriers that may make the work difficult, programs such as Career Pathways is pushing forward to make sure students in the Grand Rapids area know what their options are right here in this region.

To read “Part 4: Changing the story on careers in rural Minnesota,” visit


Career Pathways enters third year of programming

Via Grand Rapids Herald Review

IASC Career Pathways is entering its third academic year of programming with a number of major developments. Two advisory committee meetings were held in October for the topics of Manufacturing and Healthcare. The program has also received significant grant money to continue its work.

According to a press release from IASC Career Pathways, the program “exists to provide experiential opportunities for students to explore career options that lead to high quality employment in northeastern minnesota. The program partners high schools to increase opportunities for student course offerings through telepresence and allowing students to travel between districts to participate in programming.”

Claire Peterlin is the program coordinator of IASC Career Pathways. The program began in 2017 after receiving a grant from IRRRB. This grant helped to fund the development of the IASC Healthcare and Manufacturing Career Pathway in Grand Rapids High School, Greenway High School, Nashwauk-Keewatin High School and Itasca Community College.

In September 2019, Career Pathways was awarded a grant from the Blandin Foundation for the amount of $500,000. The grant is to help expand the work being done in the four original schools, as well as expand to Bigfork, Hill City, Northland Remer, Deer River and Floodwood. Additionally, the grant will assist in the addition of new pathways at the schools for students to learn more about. These new programs will include Natural Resources and Agriculture, Business, Construction, Computer Science and Education.

“A lot of the teachers radiate with joy and passion when they talk about their programs and are so humble when talking to businesses about their needs,” Peterlin remarked. “I really feel like they listen and then take that information and utilize in their classrooms. This is a game changer for all of us, I think!”

Each quarter, industry advisory committees meet for tours of schools and businesses, shared design activities and to work on continuing to bring new members to the meetings. In October, the two advisory committees for the Manufacturing and Healthcare pathways met.

“Attendees participated in an interactive design discussion centered on ‘Profile of a Pathway Graduate’ where they discussed what they hope students experience during their high school Career Pathway years and what skills they will graduate with as a result of their pathway,” Peterlin said.

Additionally, the manufacturing advisory committee was able to tour the GRHS Tech Center. Instructors from the high school discussed the courses they teach, along with some of the successes and challenges they face. Business members were able to give ideas on how to improve and enhance current programming.

“I believe we have started a new trend/pilot program that the entire state of Minn. could stand behind and really support. It feels good to be a part of a team that wants to thrive and see good things happen for all involved,” said Kelly Hertling, HR Supervisor at L&M Radiator and Member of the IASC Manufacturing Career Pathway.

Mindy Nuhring, Executive Director of River Grand Senior Living and m ember of the IASC Healthcare Career Pathway Advisory Committee commented, “I chose to attend the advisory committee meeting because I believe that we need to come up with a better way to guide young people into jobs/careers and I believe the Career Pathways program is a way to achieve this goal. I would encourage community members to be involved because the more community involvement, the better the program will be.”

The next advisory committee meetings will be held in January. Advisory Committees for the new pathways are in development. If you would like to be included in these meetings, please contact Claire Peterlin at or 218-290-0126.


IASC Career Pathways initiative awarded $500,000 grant

Via Grand Rapids Herald Review

Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Career Pathways initiative has been awarded $500,000 from the Blandin Foundation to grow additional pathways in natural resources and agriculture, education, business, and skilled trades.  The funding will also support expansion of the current Manufacturing and Healthcare Pathways from Grand Rapids (ISD 318), Greenway (ISD 316), and Nashwauk-Keewatin (ISD 319) districts to the remaining districts in IASC.

“Career Pathways is a unique model that allows high school students to prepare for post-secondary opportunities in both college and in the workforce,” said Grand Rapids High School (GRHS) Principal Mark Schroeder. Classes for the Manufacturing Pathway are held in the GRHS Tech Wing.


The Manufacturing Pathway offers students the opportunity to take manufacturing courses that are prerequisites for many post-secondary programs and are preparatory courses for a future career in the industry. Though housed in GRHS, students from other districts can take these courses via TelePresence. Students from Itasca Community College (ICC) also utilize the manufacturing skid housed at GRHS to gain hands-on experience in Process Operations.

The Healthcare Pathway is housed in Greenway and also offered to students via TelePresence. “Based on research done by the Blandin Foundation, we know that Itasca County is expected to experience growth in the healthcare field,” said Career Pathways Coordinator Claire Peterlin. “From 2000 to 2016, there was a 51% growth in healthcare occupations. And now, 20% of all jobs in Itasca County are in the healthcare field.”

“By offering these career pathways to youth in our area, IASC will become the student-centered workforce development movement of the region and a connection point for the whole community to use in addressing workforce and economic challenges,” said Peterlin.


IASC Career Pathways start at the 7-9th grade level with career exploration and planning activities that provide time for students to explore their interests and apply them to potential careers. The exploration classes often help students see the variety of opportunities available in each field. One introductory instructor shared that a student who was unsure which career field they would enter decided to partake in the course to gain a better understanding of healthcare. The student knew that she did not want to work with blood and had nearly ruled out a career in healthcare because of this characteristic. After completing the Introduction to Health Careers, she realized that not all healthcare career choices required the handling of blood and that she would be willing to look into healthcare career options as a possibility for her future.

At the 10-12th grade level, students are able to select a pathway that interests them. “It is more than classroom experience for our kids,” said Schroeder. “Students are able to connect to professionals in the field and this spring will intern with partner businesses. This is in addition to gaining foundational skills and experiences that prepare them for work in that career field.”

“Now, with the support of the Blandin Foundation grant and IASC partner districts, we will build 21st Century Career Pathway programming that allows all students expanded access to collaborative, diverse, and innovative opportunities in and outside of their home district. These experiences will develop their skills and identities as future professionals and leaders,” said Peterlin.

For more information about Career Pathways opportunities, including how your business can partner with the program, contact Career Pathways Coordinator Claire Peterlin at or visit For information about registering your Greenway, GRHS, or N-K student, contact your child’s counseling office.


Becoming ‘a hub for student-centered workforce development’

Via Grand Rapids Herald Review

Members of the Independent School District (ISD) 318 School Board heard an update on the IASC Career Pathways program during a regular meeting on Monday, May 20. The presentation was provided by Claire Peterlin, Coordinator for the Career Pathways Team, who discussed the past, present and future of the program.

“We have been working together across three districts to build career pathways around manufacturing and healthcare for students, all with the idea of building collaborative experiences that let students build their own identity around a career field,” explained Peterlin on Monday.

The program began with manufacturing and healthcare “because there was a huge need for those fields within our region,” she continued.

“We hear from businesses all the time that there’s a need for employees to fill these positions, and we hear from students that there are no opportunities here to work, and we want to address that misperception through this work and let students know that this is a great place to live and work, and to let businesses know that there is room in our schools for them to collaborate,” Peterlin continued.

Career pathways is a buzzword these days, explained Peterlin, who said that it essentially refers to a program of interconnected academic and elective classes revolving around a career or subject theme. It is integrated with experiential learning and close connections between secondary and postsecondary education, training and apprenticeship. The program is designed to support the development of career and life readiness for the learner, so that the individual can successfully enter and advance in a career path.

“Career pathways allow students opportunities to explore career options,” she explained. “We want to offer experiences that will build student’s future professional identity within a career field. We want to prepare students with foundational skills for post secondary or career selection. We want to serve communities as a catalyst for regional workforce development initiatives to address workforce shortages within the region. What better way to start workforce development than in our schools?”

Through the career pathways program, the districts also seek to “provide meaningful connections with higher education and industry partners,” “leverage available resources to increase student opportunities,” and “change regional perceptions of community, workforce, and youth to more positive and optimistic outlooks on possibilities,” Peterlin continued.

Students in the high school career pathways program begin their ninth grade year of high school. The program is three-fold. It is based on a Gateway, Core and Capstone model.

Gateway courses serve as introductory courses that allow students to explore the career options within a field and start building basic skills.

Core courses are then offered for students in grades 10-12. Many of these courses, which have existed for many years in the high schools and even count towards graduation requirements in the core subject areas, are courses that develop the technical skill and knowledge of concepts relevant to that career choice. For example, Medical Terminology is a core course for the healthcare pathway.

The capstone course is the last portion of the pathway for students in grades 11-12. In these courses, students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experiences that offer them a real-world view or industry recognized experience in their career pathway. For healthcare, students can earn their CNA and participate in a college-level Introduction to Health Concepts course taught from Itasca Community College (ICC). For manufacturing, students can travel to and participate in a course at Grand Rapids High School where they will run their own manufacturing business designing and selling products, and senior students can also elect to have a manufacturing internship where they can work with a local business, earn a wage, and receive high school credit, all within the school day schedule.

There’s a lot of talk about career pathways and career academies lately, she continued.

“So what’s our flavor? Our flavor is that we aren’t doing this all in one building or even in one district,” Peterlin explained. “This is multiple districts. Right now it’s been three districts, but the future goal is to grow to include other districts, all working together to expand opportunities for students. This has to be something that all IASC students can access.”

That means offering collaborative, cross-district programming, she explained, resulting in an increase in student career exploration experience options, optional programming to help students prepare for their future, ensuring the program is data driven (addressing workforce needs of the region), has innovative program delivery, and is a whole community effort.

In 2016, an Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRR) grant was awarded to ISD 316, 318, 319 and ICC. At the time, the grant was for three years, with only two career pathways, manufacturing and healthcare. Current enrollment is 1,160 across the two pathways in the three participating districts.

“What we found is that we were able to do a lot of really great things, so we asked for an extension with the opportunity to expand the scope and include new pathways,” explained Peterlin.

The districts are waiting on final approval. If granted, the IRRR grant will be extended to June 30, 2022 as well as allow for the expansion of the program. They are also seeking additional Blandin Foundation grant assistance for all of IASC inclusion in career pathway programming.

“We want to become the hub for student-centered workforce development efforts within the IASC region,” said Peterlin, who added that work will continue to grow and evolve the project.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the minutes of the May 6 school board meeting and May 13 special meeting.

• Approved April 2019 claims.

• Approved a resolution to accept donations and gifts for January, February and March 2019 totaling $43,185.88.

• Approved the following staff changes: Charish Amundson, custodian resignation; MacKenzie Bodem, teacher resignation; Julia Card, Education Support Professional (ESP) retirement; Lindsay Champion, teacher resignation; Alexa Kellin, ESP resignation; Sheralee Soring, secretary retirement; and Jessica Wilcowski, Community Education replacement hire.

• Approved the recertification of Identified Officials With Authority (IOwA) for Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) secure systems. The MDE requires that school districts annually designate an Identified Official with Authority to comply with the MNIT Enterprise Identity and Access Management Standard which states that all user access rights to Minnesota state systems must be reviewed and recertified at least annually. The IOwA will assign job duties and authorize external user’s access to MDE secure systems for their local education agency. The board approved to authorize Rochelle VanDenHeuvel to act as the IOwA and Julie Rasmussen to act as the IOwA to add and remove names only for Grand Rapids Public School District.

• Accepted the first reading of policy 613 Graduation Requirements.

• Accepted the second reading and adopted policy 799 Post-Issuance Debt Compliance Policy. This is a new policy required by the IRS for new bonds issued.

• Approved an amendment to ISD 318’s accounting and financial procedures manual. As directed by the adoption of the Post-Issuance Debt Compliance Policy, the business manager will perform post-issuance debt compliance procedures for all of the district’s outstanding debt.

• Approved the award of contract for Bigfork fire alarm replacement. On April 26, three contractors were invited to bid and two bids were received for the project. The low quote of $76,926 was submitted by Northstar Cabling & Communications.

The next school board open forum will be held June 3 at 6:30 p.m. in the Administration Building Board Room and via telepresence at the Bigfork School. The next school board regular meeting will follow at 7 p.m.

Following the regular meeting, the board went into closed session to discuss labor negotiation strategies.


Career Pathways Ramping Up in Itasca County


The groundwork for Career Pathways in Itasca County is there, with hundreds of students in three school districts taking coursework this year in the manufacturing or medical tracks.

And it’s only going to get bigger.

Mrs. Butterfield was focused on the fundamentals of a frog on Monday morning when we were there. Her class was working on a frog dissection.

Some days, she’s teaching from her Greenway classroom, but her students are spread in Grand Rapids and Nashwauk-Keewatin, watching through telepresence. She’s one of the healthcare pathways teachers.

“It’s been a lot of learning. With new technology, there’s a learning curve. It makes sense though, to offer more classes to students and broaden their scope of the things they will need to be successful later,” Butterfield shared.

One of her students is Kylee Carpenter, a sophomore. “I’ve always been interested in healthcare. I used to always think I was going to be a neurosurgeon. But now, ultrasound is interesting to me,” Kylee told us.

They also get help from Itasca Community College. Lynette How is the practical nursing director there, and helped develop the coursework for the high school kids. She’s also one of the teachers. “It’s been fun teaching students about the different options out there. Most of them think it’s just about becoming a nurse or a doctor. Many of them don’t realize healthcare is much more than just that.”

Each high school has its own strengths, and they’ve been able to capitalize on that. Jeff Britten, principal at Greenway, explained. “The nice part of it, is that we have CNA programs that have been in place, and now we’re able to support them with the pathways coursework. We always talk about education being relevant, especially for the older kids.”

This all started when the IRRRB approved $2.5 million dollars in grant funding for the career pathways programming. This year was the first things really fell into place, and consisted of additional courses. Next year, they plan on ramping up even more opportunities. And there are plans to include more school districts and pathways, too.

There is also a manufacturing pathway. Matt Sandeys, a tech ed teacher from Grand Rapids, showed us some of their shops area. “We take a shed and build it from the ground up, exactly how they would do it on a job site,” he said.

They are going to be running a manufacturing business on-site next year. “The kids will take a design, proto-type it, make a final production, and then a business model to see if they can make a profit off of it,” Sandeys said.

Olivia Bignall is a freshman who has taken the advanced engineering course. “They’re more challenging. And making the design is so much better,” she shared.

The principal in Grand Rapids said, “We’re able to use resources and combine resources, and accelerate what everyone is doing. Not everybody has to own the expensive equipment. We can share it,” Mark Schroeder told us.

Bart Johnson met us there. He’s the provost at Itasca Community College. “This really helps kids make the connections. We can tell the students what’s out there. But if they can see it themselves, they can see if it’s going to be a good fit. They can start builidng their own identity, or figure out it’s not for them,” he said.

Next spring, about 20 students will be going off campus, and working as interns in the community. That’s good news for Keaten Patterson, a junior at Nashwauk-Keewatin. “I want a job anyways. I need money for the projects I’m working on. And if I can do it during school, it makes it even better,” he told us.

The goal is to build a pipeline of workers, right on the Range. “It’s so exciting to have kids tied to the community, and have them placed into paid internships. We are going to have people homegrown in the trades,” Ranae Seykora told us. She’s the principal at Nashwauk-Keewatin.

Also next year, the plan is to have students move between the schools for coursework. Right now it’s just telepresence. And they’ll be signing up in certain pathways.

If you are interested in the pathways, please contact Claire Peterlin, the coordinator, at