SANDPOINT — Hard hats, high-visibility vests, eye and ear protection made up the personal protective equipment sported by Sandpoint High School staff during a tour of Idaho Forest Group’s Laclede mill Thursday morning.
The mill was one of four stops throughout the day as the staff set out on a Community Connections tour to learn about some of the different businesses in the area. The group also toured Tamarack Aerospace Group, Diedrich Roasters and Biomedical Innovations. The purpose of the tour is, as the name states, for SHS teachers and staff to create connections throughout the community.
“I think it’s exciting to see the connections and the opportunities,” said SHS counselor Jeralyn Mire. “It opens the doors for teachers to be able to reach out … It’s just one more tool for people to have in their back pocket.”
Besides creating connections and seeing the ins and outs of local industry, the tour also allows SHS staff to learn what employers in the community look for when hiring new employees. One common theme was soft skills, because while employers can train someone to do a specific job, soft skills are developed over time.
“I think in education we are trying to teach soft skills, but this helps reinforce our mission,” Mire said. “Soft skills are a great thing that we can help our students develop.”
Community Connections is supported by a grant through Panhandle Alliance for Education, and this year, the Idaho Forest Commission also supplied a small grant to help out. And as a bonus for going on the tour, some of the teachers obtained professional credit, of which six are required every five years for their certification. But whether they get the credit or not, each of the teachers are able to take something away from the tour, no matter what their discipline.
"All of our curriculum, math, English, social studies, everybody has a takeaway," said Malia Meschko, computer-aided design teacher.
Mary Imaz, SHS Spanish teacher, has been on all three tours since Community Connections was introduced in the fall of 2016, and while she is not doing it for credit, she said she “loves” the opportunity to see what is out there in the community.
“I teach a Spanish class, but I see different levels in the classroom and what I want to tell them is there are jobs out there for everybody,” Imaz said. “And it is nice to see that. We have such great growth opportunities within our community that I was not aware of.”
It is also "great" to see some former SHS students in leadership positions at some of the companies they visit as well, Imaz said. She, along with a few other teachers, recognized Leonard Fister, a 2010 SHS graduate, at Diedrich Roasters. Choir teacher Jon Brownell said he also saw one of his former students working at Tamarack as an engineer.
"I love that," he said. "This is really worth our time — and very interesting and applicable."
As a business teacher at SHS, Melinda Nieman said going on the tours and learning about the different businesses helps a lot in her classroom.
“I think it’s helpful to actually see what these businesses are doing to where when I am talking to my students, I am credible in what I’m saying,” said Melinda Nieman, business teacher at SHS. “I actually saw and heard from them directly, so that helps a lot.”
The PAFE grant was written by Mire and Meschko. The grant was about $3000 with a specific purpose of “connecting,” but not all of it was used for the tour. Mire said an event was held just before school started to connect the staff and students to build community in the classroom through activities. And as a follow up, Mire said the staff also heard from a College Board official during a “connecting with data” event Friday. The purpose of that event was to discuss the trends for SHS regarding the schoolwide testing scores, Mire said, so the staff can be more informed in regards to data-driven instruction.
The grant from the Idaho Forest Commission was $500 to help get the group out to the mill and to help cover some other expenses such as Mr. Sub sandwiches for lunch. The SHS parent group, CARE, also helped out with lunch. Sam Wolkenhauer, an economist with the Idaho Department of Labor, was the guest speaker for the group during lunch at the Ponderay Events Center.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.