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Government came to them, and it made sense

On Feb. 22 the Minnesota House’s Education Finance Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Davnie, came to our school.

photo of article author
Lee Carlson
Of the people, by the people, for the people, how about to the people?

On Feb. 22 the Education Finance Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Davnie, came to our school. Windom Area HS/MS is a long way from the State Capitol, but it is close to the good work of the committee. This combination would be considered uncommon, but I am convinced that needs to change.

We took time the next day for discussion in my LIT 120 class, a concurrent course offered through a partnership with Southwest State University in Marshall. These classes are crucial to schools in Greater Minnesota, where small-town kids find out they can handle big-time expectations. For first-generation college candidates, many of whom are students of color, to be able to take a college credit class in a familiar building, with a familiar teacher, and find out they can achieve at a postsecondary level is invaluable. The first semester of college is toughest in many ways, and these students step on campus knowing they belong.

“It was way more interesting than I thought it would be,” said one. “They seemed real, not as stuffy as I imagined,” said another.

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Students heard in testimony

For these young adults, government came to them, and it made sense. Several enjoyed the chance to become part of the proceedings. Eliana Tade kicked off student testimony sharing her goal to become a teacher. Strong passion and skills came through as she said, “If I can be a teacher as a person of color, I can inspire other students of color to see themselves as teachers too.” Tade’s determination is rooted in her efforts to become WSI-endorsed and teach swimming lessons, along with another concurrent class, Intro to Education, that provided weeks of shadowing a third-grade teacher at Winfair Elementary.

Not only will she bring energy and experience to that first teaching job, Tade will carry confidence and understanding of the process for advocating for her students and school when it comes to school funding.

During the spring of 1988 I was a student teacher at Dilworth High School. A contributing editor for the Concordia College newspaper, I also delivered a guest lesson for a journalism class in Mr. Marquart’s room. A little over three decades would pass before he visited my classroom. More about that later.

Once the committee’s bus arrived school Supt. Wayne Wormstadt welcomed them and led a tour of the facilities. Davnie explained the location choice: “We’ve just heard many good things about what is happening out here.” Seeing was believing. Along with seeing the growing towers that provide fresh lettuce for the school lunch program, they viewed the comprehensive CTE ( Career and Technical Education ) program that includes welding booths, auto repair stations, and woodworking tables full of projects. Even more waits as a successful bond referendum will bring a new elementary school next to the HS/MS campus and a $2 million CTE wing addition. Similar to job shadowing experiences for Intro to Education students, Manufacturing and Engineering students used adjoining class periods at the end of the day to support connections with local manufacturers such as Fast AG Solutions AGCO, and HitchDoc. Simultaneously, students get real world experience and local companies provide incentives for outstanding young people to remain in the community after graduation.

A varied lineup, with insight and expertise from the superintendent

Legislators completed their agenda for the hearing, entertaining testimonies from Mt. Lake students and their retired agriculture teacher, a teacher and school board member from Worthington, executive directors from the SW/SC Service Cooperative and also Schools for Equity and Excellence, and the superintendent from MACCRAY. As the host school, Windom filled many slots in the lineup. Wormstadt shared insight and expertise about the impact of school funding, fellow students joined Tade, and a school board member joined several teachers in explaining additional perspectives.

For this teacher, a highlight centered on the committee stopping in my classroom during their tour. Great questions came from the members, many of whom are educators. I shared the challenge of addressing student mental health, and stressors that carry over to educators. We touched on the importance of the concurrent classes and the balancing act of managing 170+ English students during my day while trying to also deeply teach them.

Not a big selfie guy, I could not pass up the chance to request one with committee member Rep. Paul Marquart. Our classroom reunion found him an accomplished legislator and me beginning my term as the Minnesota Rural Education Association president of the board. Not bad for a couple of former Locomotives!

Thanks to the efforts of Davnie and the Education Finance Committee members, I have every reason to expect even bigger and better things out of my Windom High School students!

Lee Carlson teaches language arts and is an assistant football coach at Windom High School. 

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