Many students get summer internships to find out how things go in the real workplace world. Last month, several Waconia teachers participated in “externships” to learn the same thing.

The externship experiences, held June 15-24, are the latest chapter in a teachers in-the-workplace partnership between the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses and School District 110.

Through a grant from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Business Education Network, teachers partnered with Waconia-area Chamber members to better understand skills required and jobs available for students upon graduation, as well as apprenticeship opportunities in high school. This is the third time the local chamber has partnered with the state chamber to bring the program to Waconia schools.

Christine Fenner has seen it from both ends, first as a business relationship consultant with the school district and now as the new Chamber president.

“Over the past few years, I’ve worked with the school district to help build partnerships between the schools and the business community,” Fenner said. “I’m proud to promote our community and all it has to offer, and it’s really cool to see how the partnership has developed”

The first teachers in-the-workplace partnership in 2017 involved industrial technology teachers Peter Brown and Dave Aeling spending two weeks at Elkay, now Cabinetworks Group, Applied Vacuum Technology, Inc., and Nordic Components.

The second was a health care fields partnership with Ridgeview Medical Center that had instructors Audra Lehrke, Mel Berg and Roxanne Kuerschner shuttling around the Ridgeview campus learning about everything from the medical labs, to imaging, to ambulance and dispatch, to rehab services, to nutrition, to business support functions.

This year the focus was the automotive, building trades and manufacturing sectors.

There were five Waconia High School teachers and nine different companies involved. Teachers in the areas of industrial tech, engineering, chemistry and statistics partnered with companies to connect classroom curriculum with the industry.

Participating companies included Sackett-Waconia, Cabinetworks Group, Larkin Electric, Midwest Expanded Metal, Waconia Dodge Chrysler Jeep, HEI Collision Center, Hoxie Homes & Remodeling, TMC Industries and Modern Design Cabinetry.

One theme shared during the partnership, echoed by both Matt Bren, a 2002WHS grad, now parts and service manager at Waconia Dodge and Ethan Vilmain, a 2016 grad working there, is you don’t need a four-year degree to have a successful and rewarding career.

“I ended up going to school for a year, but decided that was not the route I wanted to take,” Vilmain said. “I had an opportunity presented to me at Waconia Dodge and took advantage of it.”

Industries are looking for individuals with hands-on skills, and are willing to teach news skills and reward hard work, they say.

Industry also is looking for individuals skilled in science, technology and math.

“What I will take back to the classroom is being able to analyze data more and make meaning of it,” said math teacher Jodi Hunter. “Also being able to think more out of the box and develop problem solving skills.”

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