Mobile construction lab to aid Bowler students

Project is a collaboration among school district, CMN, National Indian Education Association, Core Learning Exchange
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

The Bowler School District will be able to expand its efforts to teach the construction trades thanks to a mobile lab developed in partnership with the College of Menominee Nation, the National Indian Education Association and Core Learning Exchange.

The mobile lab, which made its debut Aug. 11 at CMN, is expected to attract more students to the trades with virtual reality setups and space for make-and-take projects.

Glenda Butterfield-Boldig, the school district’s superintendent, said a grant made the mobile lab possible, but the grant will provide more than just a portable classroom. It will provide an opportunity, she said, to keep students living and working in the community instead of traveling to colleges or other communities with a more sustainable living environment. She noted that the effort will not only help her local students but others, as well.

“Over the last year, we’ve met monthly in talking about ‘What can this look like? What should this look like?’” Butterfield-Boldig said. “It’s been remarkable to team with people where we can dream out loud and figure out ways to make this happen. Just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”

Butterfield-Boldig noted that the facility includes virtual reality goggles and other gear to help teach about construction through simulations. The school district is also going to utilize the lab for make-and-take projects for younger students who will eventually try to pursue trades when they move on to high school.

“There is no cost to students,” Butterfield-Boldig said. “It’s not just a mobile construction trailer but a mobile construction classroom.”

There’s also the potential that the lab will provide a base of operations when the district looks at building homes, garages and other structures years down the line.

Diane Cournoyer, director for the NIEA, noted that the mobile lab was made a reality because Jolene Bowman, education and career services director for the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, made the connection between Bowler schools and CMN. Cournoyer noted that NIEA’s role is to draw a line and connect relationships to that line by restoring tribal nations through learning, which is how the mobile lab came to be.

“We had a dream. We had a thought. We had a plan,” Cournoyer said. “We didn’t know who to go to, but we knew there was a spark there, and we knew there was something good about this opportunity.”

The partnership between Bowler and CMN does not end with the mobile lab, she added, saying she wants the collaboration to grow.

“I want Bowler and Menominee to be the example of a pilot that we lift up and we push out to other tribal colleges,” Cournoyer said. “What about tribal colleges having the opportunity to do something like this? What about Bowler being the example of middle school and high school students in providing the connection and opportunity, too? We want to be able to communicate to our kids that you don’t have to go to a large, four-year institution. You don’t have to have straight A’s. There are opportunities here for your future, to have a secure job and to live in your community.”

CMN President Christopher Caldwell said the lab also serves as an opportunity to connect current and future students with the trades program offered at the college.

“There were a number of things we talked about this morning as we started our new semester,” Caldwell said during a press conference at the college’s library. “We talked about that commitment to community and the way that we inspire the people of our communities by making those relationships and opportunities for building new relationships. This is just one example of many that we’ve had here at the college.”

CMN is one out of 35 accredited tribal post-secondary institutions in the United States, and Caldwell believes it is one of the more successful ones because of its advocacy work in programs like the mobile lab.

Bowman, who also sits on the NIEA board, said it has been an “adventure” to make the mobile lab a reality.

“This is the best way to serve our community, through partnerships,” she said. “These partnerships came together so natural that the outcome is unbelievable. This is evidence that our students will learn through exploration and discovery, which makes learning sustainable — a sustainable footprint that will last their lifetime.”