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Making lemonade out of lemons

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade ... or popcorn or cookies or cappuccino! As the principal of Brainerd High School, I can appreciate firsthand the impact the community’s support of the recent operating levy will have on the district’s ability to maintain valuable student programs and services. Recently I reflected on the changes we have made at BHS since 2007. As the district has trimmed its budget to maintain financial stability, we have all been challenged to try and see things differently. We understand that student opportunities have experienced tangible reductions, but in the midst of this process some changes have resulted in some impressive ingenuity to retain valuable opportunities for our students. In some cases, what could have been lemons certainly turned into great lemonade. Let me tell you about it ...

The Warrior Outlet is the retail store that offers students Warrior clothing and accessories, healthy snacks (including the best bargain, which is popcorn for 25¢), and the new cappuccino and hot chocolate beverages. The Apple Cafe (now named the Warrior Deli) is a catering program where customers place orders online to be delivered during the school day. The deli features homemade soups and sandwiches boxed and delivered at a fair price. Both programs provide valuable vocational skill training for our students. The programs began with food prep, retail, and lunch delivery experience and have since expanded.

Initially the Apple Café was run by the Family and Consumer Science Department and the Warrior Outlet was run by the Business Department. When BHS faced the need for significant budget reductions, school staff stretched their creative limits in order to find ways to continue these great vocational learning opportunities to our students. Four years later, both programs are now operated by the Special Education Department and are providing amazing opportunities for our students, with a neutral impact to our budget.

Our Special Education department at South Campus and BHS provide services during the school day to over 250 students with disabilities ranging from mild learning disabilities to severe and profound disabilities. High school experiences are critical to the transition to adult life, and especially important are opportunities to gain skills for future employment.

In addition to the Warrior Outlet and Warrior Deli, the Special Education department offers work experience and vocational skills programming with the following services: interschool mail sorting and delivery, quilt making for persons in need, recycling and paper shredding, and laundry service for in-district needs. Each opportunity gives students real-life job readiness experience and a sense of responsibility in providing important services to our schools; people are relying on them everyday.

Quality programs for all of our students are an investment. Successful programs in our schools accomplish two important objectives. First, the program needs to offer an educational experience for the student. Clear learning objectives should be taught and assessed. Second, a program should best prepare the student for his or her future. These important special education work experience and vocational programs are successfully meeting these two objectives.

Our lemons continue to make lemonade ... for the educational benefit, skill, and growth of our students. Our new view of the Warrior Deli and the Warrior Outlet infused the program with renewed energy. It’s this energy that will ensure our students gain valuable experiences that will prepare them for life after high school. I would like to extend my thanks to the community for increasing their investment in our schools. We hope to demonstrate to you as often as we are able that we are maximizing this investment with successful programs that will positively impact ALL the students of Brainerd Public Schools.

ANDREA RUSK is principal of Brainerd High School.