Wadena Area Learning Center  //  Freshwater Education District

Freshwater Education District – Wadena Area Learning Center (WALC) Mid-Level Program is an experiential program that has since its inception been a classroom that provided hands-on learning for students who needed a nontraditional way to learn. Students are at risk of not graduating from 11 different school districts in rural, central Minnesota and the student population is nearly 100% qualified for free and reduced meals. Many of their students have lived through and experienced more than they should have to at their age.

The staff is small, but their passion for their students is big. When you visit the Wadena Area Learning Center, you quickly catch see that respect goes both ways – from the staff to the students and from the students to the staff. In this unique learning environment, the traditional classroom experience wasn’t going to do, so the staff got creative.

Bees, Produce, and Decor was created over time with support of their district, local community, and grant dollars. The program started with a hive of bees which quickly turned into growing flowers for the bees and building products in the woodshop. The students run the program as a revenue-generating-business, where all revenue is invested back into the program to grow pay for expenses and grow the experiences. The variety of activities that are part of the Bees, Produce, and Decor program results in almost every student finding their fit and engaging somehow in the program.

“The classroom finally feels like a safe place to learn and to even fail. Students learn that a failed idea is just another opportunity to learn. It is a way to teach students to advocate for themselves and their ideas, to connect with the curriculum, and enjoy success in school. Our students have strong personalities, and we want them to use them to be successful as adults in our community,” says Heidi Heino at Freshwater Education District.

Students learn business and technology skills, see firsthand how climate affects plant and bee growth and gain experience creating their own business where they can be their own boss. They embed the understanding of the importance of being a part of their community through partnerships and sales.  These are all life-long learning lessons.

Since most Wadena Area Learning Center students stay in the community after graduation, the long-term hope is to have them foster this stewardship in the community as adults as well as have them involved in career opportunities.

The impact of the program has been great in the school, district, and community. Through the Bees, Produce, and Decor program, students’ attendance has improved greatly, and staff sees a noticeable difference in student engagement and involvement. Students take pride in their work and are engaged learners in valuable skills.

Freshwater Education District, thank you for investing in your students and developing innovative ways to serve.

Freshwater Education District was honored with an Innovation Program Award on November 13 as part of MREA’s Greater Education Summit in Brainerd, Minnesota.