Sam Larson stands alongside mentors Eric, Jim and Rebecca at the college fair

After spending sophomore and junior years exploring courses in the Technology, Engineering & Design Pathway, senior Sam Larson entered his senior year with purpose and a plan.

Once he finishes his senior year, Sam will attend North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) next year as a student in the John Deere Tech program. He’ll learn through classroom and hands-on lab work. It’s a combination he already knows he's passionate about from his experience at Spring Lake Park High School.

For all three Career and College Pathways – Business & Entrepreneurship, Health & Human Services, and Technology, Engineering & Design – students at Spring Lake Park High School can explore careers and develop skills in growing industry sectors. Sampling careers through these classes can reveal likes and dislikes. That’s how it began for Sam.

"I took the tool welding class first, but I actually realized that specific area wasn't for me,” explains Sam. “The part I did like was working with my hands, so that's what made me go down this TED (Technology, Engineering & Design) path further."

Sam continued to take courses in the TED pathway, including the very popular “How to Make Anything” class. Learning in a hands-on environment helped Sam discover a passion for making, creating and fixing things.

A big shift happened when Sam’s class attended an on-site tour at General Equipment and Supplies in Shakopee in November of last year. Representatives there talked about the partnerships available for students interested in careers as mechanics and other jobs. Sam’s eyes were opened to the possibility of pursuing a career as a technician. He got focused on getting on track for post-secondary options.

Support from the Alternative Learning Team

Sam transferred to Spring Lake Park High School as a 10th grader. In his junior year, he joined the Alternative Learning Team. The team works with students to incorporate credit recovery with current classes. They earn credits at their own pace and often in their own way.

Students work with a team of teachers, and through one assessment or project, they address multiple learning competencies across various content areas. It’s truly interdisciplinary. The teaching team meets weekly to discuss individual learner maps and to find more ways to connect with each student to personalize their learning.

“For many students, the small environment helps to foster a higher level of accountability since each teacher knows so much about the student,” says Eric Van Brocklin, Career Pathways Lead at the high school. “The program isn't easier; it is just a different style of learning that works well for some students.”

Sam has thrived in this learning environment. He’s currently taking the construction trades course alongside classmates who are building the house in the high school parking lot. The agreement to partner with John Deere’s Technical Program at North Dakota State College of Science has only further motivated Sam to succeed in his senior year.

Rebecca Oeltjen, SLPHS math teacher, has been working on the Alternative Learning Team since it started in the fall of 2021. She has worked with Sam and other students as a partner through the program, fostering a relationship with students as they make progress toward their future goals.

The most rewarding part of my job is changing the mindset of a student from, ‘I can't do this…I'm not smart enough…I'm not going to be able to graduate high school,’ to a mindset of ‘I actually can do this…I'm only a few credits away from graduation…I know that I can do more after high school.' The connections we make with students and watching them succeed as the young adults we know they can be is the ultimate reward. Rebecca Oeltjen, SLPHS math teacher

Finding his future

Next year at NDSCS, Sam will learn through classroom and hands-on lab work – similar to what he has already been doing at the high school. As part of his learning, he will also complete dealership internships with John Deere. Through training in college, he’ll apply his learning while working at agricultural job sites during the summer.

Students in the John Deere program grow confidence and skills with diesel engines, powertrains, and proprietary machine set-up systems as they are set up for long-term employment after college graduation. It's mutually beneficial. The program builds skilled workers for John Deere and students build their career path.

At the college fair this month, Sam found his way over to the NDSCS booth to visit mentor, Jim Johnson, who works at the office of admissions for the college. Jim congratulated and commended Sam on his acceptance letter and work ethic.

"How amazing that in the fall of his senior year, he already has a full-time job waiting for him,” says Jim. “He'll get reimbursed for his college education, and most importantly, he found something he loves to do."

Sam, surrounded by his teachers and mentors, had the best comment a teacher can hear.

“I’m looking forward to wrapping up my senior year and jumping into what’s next.”