WILLMAR — A groundbreaking public/private partnership between local companies and Willmar Public Schools has begun with its first dozen students at Willmar Senior High.
The new Manufacturing and Production course this fall will take students who have an interest in areas like welding, drafting, mechanics and construction and give them a hands-on learning experience with five local businesses.
If this first class goes well, the program could eventually expand to other area schools. There's a possibility students could find after-school work and summer internships through the class, said Jason Duininck of Duininck Co., one of the companies involved in the class.
The first students were chosen from among about 20 who applied to participate in the first course.
In addition to Duininck, Relco, West Central Steel, Marcus Construction and Nova-Tech will participate in the class. It's a similar idea to the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities course which has operated for several years in the area, Duininck said.
Both classes have been created with the goal of convincing young people that they can have successful careers in their home area.
The course will be in the last hour of the day, and students will most often be meeting at businesses, eight days at each one, Duininck said.
Classes will include tours and working on projects at each business.
Teacher Mike Kroeker will oversee the class. There will be a classroom at each business.
"There are some kids who hate school until they get into a hands-on class," Kroeker said. Then, they feel they have found what they were meant to do.
"There's not a lot of opportunity for teenagers to get involved with what goes on in the community," he said.
"They're at an age where they're deciding what to do," and businesses sometimes struggle to find qualified employees, he said. "I think it's a win for everybody."
Students will go on tours and work on projects at each business. Each has developed a lesson plan for the students' time on-site.
Duininck said the students should enjoy the class activities. Depending on the business, they will be diagnosing problems with heavy equipment and participating in metal fabricating, welding and construction projects.
There will be three field trips, he said, including one to the Extreme Sandbox near Hastings, where students will have the chance to drive heavy equipment.
Duininck said they hope to teach young people about building trades. Businesses will provide funding for class activities.
"My hope would be that each business would find one or two men or women that would be offered after-school work and summer internships," Duininck said.
If all goes as he hopes, he said, "We get to keep them in west central Minnesota to make a living, raise a family, send their kids to our schools and go to our churches."