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New career, technical education area on display at BHS

Business leaders and community members toured the new classrooms Monday, Jan. 31.

Student holding up a wooden bowl.
Brainerd High School student Zoey Smith showcases bowls made by woodworking students while leads a tour group through the school's new career and technical education area Monday, Jan. 31, 2022.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — During a time when workforce shortages are plaguing many industries, Brainerd High School students are learning skills that could position them to make an impact.

The school’s new career and technical education wing — a result of the 2018 referendum — was on display during an open house Monday, Jan. 31, showing community members how their tax dollars are playing a part to economically bolster the region.

“This referendum was the greatest gift that our community could have ever given our school,” Superintendent Laine Larson said to the group assembled Monday night. “And so it is essential that we appreciate it, and that we’re thankful for it, and that we treat it as respectfully and as great as we can by providing the highest quality education for our future.”

Student tour guides led groups through the high school’s new spaces, which include rooms for agriculture, welding, mechanics, robotics, woodworking, engineering, computer-aided design and family and consumer sciences. Teachers and students showcased recent work and projects, like wooden creations, welded art, functioning robots, growing plants and live animals. Welding instructor Curtis Brisk showed off metal roses a student made earlier that day, while Mark Erickson explained how his woodworking students repurposed the wooden bleachers in the old gymnasium into step stools.

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Teacher holds metal welded roses
Brainerd High School welding instructor Curtis Brisk addresses a tour group Monday, Jan. 31, 2022, and shows off metal roses one of his students made earlier that day.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

“My goal is to get kids inspired with welding, teach them how to safely weld and teach them some good skills to get them going in the career,” Brisk said.

The welding room boasts a plasma cutter to cut various metals, while the mechanics area allows students to work on small engines, and a kitchen setup lets them explore the culinary arts.

For Tyler Glynn, seeing the new spaces Monday was exciting on various levels. As a parent of middle and high school students, it was great to see the upgraded classrooms and equipment his kids have to work with. And as the executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation — which put additional funding into the new wing — Glynn said it was rewarding to see the final results of the project and what it could mean for the community at large.

“We saw this workforce shortage coming. The pandemic sped it up, and that’s what we’re facing today,” Glynn said. “... And as we work on things like child care, and as we work on things like housing, all of those pieces play a major role in how do we bring and attract employees into this community. But it starts here with us being able to build our own and being able to give the tools and resources necessary for our kids to continue on with their education, but also to be able to bring them back here and get them to live here and stay here.”

High school student stands with robot
A Brainerd High School robotics student demonstrates the function of a robot he and his peers made while he addresses a group of community members touring the school's new career and technical education facilities Monday, Jan. 31, 2022.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

And not only do students have the opportunity to start on a career path in high school, they are also free to try out different fields to see if they would be a good fit without making any sort of commitment, BLAEDC Workforce Director Mike Bjerkness said.

“What I love about CTE (career and technical education) is a student can go in and try out welding, and maybe that’s not what they’re great at. Maybe that’s not what they want to do. But without the experience of a CTE system, we don’t know that,” Bjerkness said, encouraging students to try new things, as they might be surprised with what they discover.

Both Larson and BHS Principal Andrea Rusk thanked all the community partners who helped make the various programming a reality — like BLAEDC, ICS, Widseth and the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce — along with the teachers in those fields, the school board members who worked on the referendum and everyone else who had a hand in the project.

“This is only the beginning of great things,” Larson said.

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THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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