Career Pathways in Remer: ‘A larger school offering in our small rural setting’

Career Pathways student Nathan Johnson (left) is pictured with Northland Technical Education teacher Mark Gravelle.

Continuing the look into the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Next Career Pathways series, the Herald-Review highlights individual schools and communities. This week, the focus is on the community of Remer. Student Nathan Johnson; Technical Education teacher Mark Gravelle; and Manager of The Remer Junction Shawn Dickinson all shared their perspective on the Career Pathways program.

Gravelle has taught at Northland-Remer Community Schools for 21 years and was recently awarded as the 2022 Northland Community Schools Teacher of the Year. Born and raised in Bemidji, Gravelle is a graduate of Bemidji State University where he first majored in Industrial Technology and then returned to earn his teaching license.

“I chose technical education because I was always interested in learning, doing and making things since I was very young,” said Gravelle. “I enjoyed all of my high school IT classes and I like learning new things.”

Over the years, Gravelle has seen many changes at Northland Community Schools, particularly in the shop where he teaches most of his classes.

“I don’t think there’s a piece of equipment in here, besides that timesaver, that was here when I started,” Gravelle commented. “Everything was old and junk, and worn out, and I just phased everything out.”

Gravelle teaches many classes within the Career Pathways program—particularly the Manufacturing Pathway— including manufacturing, welding, engineering, carpentry, product development, digital product development, and woodworking.

“My Product Development students have a wide assortment of products they are making and selling to customers,” Gravelle shared. “Lots of projects in every class!”

He also teaches the class Supermileage. In this class, students build a vehicle that is brought to a competition at the end of the year. The goal? Have the vehicle with the best miles per gallon. The class is thought of as a capstone course within Career Pathways.

“We are nearing the completion of building another Supermileage vehicle for the MTEEA (Minnesota Technology and Engineering Educators Association) event in Brainerd,” Gravelle stated.

The competition will take place in Brainerd May 9-10 with schools from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan competing.

“It’s a lot of work. This year wasn’t as bad because you can modify an existing car so we took one from a couple of years ago. It’s a really nice, solid car and just did some heavy modifications on it,” Gravelle said.

Senior Nathan Johnson has been taking as many of these classes as he can over his high school career, including the current Supermileage, manufacturing, welding, and carpentry. He has been able to take some of the classes twice to continue to build upon his skills.

“You definitely see a better job this year than last year,” said Johnson.

Johnson has a few ideas for his plans past high school including getting a business degree, working as a truck driver, getting a trades degree in carpentry, or working for his parent’s resort. Johnson’s parents own the Evergreen Lodge in Longville.

Johnson commented that taking these classes have given him a well-rounded set of skills. Gravelle also noted that many of the classes help teach students how to fix problems on their own.

“It’s the basis of being self-sufficient,” said Gravelle.

Remer Junction is cooperative and a part of the Northern Star Coop based in Deer River. The convenience store offers a variety of services alongside the usual gas, food and drink, including scooping bait, filling propane tanks and hand-dipped ice cream.

Dickinson has been the manager of the Remer Junction for 15 years, starting the job in April 2007. He shared that after years of experience in other jobs, managing the Remer Junction has proved to be the hardest.

“Because I’ll be honest, I’ve done a few different things in my life and managing a convenience store I think is far beyond what anybody realizes,” said Dickinson.

He explained that many of the challenges come from the fact that the job is heavily based in customer service.

“It’s all customer based really,” said Dickinson. “That’s the reminder I have to give everybody. And we are a cooperative so whenever somebody walks through that door, odds are they are probably your boss.”

The Remer Junction supports students in multiple ways including through donations given to the school and specific programs like the Supermileage class, and scholarships for students.

Dickinson also employs high school students from Northland Community Schools and for many it is their first job they’ve ever had. Many of the students have been able to work on their customer service and public speaking skills as the job requires plenty of interactions with people.

“You’re really an educator. You’re not just somebody who’s checking time cards and giving them a list. You’re growing and developing these students, and that’s what a teacher does,” said Director of Next Career Pathways Scott Patrow about Dickinson.

Going forward, Dickinson said he would be open to working alongside the school to provide more opportunities for students such as internships or working for school credits, perhaps within the Business Career Pathway.

“If there’s a child and their parents agree that they really want to get them some life experience, I can’t imagine anything better than being in a public place and you’re dealing with people,” said Dickinson.

As Johnson thinks back on his time in high school, he would encourage students to take hands-on classes such as the ones has been in.

“I’d take as many of these classes as you can because whatever you are going into, you’re going to have to know some aspect of this at some point in your life,” Johnson commented.

Looking to the future of Career Pathways at Northland Community Schools, Gravelle hopes to continue offering classes to students that will help prepare them for whatever field they are interested in; to stay in touch with industry trends; and to build on cross-district opportunities with neighboring districts. He also hopes to add another class that is specific to CNC machining.

“It broadens the opportunities for our students,” said Gravelle. “They can get exposure to courses that we don’t offer in our district. A larger school offering in our small rural setting. They just have to take a chance and try something new.”