Boosting Rural Youth for Local Jobs: A Promising Alliance

by | Aug 29, 2023

The rural community of Bowler, Wisconsin, is experiencing an exciting partnership that is changing education and creating new opportunities for students. The Bowler School District, College of Menominee Nation, and local businesses have joined forces to address workforce gaps and empower tribal youth through education and certification in construction trades. This collaboration not only benefits individual students but also revitalizes the community as a whole.

Leading this initiative are Glenda Butterfield-Boldig, Superintendent of the Bowler School District, and Dr. Casie Wise, Senior Program Director for the National Indian Education Association. They understand the challenges faced by students who feel disconnected from traditional educational institutions and aim to create a program that helps students envision themselves pursuing fulfilling careers.

A significant part of this program is the online coursework provided by Core Learning Exchange. This platform gives students access to educational resources, allowing them to explore different careers and develop skills in high-demand industries. By providing students with the tools for success, this program breaks down barriers and empowers them to envision a brighter future.

To enhance career exploration, virtual reality headsets are used. These advanced devices allow students to immerse themselves in different professions and imagine their future careers. By engaging students in a hands-on approach, this program fosters excitement for trade professions that younger generations have shown less interest in, such as millwork and construction.

The Menominee Tribal Enterprises lumber mill, owned by the Menominee Tribal Nation, has been a cornerstone of the community for over 150 years. However, like many local businesses that rely on skilled tradesmen, the mill is facing challenges. This program aims to fill workforce gaps and provides students with an opportunity to see the inner workings of the mill. By connecting students to local industries, they develop a deeper appreciation for their skills and the impact they can have on the community.

Through the Council of Partners, a collaboration with local businesses, students are introduced to real opportunities and gain practical experience in the construction trades. This partnership allows students to learn from experienced professionals, obtain valuable certifications, and develop the skills needed for successful careers. By bridging the gap between education and real-world opportunities, this program ensures that students are academically prepared and equipped with practical skills for their chosen field.

The program’s success has received recognition and support, including a $10 million grant through the Catalyze Challenge. This funding showcases the program’s innovative approach and its potential to transform the lives of tribal youth in Bowler. With this funding, the Bowler School District acquired a mobile construction lab, which provides repairs around town and symbolizes the community’s commitment to empowering its students.

High schoolers in Bowler also have the opportunity to enroll in career and technical education coursework at the College of Menominee Nation. This dual enrollment program enriches their educational experience and provides a solid foundation for their future careers. By combining classroom learning with hands-on experience, students develop a well-rounded skill set that sets them apart in the job market.

The impact of this program is significant considering the community’s demographics. About 70% of students in Bowler come from low-income backgrounds, and 50% come from surrounding tribal communities. By providing access to quality education, certification, and practical experience, this initiative offers hope to these students, paving the way for a brighter future and breaking the cycle of limited opportunities.

Rainer Shooter, the Chief Operating Officer of the mill, plays a key role in mentoring the students. Rainer, who also coaches some of the kids on the baseball team, takes pleasure in welcoming them into the mill and showing them their vital role in sustaining local industries. Through his mentorship, students gain valuable industry knowledge and develop a sense of belonging and purpose.

As the program enters its second year, Glenda, Dr. Wise, and their team are hopeful that more students will benefit from these transformative experiences. By empowering students, providing them with the necessary tools and resources, this partnership is shaping the future of individual students and revitalizing the local community.

In a time when many students feel disconnected from traditional education and uncertain about their futures, the collaboration between the Bowler School District, College of Menominee Nation, and local businesses offers hope. By bridging the gap between education and real-world opportunities, this program empowers rural students, fosters a sense of belonging, and ignites a passion for local careers that will shape the future of Bowler for generations.