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Project Graduate: Northwest Technical College Class makes it harder for high school students not to graduate

TrekNorth Junior and Senior High School students Jesse Bushong, left, and Mariah Lane, right, look on as their teacher, John Eggers, shows them a word they must get their classmates to guess by sculpting it out of clay. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

"There's a brain in this bag," John Eggers told 10 students sitting in a classroom at Northwest Technical College.

Side conversations fell silent and all eyes turned to Eggers as he reached into the plastic bag for the brain.

One student gasped. Others sighed and giggled after finding out it was only a grapefruit, split in half.

"This grapefruit is about the same size as a brain," Eggers said. "Let's talk about how your brain works."

Eggers, a teacher and past school principal at Red Lake School District, teaches a weekly class called "Introduction to post-secondary education," offered through NTC. Currently, he teaches students from Kelliher, Clearbrook-Gonvick and TrekNorth Junior and Senior High Schools.

"The main goal of this class is 100 percent graduation rate," Eggers said. "Students need that little push to get a diploma. For most, it's a direct intervention."

The class is part of an umbrella project called Project Graduate, part of NTC's Custom College program. The class allows students to receive one college credit from NTC and up to one high school credit in some high schools.

"For some students, this is their first college credit," Eggers said. "Other students need to have that extra credit in high school."

This is the second year for the Project Graduate program. The class is funded by a $10,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation, located in Grand Rapids, which Eggers wrote and applied for last fall. The money pays for his salary and the cost of tuition. Last year, funding for Project Graduate came from Northwest Cooperative in Thief River Falls.

Students are recommended to take the class from their teachers or principal. Eggers travels to Kelliher and Clearbrook-Gonvick high schools to teach the class, and meets at NTC with the TrekNorth students.

To earn a college credit, students must attend a total of 16 hours of class, or 16 sessions. Eggers said he hopes the class will make a difference by improving graduation rates.

Encouraging kids and convincing them that graduating high school is best for them is sometimes a difficult task. In order to accomplish this, Eggers said he has to make his curriculum interesting and diverse.

For example, Eggers plays a different song each class period that sends a message of encouragement, such as, "Here Comes the Sun," by the Beatles. He also gets students actively engaged intermittently throughout class by playing a quick game of charades or quizzes them on fun facts.

"You have to make it interesting," Eggers said.

Eggers has been teaching since 1965. He was a Peace Corps volunteer and has taught in Iran. He taught at the University of Northern Iowa for eight years, and continues to teach online classes for St. Thomas University in Minneapolis. He also served as principal at Red Lake School District.

Through Project Graduate, Eggers works with Anthony Schaffhauser, executive director of the Center for Research and Innovation, and Richard Lehmann, office manager for NTC's Custom College program.

"I get the most pleasure really helping students graduate who would otherwise drop out of school," Eggers said.

"I think of teaching as a lifetime occupation. You never master it, you only get better at it."