Bluff Country Collaborative sparks new connection between rural schools and employers

Rural Minnesota school districts generally lack the resources that allow urban and suburban schools to connect students and area employers. In Southeast Minnesota, that’s about the change.

The Rochester Post-Bulletin has the story about a new non-profit called the Bluff Country Collaborative. The organization is bringing together students from eight rural schools and more than 50 businesses in Fillmore, Houston and Winona Counties. According to the Post-Bulletin,

The group is seeking to build a pipeline between schools and employers, the better to facilitate the kind of work-based experiences that might spark a student’s interest in a particular career.

Those experiences might include job-shadowing opportunities, apprenticeships, mentorships and work-based learning.

In August, the group—after more than a year of talks—sponsored its first summit in the city of Rushford Village. About 30 area educators and business representatives attended.

Marty Walsh, a specialist with Community and Economic Development Associates, explained that the new collaborative is filling a crucial need. “When you’re Mabel High School and you’re graduating 11 kids a year, it’s not so easy (making those connections),” he told the Post-Bulletin. He called the August meeting a “huge leap” for the organization. The goal is to hire a paid staff person in the next six months. At the moment, it depends on volunteer efforts.

Jake Timm, middle and high school principal at Rushford-Peterson, says the collaborative’s goal is to help students figure out their interests early and then to line them up with work opportunities that reflect their interests. According to the Post-Bulletin,

Most kids from small rural schools, when asked about their career goals, assume they are going to a four-year school but have little idea of what they want to do. Then they get to college and realize college life is not for them. They return home but now are in debt.

The collaborative could help students find a cleaner route to employment. Small towns may not offer every job that large cities do, but more often than not they have vet clinics, nursing homes and manufacturing plants that are looking for workers.

The success of the Bluff Country Collaborative will depend, in part, on its ability to find “pioneers” in the business community willing to build a strong network.

Houston High School Principal Todd Lundberg also stressed how important it was for area businesses to be part of the equation, because without them, educators are simply not aware of the opportunities for students.

Lundberg said he was excited about the collaborative’s potential. Currently, Houston devotes one school day to job-shadowing. Now he is considering four or five days for students to job shadow employers before they graduate.

The schools involved in the collaborative include La Crescent-Hokah, Lewiston-Altura, Caledonia, Fillmore Central, Rushford-Peterson, Houston Mabel-Canton and Spring Grove.