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Voyageurs graduate Rian Grotberg hopes to study storms, atmospheric science

Rian Grotberg, 18, is among 20 seniors who will graduate tonight from Voyageurs Expeditionary High School. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — As a young child, Rian Grotberg used to be afraid of thunderstorms.

"The more I learned about them, the less afraid and more interested I became," said Grotberg, who now plans to study atmospheric science as he transitions from high school.

Grotberg is among 20 seniors who will graduate tonight from Voyageurs Expeditionary High School. Commencement begins at 6 p.m. in Hagg-Sauer 100 on the Bemidji State campus.

Grotberg began attending Voyageurs in the middle of his sophomore year, transferring to the public charter school from Bemidji High School.

"I don’t sit still well," Grotberg said. "I wasn’t exactly having the best time (at BHS) and (Voyageurs) is very hands-on."

Through expeditionary learning, students focus on projects and topics that most appeal to them. For instance, while studying biology, a student could make a sculpture of a human heart and explain its functions.

"I think it’s really nice to have an opportunity to do that," Grotberg said. "You can get more deeply involved with (your projects)."

He figures he has researched storms for four or five different school projects, examining them more deeply each time.

"They used to freak me out," he said, "hearing the wind against (our home), seeing the trees half-bent."

He no longer feels that way.

"Now, I’d definitely rather be outside during a thunderstorm," he said.

‘very involved’

Grotberg has been involved in a variety of activities at Voyageurs, including the Knowledge Bowl team and Student Council.

He also has been involved in MAAP STARS, the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs’ Success, Teamwork, Achievement, Recognition and Self-esteem program, a broad-based vocational organization for students in secondary alternative programs.

"(Grotberg) has been very involved in youth leadership at school," said Julie Johnson-Willborg, director of Voyageurs. "He fits in very well here. He’s definitely a good student, well-liked by students and staff."

Grotberg said he enjoyed his time at Voyageurs and was especially appreciative of school-sponsored opportunities outside of the classroom.

Last year, for instance, he was among a dozen students who went to Florida, where students learned about biology, explored ecosystems and immersed themselves in different aspects of nature.

"I really like that we have the opportunity to do this (through school)," Grotberg said. "I wouldn’t otherwise have these opportunities."

This year, he was part of the student contingency that went to Boston.

"It was awesome," Grotberg said. "You think you know things about the (American Revolution) … But then you learn little things that completely blow your mind."

For example, did you know John Hancock is buried in Boston without his hands? Legend has it grave robbers were unable to pry valuable rings from his fingers so they cut off the hands.

"You know about the stories, the history, but you learn these little details that are amazing," Grotberg said.

Such trips also allow students flexibility to meet their needs. Grotberg, for instance, still needed an English credit, so by taking part in the trip, he will get a half-credit for history and a half-credit for English if he fulfills requirements, including that he write a five- to eight-page essay on his experience and create a scrapbook of his trip.

"All our teachers are supportive of us," said Grotberg, noting that he feels comfortable enough with staff to approach them with any trouble he is having with coursework. "All our teachers are pretty much our friends too."

Moving on

In the fall, Grotberg plans to enroll at BSU as he works toward finishing his general requirements.

His schedule will determine his credit load as he also will work as a personal care assistant for his 9-year-old brother, who has Down syndrome.

In time, Grotberg plans to study atmospheric science to learn more about the conditions that produce thunderstorms and tornadoes.

He dreams of being like the scientists in the movie "Twister" who chased tornadoes in hopes of utilizing technologies to learn more about them.

"We need better warnings," he said, "so people can get to safer places, so they have more time."