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Portage Health Foundation executive director Kevin Store speaks about staffing issues and student opportunities during the Keweenaw Alliance breakfast on Wednesday. (Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON – As the Copper Country continues to grow, helping current students enter the workforce with healthy lifestyles and decent jobs will be an important part.

Portage Health Foundation executive director Kevin Store and Copper Country Intermediate School District superintendent James Rautiola spoke about efforts to help students and some of the obstacles during the Keweenaw Alliance breakfast on Wednesday.

Eleven students receive professional and professional training grants from the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance/Portage Health Foundation. Out of six recipients in the past year, five have completed their program.

Once students are enrolled, funds are paid directly to schools. Any surplus is then passed on to the students.

This year, the Portage Health Foundation awarded $219,700 in grants for educational grants and undergraduate support. The Portage Health Foundation’s interest in education stems from findings from the four-county area that showed a link between better health and higher levels of education.

“We believe that, over an extended period of time, we can see increasing overall civic and economic vitality in our community and a further reduction in risk factors individually and for families.” Said store.

Last year, for the first time, the Portage Health Foundation offered scholarships to non-traditional students seeking either further education in their specialty or training for a career change.

Beginning this week, the PHF is accepting applications for the Jim Bogan Health Administration Scholarship, which also offers $5,000 for someone wishing to pursue a master’s program in healthcare.

Despite rising tuition fees, it has been difficult to generate interest, Store said.

“It’s actually a bit annoying that we have these funds available, and these partnerships that we’ve built with other organizations, and these efforts, and it’s extremely difficult to give away this money.” he said.

To answer this, PHF worked with Jonathan Leinonen, an economics professor at Michigan Technological University who has studied the challenges faced by students from less-resourced families. These families and students are generally less aware of how to navigate the resources available to them, Store said.

“Maybe there’s a little bit of stigma or a little bit of fear about a lack of confidence in accessing some of the help that’s available.” he said. “So let’s start looking at some strategies for how we, as a community, can begin to address some of these things.”

At the college level, many students struggle with anxiety, stress, and also high rates of thyroid dysfunction and autoimmune diseases, Store said. The PHF examines the association with malnutrition among the 30% of college students in the region who report food insecurity.

“You can eat enough, you can have a full stomach, but that doesn’t mean you’re properly nourished.” he said.

A possible solution is being implemented at Horizons Alternative High School. A grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development helped fund the creation of a culinary garden that provides food to be used in cooking classes at the school.

Career and technical programs are a small but important part of what the Copper Country Intermediate School District has to offer, Rautiola said. The ITS looks after 7,000 students at 14 public schools in the region.

As with other employers, the CCISD is struggling to find employees for a growing percentage of the population approaching retirement age.

“We have to be very creative in how we approach this problem because I don’t think it’s going to get any better,” he said.

The increasing popularity of remote work is attracting people to the area. However, that is also leading to a housing crisis that has caused some people to turn down their jobs, Rautiola said.

“I think what we can do from an educational perspective is breed our own — that is, the kids that we have right now, let’s educate them, let’s keep them.” he said. “Let’s not send them out of the area to work somewhere else.”

CTE programs have traditionally focused on 11th and 12th grade students. A pilot program in November expanded this to middle school. Rautiola counted on about 20 students; almost 40 came.

In realizing this interest, the ISD has two problems: finding enough teachers and structuring everyday school life.

Rautiola mentioned a bill by state Sen. Ed McBroom that would increase the percentage of the school day during which students can work at a company for class credits.

“There’s bipartisan support for that, so I think we’re going to have good traction going forward.” he said. “It’s just one of the challenges we face in getting kids there, educating them and hopefully helping our local businesses.”

By giving students more career opportunities in middle school, there’s hope they’ll have a clearer idea of ​​what they want to do by the time they reach their senior year of high school, Rautiola said.

CCISD is expanding classroom space at its CTE center to accommodate increased programming. A business program is launched and a laboratory has been set up for the new health care career program electrocardiogram certification.

The printing shop, now located in the CCISD building, will be moved to the CTE center in hopes that the ISD can link it to Finlandia University’s graphic design program.

“We realize that not everyone is going to run a printing business, but if we can at least start making some of those connections, maybe we can get a handful of kids interested.” said Rautiola.

The ISD expands its early childhood education program to K-12. Students are scheduled to shadow teachers in their junior and senior years of high school.

A partnership with the Michigan Works! The youth apprenticeship program allows students to earn certifications with local manufacturers and earn money through a part-time job.

“We throw all kinds of darts and the kids love it,” said Rautiola. “Time will tell whether we succeed or not.”

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