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'This is the stepping stone': BHS career academy students earn mechatronics, nursing certificates

Nina Varney, right, receives her certified nursing assistant certificate on Tuesday from Julie Miller, nursing assistant instruction at Northwest Technical College, and Brian Stefanich, alternative education principal for Bemidji Area Schools. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
Ryeley Johnson, right, shakes hands with Brian Stefanich, alternative education principal for Bemidji Area Schools, before receiving his mechatronics certificate on Tuesday at Northwest Technical College. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

BEMIDJI—A batch of Bemidji and Lumberjack High School students got a head start on their tentative careers on Tuesday.

Northwest Technical College staff awarded certificates in mechanical fabrication, electrical work, jobsite safety, CNC lathes or nursing to 17 students in Bemidji Area Schools' career academies, which are coursework and internship packages designed to let them dabble in potential post-graduation careers and schooling, then set them up with jobs that keep them in or around Bemidji.

"A lot of our students want to stay here, and this is the stepping stone," Brian Stefanich, who heads the school district's career academies and alternative schools, said to a roomful of soon-to-be certified nursing assistants and a handful of parents in a room at the technical college. "You have jobs waiting for you right now after you get your certifications. Right now in Bemidji. Because everyone's hiring, right? And our job at the academies is to build that pipeline of qualified candidates."

Marlondo Smith, a sophomore, earned a mechanical fabrication certificate, and Rylie Rockensock, a senior, earned one in electrical work after a class at the technical college. Smith learned how to assemble and disassemble different tools. Rockensock learned about transformers and circuits. Both said they want to work in forensics after they graduate, analyzing crime scenes or testing urine samples for drugs.

Nina Varney, a BHS junior, became a newly certified nursing assistant as her grandmother Darlene Lussier watched. Varney's can use that certificate to work at a nursing home, she said, parlay it into more schooling—she aims to study nursing at Bemidji State University after she graduates high school. Varney said her interest in nursing was piqued in health class.

"It kind of appealed to me, and then I found out that there was a health academy," she said. "I just fell in love with just helping everyone, making sure that their life is better quality."

Bemidji Area Schools now boasts 12 career academies and plans to add six more next year. The planned new ones are law enforcement, fire and rescue, agriculture, culinary arts, leadership and entrepreneurship, Stefanich said.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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