Spring Valley Area Community Foundation President Sue Kolling outlined what the local group is doing. The foundation helped support the Gateway Academy, which ties into Project Lead the Way as shown in the graphic displayed.
Spring Valley Area Community Foundation President Sue Kolling outlined what the local group is doing. The foundation helped support the Gateway Academy, which ties into Project Lead the Way as shown in the graphic displayed.
A crowd of more than 100 people heard from the future and about the future at the annual banquet of the Spring Valley Area Community Foundation last Wednesday at the Root River Country Club.

The program at the banquet began with Kingsland Elementary School students Madison Himle and Luke Howard telling about their experiences in the Gateway Academy, a week-long academic summer camp offered last year at Kingsland funded by a donation from the foundation. The program ended with guest speaker Duane Benson telling about forces shaping the future that these two young people will enter, and, in many ways, is already here even if many of the adults in the room weren't aware of the changes that have escaped their notice.

The two young students, among those considered the future of our society, shared their experiences with the enrichment program last summer and how much they enjoyed the hands-on learning about technology and its practical uses. The Gateway Academy, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, wasn't offered anywhere else in the area and the foundation donation allowed Kingsland to provide free tuition.

Kingsland Superintendent John McDonald said the only downside of the academy was that not every student that wanted to get in was able because it was capped at 30 students.

However, due to the generosity of an anonymous donor, which he referred to as an "angel," the camp will be held for two more years. McDonald said the donor read about the program in the Tribune and came forth with the donation because it was such a good thing for local youth.

The "good will" of the foundation is already "spreading very quickly," said McDonald about the local group that was holding its second annual banquet.

He went on to outline all the ways STEM education is being implemented at Kingsland, including through the Project Lead the Way program. For example, all students have access to iPads or netbooks and high school students are able to get associate of arts degrees through education offered at the high school.

The biggest accomplishment may well be when Kingsland became the first, and still only, school district in Minnesota to achieve three national certifications in Project Lead the Way, a national program that was created to encourage and recognize districts that have a rigorous STEM educational component. The Gateway Academy is part of one of the designations - the Gateway to Technology. The other two areas are Pathway to Engineering and Biomedical Sciences.

Following his talk, McDonald gave a multi-media presentation of the new programs operating in the district.

Benson, a former Minnesota state senator and NFL linebacker who lives near Lanesboro on a cattle farm, spoke about our changing world. He detailed changes reflected by globalization, technology and demographics.

Using a reference to farming, he pointed out that how much rain Brazil gets is as important to area producers as how much Illinois may receive because prices are so dependent on global markets.

He also related a conversation he had nearly 10 years ago with a scientist that asked him what he thought a good corn yield would be. Benson said 200 bushels per acre. The scientist told him that in 10 years, the answer would be around 500 bushels per acre, which Benson thought was, perhaps, way out there.

However, not quite 10 years later, Benson said that a farmer in Minnesota had around a 490-bushel yield last summer.

He also illustrated the changes in demographics by citing statistics from the last presidential election. He noted that Ronald Reagan easily won the presidency in the early 1980s with 59 percent of the white, male vote. Last year, Mitt Romney lost by a significant margin, but still had 59 percent of the white, male vote.

He said Mohammed is now on the list of 25 most common names for babies in the United States. Growth in the job market, he noted, will come from a diverse population.

Taking those trends to Minnesota schools, he asked the audience where Minnesota ranks nationally in percent of students that graduate from high school. Most answers were near the top.

However, Benson pointed out that Minnesota ranks 289th in the nation, according to new calculations from the U.S. Department of Education. Even more alarming, the state ranks 23rd among white students, but 49th for African-Americans and last for Asian, Hispanic and American Indians.

As Benson wound up his talk, he praised the Kingsland district for implementing technology into the curriculum and said he hoped it wasn't a "passing fancy." Education is the key to creating a healthy community.

He also told the foundation to dream - and to put those dreams into action to better the community.

Foundation President Sue Kolling outlined some of the areas the foundation is working on, including sponsorship of the first Spring Valley Music in the Park concert on Sunday, June 9, when "Elvis," also known as Brad Boice, will perform. The foundation has also provided matching funds for the roof repair of the Wykoff Community Center and is seeking ideas for other community improvement projects.

She thanked the people that showed up for the banquet, which is the largest fundraiser of the foundation. She also mentioned the support during the Give to the Max Day in November when the foundation has a challenge with the Preston foundation for online giving, and throughout the year.

The funds of the community foundation are managed by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, which serves as the 501(c)(3) legal entity and fiscal agent for smaller foundations such as this. Jennifer Nelson, development and outreach officer of SMIF, also gave a few words on how the foundations work together.

At the end of the night, auctioneer Dick Schwade sold several items to raise money for the foundation, which will use the funds to continue its work in the communities of Spring Valley, Wykoff and Ostrander.