Over the last two years, a lot has happened in the development of the New Richmond School District SOAR Education Center, which is currently located at 2032 County Road CC.
"I shared a dream and a vision for this hands on learning opportunity and for them to really execute the daily tasks to make it happen is amazing," said high school agriscience teacher Rachel Sauvola. "They have to do everything from finding the farmers to contribute the animals, spread the word about the project. It has truly been a fantastic experience working with the kids."
In 2016, a rendition of what the site could look like was created, the SOAR (Student Opportunities with Agricultural Resources) Education Center name was approved by the school board and the excitement for the project grew as the NR Community Foundation began to talk about supporting the program. In 2017, a lease with the City of New Richmond, the New Richmond Airport and school district was signed to allow the SOAR Education Center to use the 2032 County Road CC location. Sauvola applied for and received three grants totaling $50,000 and the first official beef steer was welcomed to the center.
"Grants are awesome, in that you can get a larger sum of money all at one time from one application. So that is a huge benefit, but they also come with timelines that need to be fostered and adhered to in order to best use the money that has been given to you," Sauvola said. "Unfortunately, my first $25,000 grant, I had to ask for an extension for it because I still don't have the proper permission to build at the present site."
Although Sauvola and the district can't build on the current site, animals and students have been taking over the center and thriving. The center has acquired 35 donated animals from 11 different families, with four steers that are all over 950 pounds, four calves that are all less than 200 pounds, 20 chickens that are laying over three dozen eggs per week, six ducks and a petting zoo goat.
"The part that I really appreciate is that there has been a team of 10 students who are essentially managing the farm. I get to advise them, but they are making decisions about best management practices and they have the ability to problem solve and troubleshoot different ideas that they have every single day," Sauvola said. "It's been really fun to see them come up with plans, lists of materials and come up with a budget for their projects. Those are all life skills that they will use over and over again, just from this one unit of study."
Sauvola said that she couldn't be happier with all the support and help that the district has received from the City of New Richmond.
"The City of New Richmond has been working with us through this whole thing and they have been great. They have helped us prepare for winter and have been very supportive of what we are doing. We just need to be able to find the perfect space to be able to build the way that we want," Sauvola said. "But at the same time, we are excited that the site we are on now will always be a possibility for us in being able to lease that land."
The biggest requirement for a new site for the SOAR Education Center, according to Sauvola, is a space that is closer to the high school, so the students can take better advantage of the facilities.
"An ideal site would be closer than what we have now. In order to get a lab to work out there, I have to prep the kids the day before, they take a 12-minute ride out to the site, we have 15 minutes there and then it is 12 minutes back to school," Sauvola said. "So they have to know exactly what they are doing. I'm also the bus driver, the teacher and coordinating everything for the trip. That gets a little exciting sometimes. We could utilize it more if it were closer."
With $55,000 in grants in hand, Sauvola knows things will move quickly once the district is able to find a location where the SOAR Education Center can move permanently and begin to build. However, the support the district has already received from the community has been amazing, Sauvola said.
"And I'd like to give a special thanks to my summer crew. Summer did not go the way I'd have planned, but I had a team of four families that took charge," Sauvola said. "Some of the students started out the summer not driving, so the parents really stepped up as well. I will forever be thankful for them in making that first summer transition beautifully to the fall school year."
The district has also been behind Sauvola and the project from the beginning, even offering up $50,000 for Sauvola to bring to the table with local farmers and landowners to see if they have some potential land that the district can use for the building site.
Those interested in a tour or to volunteer at the SOAR Education Center should contact Rachel Sauvola at firstname.lastname@example.org.