Local program spells success for students and employees

Chippewa National Forest employees participating in Students First through a local school district.

Forest Service employees are committed to giving back to the communities that they live and work in and volunteer work is a big part in making a difference. For the past few years Chippewa National Forest employees have volunteered as student success coaches with the Bemidji School District Students First program.

Ann Long Voelkner, Todd Tisler, Jon Hodgson, John Rickers and Melissa Rickers once a month spend time with their student they have been matched with. From month to month and eventually year to year, they get to see their student mature, and begin to make concrete decisions about the future. Success coaches are there to have important conversations with students during a critical time of life.

“Students are very interested in learning and applying knowledge gained through the program” said Long Voelkner, who has been involved in the program since it started. 

Students First is a community effort to help youth reach their full potential by pursuing their goals with support from caring adults. From 6th grade through 12th grade, Students First participants learn and develop their individual strengths, build a success plan, do community service projects, plan for high school, plan for post-secondary life, build relationships and learn skills necessary for future success. Each student is paired with a volunteer success coach from the community to support them in reaching these goals.

Success coaches make a big impact with those monthly 45-minute sessions because they stay with the same student, building a quality relationship with them over the long term. At a time in our culture when we struggle to find ways for youth and adults to connect, Students First is working to build bridges and help students gain the skills necessary to communicate and grow in understanding with someone outside of their peer group.

The program began in 2009 and has approximately 400 students and 300 community volunteers.