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Minnesota Education Commissioner Visits Big Lake High School

Minnesota’s education commissioner, Mary Cathryn Ricker visited Big Lake High School to see first-hand the educational benefits of Big Lake High School’s REAL program. REAL (Relevant Experience Apprenticeship Learning) provides all students opportunities to gain exposure and experience through exploration in the field of their choosing with apprenticeships. 

This program provides comprehensive apprenticeship skills and knowledge framework that schools and industry can customize to meet local apprenticeship needs. “Our students need opportunities where they can experience professional environments that drive their enthusiasm, excitement, and learning,” says Principal Bob Dockendorf. “The apprenticeship model at Big Lake High School provides students with exposure to industries of their choosing to provide real-life, hands-on experiences.” 

Each month, Wade Olson and Matt Vogel, Technology Education and Work-based Learning Coordinators, select a student to be featured in the REAL Student Spotlight newsletter. These students are chosen based on their performance in their apprenticeship. The REAL Student Spotlight is sent to all participating organizations that provide apprenticeship opportunities and partners in the program, including the Minnesota Department of Education. “The student spotlight is to help recognize the tremendous efforts our students are putting into their apprenticeships and to thank the organizations that provide a placement for our students,” says Olson. “This program would not be possible without the dedication and support of our partners.” A previous Student Spotlight caught the attention of Commissioner Ricker and that’s when she reached out to Big Lake Schools for a visit. 

During Commissioner Ricker’s visit she had the opportunity to tour technology labs and learn more about the REAL program along with the implementation process. “A huge goal is to transform the landscape in the state of Minnesota that all of us are lifelong learners. Students should have the opportunity to engage in careers and then choose their own path towards college or work,” says Ricker. The REAL program exceeds that expectation towards allowing students to engage in exploration with their future career choice. 

Big Lake alumni Angelo Conavatti, class of 2019, took part in the REAL program during his senior year of high school. Angelo shared with the Commissioner that he is 18 years old and a fully licensed auto mechanic working full time because of his participation in work-based learning during high school. Gavin Swinehart, a current senior at Big Lake High School, shared his experience working as an apprentice at Arconic. Gavin spoke about Arconic’s commitment to ensuring that he received a broad experience from design all the way to machining critical components. “Students naturally gravitate towards a career or experience that interests them and they are passionate about,” says Matt Vogel, Technology Education and Workbased Learning Coordinator. “Our goal is to help guide students on that path through placement with organizations that fit their passion.” 

The REAL program has received numerous awards including the Star of Innovation Award, Bridge Award for Resources Training & Solutions, the Arconic Foundation Grant for Robotics, and most recently was named a National Leader in Work-based Learning by Project Lead The Way. In a partnership with Hanna Klimmek, EDFP Community Development Director for the City of Big Lake, the REAL program has also received the Local Government Innovation Award for apprentice learning. 

Organizations interested in partnering with Big Lake High School can contact Principal Bob Dockendorf at 763-262-2547 or by email 

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