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'The Jump' is a reality all high schoolers have to face

Wadena-Deer Creek Superintendent Lee Westrum knows that educating kids is about preparing them to take their place in the workforce, but they are not all going to have the same goals about entering the working world. Westrum sees the present generation as being one less motivated by money and more motivated by other things—making a difference, happiness—is really important to them.

"There are kids who know exactly what they want to do," Westrum said. "But being 18 years old many people change their minds, life happens to them so it's a unique path that everyone takes. At school, we do a lot to try and help the kids. They take an interest inventory and aptitude type tests. It gives them some feedback."

One of the facts Westrum and his staff have to deal with is that the future is still being written for their students.

"A lot of the jobs that these kids are going to have don't exist right now," Westrum said. "I think the focus now has switched from specific knowledge and facts to 21st Century skills."

These 21st Century skills encompass understanding technology, the ability to think creatively, critical thinking skills, the ability to question and analyze.

Of all these new skills Westrum rates the soft skills among the most important for the workplace—the ability to communicate well with people and the ability to work in a team setting. As a superintendent, Westrum rates the ability to work well with others as perhaps the most important skill of all for one of his employees.

"I don't think there is a more important skill in the workplace," Westrum said.

Book knowledge still has its place, but the world has changed—a student does not have to walk around with a head full of facts anymore.

"I can look up any fact that I want to in 20 seconds on my phone," Westrum said.

Westrum is very aware of the Huhn's worth to the school and the students.

"He works with the kids on setting up a post-high school plan and they go through what requirements are there for this career? What can you expect to make? What are your job prospects?" Westrum said. "He is able to meet with each student individually a few times. We start there with ninth and 10th graders. We want them to start planning and thinking about what they want to do."

Cindi Koll knows something about what teenagers are looking at as worthwhile careers. Koll leads the Central Minnesota CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) group of students who hail from a number of area schools. The juniors and seniors in her group tour area businesses, listen to their speakers and use the knowledge and lessons they collect to come up with their own enterprises.

"My students might be more ambitious and goal-oriented than most," Koll said.

What are these students looking at for careers? Koll said technology, education, culinary arts and medicine rank among the most popular.

Some of the members are also looking for something else—a way to stay connected to their home ground. Some enjoy living in the area and want to build a life here—not in a metro area.

Where schools once emphasized a college career after high school, they are now a lot more open to looking at "everything that is out there," according to Westrum. The ultimate decision belongs to that teenager.

"They have to make up their own mind," Westrum said. "It's their life."

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