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More at Morris: Voyageurs Expeditionary graduate Kaylee Johnson to pursue social work

When Voyageurs Expeditionary School graduate Kaylee Johnson claims her high school diploma, it will be her greatest achievement.

Kaylee Johnson WEB.jpg
Kaylee Johnson will graduate as part of Voyageurs Expeditionary School's class of 2022 at 6 p.m. on Friday, June 3, in BSU's Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Courtesy / Crookedarrow Photography
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BEMIDJI — When Voyageurs Expeditionary School graduate Kaylee Johnson claims her high school diploma, it will be her greatest achievement.

Though she has mixed feelings about graduation, she is ready to explore her interest in social work at the University of Minnesota-Morris once fall comes around.

“I am scared to move on because the world is scary out there, but I’m also excited to be done with high school finally,” Johnson said. “In middle school, I wasn’t a good kid, so I’m very proud of myself for all of my accomplishments and goals I achieved this year. I’m ready to accomplish my future plans now.”

The right fit

Johnson has wanted to pursue social work since she was a little kid, and with Morris being close to home, offering her free tuition and having her ideal program, the decision was practically made for her.

“I saw a lot of stuff during my childhood years that geared me towards social work,” Johnson said. “It’s just in my nature to help everyone. I care for people a lot.”

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Prior to finding her college fit, Johnson’s decision to attend Voyageurs came in her sixth-grade year after transferring from Horace May Elementary.

“The smaller classes are nice and you get a lot of hands-on learning,” she mentioned. “You get close with the teachers and really feel like a family at the school.”

Johnson referenced Voyageurs’ Expeditionary Days where students complete various community service activities including highway pick-up, planting gardens for the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, cleaning at the Headwaters Science Center and packaging food for Feed Our Starving Children.

“You learn a lot more out in the real world and everything we do on expeditionary days is really fun,” Johnson added.

This year, Johnson has also remained active with the student council and MAAP STARS — the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs with STARS representing success, teamwork, achievement, recognition and self-esteem.

MAAP STARS specifically addresses charter school students and gives them opportunities to develop employment, academic and social skills.

Johnson was elected as a state officer as part of MAAP STARS and was able to meet with local representatives and present at a Minnesota House Finance Committee meeting.

“I’m very scared of public speaking, but my presentation helped me to build that confidence,” she said. “It was a good experience to talk that day and feel like I was being heard.”

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Seeking support

Like many other students, Johnson struggled during the coronavirus pandemic, but everyone keeping in touch made things a bit easier when remote learning became routine.

“There was a lot of confusion at first, but everyone kept in contact with each other,” she said. “It was still pretty rough during that time to do your work with no help when you usually get hands-on help.”

Alternating groups of students attending in-person schooling switched off day by day, which was something Johnson didn’t like.

“I just wanted everything to be normal again. With this current school year, it was fun being all back together,” she said.

Another notable challenge came when Johnson’s grandfather passed away in 2020 from cancer.

“I was his big baby and we were really close,” she reflected. “I wanted him to be here to see me grow, graduate and go to college.”

Through the tragedies, Johnson sought support of Voyageurs staff and other family members. Two such mentors included her grandmother Nancy and operations manager Kathy Skinner.

“Day by day I try to grow and heal, and my grandma and Kathy have both helped me a lot in accomplishing that,” Johnson said. “They have definitely made me stronger.”

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Voyageurs graduation will take place at 6 p.m. on Friday, June 3, in BSU's Beaux Arts Ballroom.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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