Mentoring Matters

I am so proud of these girls! I have been mentoring them for a few years now, and so proud of them and what they’ve accomplished despite what they’ve been through. If you can mentor, I highly recommend it. It’s a way to pay it forward, and there’s so many kids that need our help! #mentoringmatters

Minnesota Bound, 4/18/21

Morel mushroom hunting and maple syrup making…two spring traditions that are VERY Minnesotan! I grew up hunting morel mushroom with my Father in the woods of Iowa. I remember looking for the correct tree, looking down by it’s trunk. I would find 2-3 and my Dad would find 20-20. He also was a champion finding aspargus in the spring months. #Goodmemories #morelmushrooms #maplesyrup Don’t miss more spring stories, airing this Sunday on KARE-11/NBC, 4/18!

The Daily Reporter – EMMY Winner

Emmy winner

Monday, December 14, 2020

By Randy M. Cauthron, Managing Editor

Kelly Jo McDonnell, and her production teammates recently won an Emmy for her “Boundary Waters at Risk” program which aired on KARE-11/NBC up in Minneapolis. They won for public/current/community affairs program.

Photo submitted

Royal native receives 4th honor for television project

MINNEAPOLIS — Kelly Jo McDonnell, after growing up in the shadow of her Hall of Fame father Jim McDonnell in Royal, continues making a name for herself in the broadcast journalism world after recently winning an Emmy in November for her production work on “Minnesota Bound,” which airs on KARE-11, the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The award winning production piece, a Boundary Waters Mining special, won in the category of public/current/community affairs program.

“We called it ‘The Boundary Waters at Risk,’ and it highlighted the Minnesota mining quandary of Twin Metals wanting to mine copper right on the edge of the Boundary Waters,” she explained. “We covered both sides — can they mine safely, etc. Boy, did we find plenty of opinions … mainly up in Ely, Minnesota, where the whole debate is a pretty hot topic.

She added, “Our whole team got behind this one, led by host Bill Sherck, who loves the area up there, as well as founder Ron Schara, who had retired, but got involved with this show. It’s a topic close to our hearts, that goes without saying. (We film up there often) for the state of Minnesota, it’s a tough topic to beat as far as current community affairs go. But as media, and a television program, we still have to tell both sides … regardless if we’re an outdoor/nature program or not. You have to walk that line. I thought we walked it well — and the Emmy judges thought so, too.”

The honor marked McDonnell’s fourth Emmy. She won her first Emmy for best magazine show back in the 1990s. McDonnell won another with her fiance, Cy Dodson, for best topical documentary for “My Last Breath” in 2015, which was through his production company, Triumph Pictures. She also won in 2018 as producer for “Backroads with Ron & Raven,” which is a show on Fox. The company itself, has probably won over 30-plus Emmy’s over the years.

McDonnell has a B.A. in mass communications from Briar Cliff University in Sioux City — where she played basketball for four years; as well as an M.A. in communications from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

McDonnell is the operations director at Ron Schara Productions, a TV production house in Minneapolis, where she started in 1996.

“I got lucky,” said McDonnell, suggesting her father knew the right person.

Her first job right out of college was an on-air job as a DJ at KDWB/WDGY in Minneapolis, working the night shift.

“I was still super excited,” she said. “I had wanted to get right into TV, but Minneapolis can be a tough market to break into … so I bided my time.”

After working in radio for a few years, she worked in agency/public relations work for a year before getting her break.

“My dad called me to let me know he had ‘heard through the grapevine’ that Ron Schara was starting a TV show on NBC/KARE-11 in Minneapolis. Dad, being “The Fishing Professor,” had gotten to know Schara during his many years in the fishing industry.”

At the time, Schara was the full-time outdoors feature writer for Minneapolis Star Tribune, and like McDonnell, was wanting to break into TV.

“So I picked up the phone and called NBC, asked for Ron Schara, and he picked up the phone,” McDonnell said. “Just like that. I went in for an interview the next week, and started work the next. Been there ever since.”

She added, “I love the variety of it. Some days you’re out in the field filming wraps or stories, and other days you’re move into the nitty-gritty production of it; the logging of the video, the writing of the scripts, and wrangling of the reporter’s and their deadlines. I seem to do well with a lot of projects going at the same time. It appeals to both my creative side and my organized side.”

With COVID-19 numbers spiking in Minnesota, McDonnell and her co-workers have pulled back a bit on the filming.

“We still have to do some things, but it’s minimal,” she said. “So I’m hunkered down, mainly logging video, producing ahead on spring/summer stories, and writing ahead. All our events were cancelled in 2020, so I’m on hold with those, too — we’ll see what 2021 brings. We are currently producing and filming for nine or 10 network TV shows right now, ‘Minnesota Bound’ is just one of them. So our plate is still full.”

McDonnell has been a divorced, single mother since before her son Hayden went into kindergarten, so her work/life balance has been tricky on occasion. Hayden, now a senior, spent a great deal of time on the job with her.

“He jokes that he’s ‘grown up on the set’ of ‘Minnesota Bound,’ which isn’t far from the truth,” she said. “He was always with me when our company would do events, such as our TV booth at the Minnesota State Fair … he, literally, has been working that since he was in third grade. He grew up seeing his mother work, but also saw that I enjoyed my work — a lot of the time it was fun.”

McDonnell’s parents, Jim and Almeda, were with her often at company events to help with Hayden, who now a senior in high school, has shown an interest in going into communications. Schara himself wrote reference letters for Hayden while he was applying to colleges this past fall.

“I genuinely enjoy what I do,” McDonnell said. “It helps that I’ve been with the company for so long, and have helped build it up from the ground up. I’ve learned you have to stay curious, always be learning, and that will help you stay engaged.”

McDonnell points to her own upbringing for helping guide her. She grew up with and graduating alongside 22 students whom she still keeps in touch with.

“We still come back to just ‘hang’ in the area, we miss it,” McDonnell said.

Her mother moved to Minnesota after her father Jim passed away in 2012, breaking her last direct tie to the community.

“We have had such good memories in Royal, however, that my son and my brother’s kids love to visit Royal in the summer,” she said.

The trip now includes a stay in a hotel in Spencer which she referred to as “all part of the experience now.” McDonnell said the trip allows them to pay respects to her dad who is buried right outside of Royal. She said the entire family have an Okoboji vacation planned for summer 2021 and they come back annually for her father’s yearly Wild Game Dinner that the Iowa Great Lakes Fishing Club also puts on with them.

“When I go back to visit, I still know everyone,” she said. “Small towns don’t change a whole lot … and that makes you feel real solid. I’m grateful I had that experience. I loved growing up in Royal. There’s something about ‘small-town’ community, and I sure do miss it. I love Minneapolis … but Royal will always be ‘home.’ My father was a teacher/coach, so the school system and sports were a huge part of my life growing up. There’s a discipline to sports, so that helped with the work ethic, also.”

Randy Cauthron

Managing Editor

Spencer Daily Reporter

Northwest Iowa Publishing

712-262-6610 Ext 116

Centennial students “rolling with it”….(Quad Press; Nov. 24th, 2020)

The announcement that Centennial students in grades K-12 will shift from the hybrid learning model to distance learning resulted, unsurprisingly, in conflicting emotions within the community.  

The change is hard for Centennial parents and students, as well as the teachers.

Jessica Robinson, a Centennial English teacher since 1998 known as “JRob” to her students, said the reason teachers go into teaching is because of the kids. “Now they are further away from us than they were,” she said, “and it’s hard work to catch back up to them.” 

Robinson explained that she and all her colleagues miss the young people in the actual classroom. Robinson has 147 students she teaches in her 9th and 12th grade classes. 

Robinson said the staff has pulled together, but that everyone is experiencing some sort of anxiety. “All of our mental health is being affected by the pandemic,” she said. “It’s an added challenge. The kids are needing that one-on-one attention, but now that’s difficult to supply.” 

Shane Rasmussen, a Centennial math teacher since 1993, is also working to adjust while maintaining the same positivity. “Connections are the foundation to good teaching; it’s the reason we all teach. And this learning model is challenging. It’s not just about teaching curriculum. Our teaching is much more than that. It’s being mindful of social and emotional needs.” 

Centennial teachers have been prepping and pivoting full time since the pandemic hit. This latest change is another challenge, but one they are ready to meet. Resilience is the word of the year for 2020, and while the teachers are living it moment to moment, they say no one is more resilient than the students.

“It breaks my heart we’re not in the (high school) building,” said Rasmussen, “but I’m amazed at the positivity of the seniors. They are rolling with it. It makes us focus on things we can do something about. We can still do a lot, even though it might not look like how we want it to. We’re moving forward, and there’s hope ahead.” 

There are a lot of moving parts in the school system to make this work. Robinson said she is grateful her subject can translate to online instruction easier than other topics. Yet, tasks that were once easy have become cumbersome. While Robinson can pull a PDF of a book they are studying online, there are certain things that are lost.

“When you look at the skills of reading, writing and communication, it’s now all online. Just to get a paper copy to students, logistically, has been a nightmare.” 

And even though technology has been a huge player in 2020 education, it brings with it certain barriers for students and teachers. “The lack of nonverbal communication is a barrier,” said Robinson. “If the camera’s not on, it’s hard to create a culture of faith and community space via Google meet. It’s hard enough to do it in a classroom. It takes a long time for kids to share in the classroom, and you’re building relationships, students talking to each other. Building that culture has been more difficult.” 

Another big challenge for teachers has been time. “Giving feedback, even chatting with a student is time consuming, and if you multiply that times 147 students,” said Robinson, “that’s 12 hours to assess a piece of writing that is short. I’ve tried to do videos, then save the video upload and email the kids in a message. It all takes time. People don’t understand how much time everything is taking.” 

“It’s a long day for all of us,” said Rasmussen, “there’s no teacher that I know of that’s been working (from) 8 to 4. The biggest hurdle that goes along with technology is time. What I’m doing today, crafting individual learning modules, focusing on engagement, scaffolding those lessons together, that all takes time. A lot of time.”

Both teachers and Superintendent Brian Dietz noted that they don’t think education will return to where it was before the pandemic. “The pandemic has changed the way schools operate,” Dietz said. 

But sometimes with change comes new inspiration. “Sometimes the knock against education is we don’t change with the times as quickly as we should. We get stuck in ruts,” said Rasmussen.  “The pandemic has pushed us to really look at what we’ve been doing. Taking what was good — those connections — and combining that with technology and our creativity and our collaboration is really transforming how we’re going to teach for many years down the road. There’s no doubt in my mind this experience has made us stronger educators. We’re collaborating and sharing more than we ever have in the past. It’s pushed us as teachers, our curriculum and how we deliver that curriculum to students.” 

Both Robinson and Rasmussen want to give kudos to parents, who are also struggling with the changes. “Navigating the challenges of being a teacher at home, that is nothing short of heroic,” said Rasmussen, “We’re all in this together, and we’re succeeding the best we can because of our community. 

“I’m really proud of our students,” said Rasmussen. “They’ve lost prom, homecoming, graduations last year … I’m so thankful they are resilient. They are just taking and making the best out of a horrible situation. They are rolling with it.”

Prepping for College in the age of COVID (Quad Press-Nov. 2020)

If there’s one word, besides COVID, that defines 2020, it’s uncertainty.

Though the COVID-19 storm is still brewing, life marches forward, including school and a student’s journey to college. Last year’s high-school seniors finished their school-year in a very different time due to the COVID pandemic, and the 2020/2021 seniors will be no different. But as colleges are shifting plans and expectations to weather the storm. Your student and your family can, too. 

Angela Law and Heather Trettel, both School Counselor’s at Centennial High School, said seniors are coming in and still asking the general questions; how to apply, where, what major. “There’s no frame of reference,” explained Trettel, “they don’t understand yet. It’s going to be different. But it’ll be their experience. It’ll be super different than when you and I went to college.”

Law said for seniors to embrace the changes, but also know that some things are stable. “Things are changing every day, but there are constancies, too,” she said, “You can still apply online. You still have to look at admission requirements. A lot of school are test optional now and doing a wholistic approach.” Both counselors stress to take advantage of the virtual visits; the college rep that visit the school, and, a college and career readiness web-based portfolio. Centennial also has a full-time Career Center Specialist (Leslye Erzberger), who is there to help students every step of the way. They stress to remember deadlines. And by all means, fill out the FAFSA form – Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Centennial Mother and Lino Lakes resident, Julie Lindgren Frank knows this three times over. Her triplets are all in their senior year and the family is learning together how to navigate applying for college’s during a pandemic, as well as finish up a hybrid-learning senior year. “We’re trying our best considering the state of life and three completely different lives,” she said, “All plans went out the window right at the time we were going to get serious in our (college) search. That unfortunately resulted in a few visits (sports related) to no visits due to restrictions.” Like a lot of families, she said they have been trying to embrace the virtual tours, but they’ve been tricky. “It’s been difficult to impossible to spark interest in virtual tours,” she said. “Best we’ve done with visits, outside of sports, is driving through some empty campuses to try and get a feel for the atmosphere,” said Frank.

Trettel agreed that virtual tours can be challenging. She said Naviance is trying to help with this, as well as college’s coming up with their own ideas. “I had a student who went down to see a school in Iowa, and she had a tour app on her phone, and was able to take her own tour,” she explained. “There’s nothing like being on the campus, and I would still tell kids, don’t commit as a student until you walk the campus, see what the community is like. Those things are super important. Even though it’s during COVID, they still have to live there.”

And how about the big question in a time of uncertainty – money. “Stay the course,” stresses David Purdy, Founder and CEO of Wealth Management Midwest in Forest Lake, MN.,  “This is called a ‘K shape” recovery, as opposed to a V. Part of the K is going down, industries such as food, restaurant, airlines, but you do have an upside,” he said. “Bike sales are up 81%. RV sales are up. Boats and motors, those sales are off the charts.” He said not all industries are suffering, but if your family had an income change, due to COVID or something else, be sure to inform the school when you’re researching financial aid options.

Purdy’s philosophy is to look at all the options with what works for your family at any given time. “If you’re needing the money within 36-46 months, don’t run the risk of putting it into the market”, he said, “rather, perhaps open a 529 while your child is still young, perhaps 9 or 10”.

Even if parents are behind the eight ball in timing, Purdy said not to panic. There are options out there and experts to help you along the way.  “If you can do it, saving something for education makes a lot of sense,” he explains, “I don’t think that (idea) should be abandoned”. He and the Centennial counselors both agreed to do your due diligence on researching financial aid options that are a fit for your family.

Every student and their circumstance is different. Helping your student keep their eye on the big picture and stay organized, even during a pandemic, will help.  

“We will continue the process,” said Frank, “And hopefully by decision time, pray there’s more certainty and clarity about the future.”