(Winona, MN) The MWSCO Spark Young Minds 2nd annual grant program was in partnership with Hypertherm, a leading manufacturer of plasma cutting solutions. This year, we awarded a Hypertherm plasma cutting system package to three high schools in our service area. MWSCO believes that everyone interested in welding and metal fabrication should have the opportunity to learn and what better place to start than while kids are at school. The Spark Young Minds grant program was developed to help support our community educators who inspire young students through hands-on programs.

Glenwood-City-High-School-SYM2022.jpgGlenwood City High School

Miss Kirsten Konder, Agriculture Teacher at Glenwood High School says, “The Glenwood City tech ed department is growing at a rapid rate, having our class numbers rise exponentially. At the current moment, we are offering welding 1, advanced welding (which is advanced standing through Northwood Technical College), construction, woodworking, small engines, and restoration courses.”

As the numbers are increasing in all these courses, the need for new equipment is more than ever. Their current plasma cutting machine does not always work and is very unreliable.

“Having been awarded this new Hypertherm plasma cutting machine, the opportunities for new and engaging projects are endless for our students in Glenwood City.” Says Miss Konder.

One key lesson that Miss Konder includes in all her classes is a sense of community service and giving back to the town and area that they live. Students reach out to nonprofit organizations within the Glenwood City area to complete projects to make the town an overall better place.

Miss Konder adds, “Our students care about their community. With making the bridge between tech ed and Glenwood City, we can teach our students skills that will go way beyond the walls of our high school.”

BBoyceville-High-School-SYM2022.jpgoyceville High School

"When people hear Boyceville, they think of a typical rural town in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin. One brand new stop light, which the locals deemed unnecessary and excessive, train tracks through the middle of town, an ethanol plant, Andy Pafko, cows, tractors, rolling hills, and a school district with a coveted state baseball title. The people here are proud! As a non-native Boyceville resident, I can see why community members feel the way they do about this place. Everyone told me that I had "big shoes to fill" regarding my position of agriculture teacher and FFA advisor when I moved to town. As coworkers and other townies began to fill me in about my predecessor, I began to understand what they meant. The teacher I replaced taught in the district for over 30 years. He began his career at Boyceville promptly after finishing college and the ag program flourished! Auto mechanics, welding, construction, feeds and feeding, vet science, crop science; the list goes on, not to mention all the awards they accumulated at FFA events. Over time, fewer students became interested in the trades and class numbers dwindled. I heard from a few community members that there were even thoughts of cutting the ag shop program completely. But anyone who knows the good ol' boys of Boyceville, knows that that would never happen.

When I stepped into my classroom and shop for the first time a year ago, my mind went to "what a bunch of junk" and "I have a lot of work to do". As it turns out, a shop full of old junk has a lot of potential. The part where I thought "I have a lot of work to do" still holds true today, a year later. Welding is a course that I began teaching at my last school, and it quickly became a passion. I never took a welding course when I was in high school, so learning as an adult was intimidating to say the least. It is now my favorite course to teach! Watching my kids learn a new skill for the first time and seeing them succeed is the best thing ever! The only thing is our lack of safe, working equipment.

Safety is key in any shop. Currently, I have four stick welders that are as old as dinosaurs, and only two of them are in working condition, however we cannot adjust amps of volts. The other two start on fire internally, which is obviously a problem. We also have a severe shortage PPE such as welding helmets, gloves, jackets, and shoe covers. Our welding area is also severely lacking in a good ventilation system, efficient lighting, and shade curtains. The block walls around each welding booth are way too short and I'm concerned about my students being flashed by their peers on accident.

This program has a record number of students in it this year, and only one section of welding is offered! It's clear that there are students who care about the trades and are eager to learn. This grant would be a good start to help make our program at Boyceville successful again! Just like the good old days. Our students deserve quality programming in every aspect of schooling. My goal with the welding program at Boyceville is to eventually be able to have kids leave with some kind of certification and get a plasma table to start a school-based enterprise so students are able to have a Supervised Agricultural Experience for FFA without having to worry about completing it outside of school. It is my job to ensure my students' success, and I am grateful for this opportunity for a fresh start!" Jenna Behrends, Ag Teacher/FFA Advisor for Boyceville High School.

Abbotsford-High-School-SYM2022.jpgAbbotsford Middle/Senior High School

Abbotsford High School currently does not have plasma cutting available in the metal fabrication program. Budgets are tight and any supplies and equipment which could be implemented are extremely beneficial.

Randall Pempek, Technology Educator, was thrilled to have received the news that they were one of three schools to have earned the MWSCO Spark Young Minds grant.

“With this new equipment, we will be teaching valuable skills while saving instructor time which could be used in lesson planning”, says Randall Pempek.

Jillian Tyler, Weld Instructor mentions, “Now that we have this Hypertherm plasma cutting system, I will be incorporating a plasma cutting section with our oxy/acetylene cutting unit, having students cut through a variety of materials and thicknesses of materials.”

Jillian Tyler is a new weld instructor, and she is excited to learn and teach using this new equipment and will be incorporating into the curriculum, projects for students to cut, prep, and weld their own fabricated materials.

The School District of Abbotsford has graduated many welding students who were hired immediately by local manufacturing firms in the Abbotsford area.

MWSCO looks forward to continuing the Spark Young Minds grant program in partnership with the industry’s best manufacturers of welding and metal fabrication equipment. Stay tuned for announcements on future grant programs by joining our newsletter at the footer of this website, or following us on your favorite social media network.