FISHER, Minn. – With a tiny, yellow chick cupped in her palms, Fisher High School teacher Kristen Schwarz coached Carter Helgeson as he played the role of a veterinarian welcoming her into his clinic.
With the classmates of the veterinary science student grouped around the two, Schwarz talked Helgeson through the pre-examination process that included a cheerful greeting, sanitizing the exam room and weighing the chick.
The hands-on teaching methods resonate with her students, including juniors Helgeson and Joey Jorgenson.
“It teaches us a better understanding of what it takes to work in the clinic and to treat animals,” Helgeson said.
Jorgenson is learning the basic, practical skills he will need if he pursues a career as a veterinarian, he said.
“We’ve been doing a bunch of hands-on stuff, and that’s the best way I learn. That’s the way I memorize,” Jorgenson said. “Some other classes don’t have that hands-on (experience), and Mrs. Schwarz always seems to bring that fun energy.”
The approach to teaching students career skills has resulted in a thriving Fisher Public Schools vocational-technical education program. Schwarz teaches classes from certified nursing assistant to small engines to greenhouse management. The classes develop students' career-oriented skills that will prepare them for postsecondary education at vocational technical colleges or, if they choose, to directly enter the workforce.
The veterinary science students who take the course taught through Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, for example, can apply for jobs as veterinary assistants at clinics after they complete her class.
A unique set of skills, which include expertise in careers from nursing to agriculture, qualify Schwarz to teach a variety of classes.
Schwarz, who graduated from Fisher High School in 2004, earned a registered nursing degree at Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls, Minn. After graduation, she worked in cardiac rehabilitation at RiverView Hospital in Crookston. Her agricultural background – she grew up on a diversified grain and row crop farm near Fisher and now lives on a farm with her husband and children – helped land her a second job as an agronomist for AgriMAX in Fisher.
Schwarz, a strong advocate for agriculture, was concerned that Fisher Public Schools didn’t have any agronomy-livestock production classes or FFA chapter, so she asked her supervisor at AgriMAX if she could teach Agriculture in the Classroom to the elementary students.
In 2015, she started teaching a vocational and technical education class to high school students.
“I would be an agronomist, and I would go over to teach, and then go back to AgriMAX," Schwarz said. “After that year, I really thought it needed to be a full-time program.”
This school year, Schwarz teaches six classes in vocational education to students in grades seven through 12.
“I wanted as many classes as I could, so they could figure out where they wanted to go,” Schwarz said, noting that during high school, she thought she wanted to have a career in nursing. After becoming one, she changed her mind.
She’s since learned that teaching vocational and technical education classes is a better fit.
“I love kids and have a passion for agriculture,” Schwarz said. ”This is a blast teaching a variety of classes and seeing kids connect with different parts of the classes.
“When you see that spark in their eyes, it’s amazing."
The vocational and technical education classes – such as commercial driver’s license, veterinary science and certified nursing assistant – give her students a glimpse of what those career fields might hold, said Catherine Steinmetz, Fisher Public Schools principal, who stopped by her teacher’s veterinary science classroom to watch students weigh the chicks.
“Not all students are college bound. This gives them some job-ready skills right after high school,” Steinmetz said.
The vocational and technical program helps fulfill Fisher Public Schools' mission statement ”to prepare all learners with the academic, social and personal skills for lifelong success,” Steinmetz said.