Rhinelander schools, business community partner for mutual benefit
By Eileen Persike
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It’s a question that many children and teens no doubt heard countless times over the holidays, from well-meaning family and friends. The School District of Rhinelander, Partners in Education and Grow North are teaming up to help provide young people with a ready – and fairly realistic – answer.
Inspire Rhinelander is a relatively new initiative that offers students information and opportunities to learn about possible careers while they are in high school. It is the foundation of Rhinelander High School’s comprehensive academic and career planning (ACP) program, which focuses on academic readiness, career and college readiness and social emotional readiness.
“The vision [of Inspire] was finding a way to really support our students in preparing them with their post-secondary planning, whether they enter a two or four-year college, the military or the workforce,” said RHS counselor Lexi Allen. “Our goal, currently, is to engage them in different opportunities, both in-person and virtual, to allow them time to explore.”
At James Williams Middle School the online platform Xello allows students to get a jump on discovering their interests through a test and other future-readiness activities.
“One of my boys thought maybe he wanted to be a doctor and he took that test and found out he’s more apt to go into the business world,” said Amy Vanney, PIE president and branch manager at the Rhinelander Nicolet Bank. “So now he’s looking at being a financial advisor.”
Another son, Vanney added, is looking at becoming an athletic director or another career in the sports realm.
“As a mom, I think that’s a really cool program,” Vanney said. “Now, you lock that into Inspire and they all kind of tie together. He can reach out to athletic directors or financial advisors across the country or in Wisconsin and get their opinion.”
There are 14 Rhinelander businesses currently signed up as official partners with Inspire. Allen said this gives those companies exposure to students through offering virtual career experiences, job shadowing, mentoring, youth apprenticeships, job preparation support and in-person presentations.
As an employer, Vanney said the ability to connect with students is a big advantage to being part of Inspire.
“Say you are a factory that wants to hire people right out of high school,” Vanney said. “If you’re on the Inspire platform they can reach out to you and say, ‘Hey, I’m not going to go on to college, but I’d like to start a career, what do you have available?’ It’s another way, especially during COVID and the employee shortage that can tie the schools and the businesses together.”
Each month Inspire Rhinelander focuses on different career pathways. In December the focus was finance. January will feature manufacturing and Allen said she has a list of businesses signed up to participate in events.
As the program continues to grow, Vanney said she would like to see more small employers sign up, to give students an entrepreneur’s perspective.
“This platform allows you to do everything by video, in person, whatever the student feels comfortable with and the business can allow,” Vanney added. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity for employers and for students.”
Any business interested in partnering with the School District of Rhinelander can contact Lexi Allen, firstname.lastname@example.org.