Keys to success; IJ Holton’s Schara uses lanyards to inspire students for future

Published 9:14 am Friday, January 18, 2019

If IJ Holton Intermediate School students see their principal Dewey Schara in the hallways, it’s a safe bet that he’s sporting a lanyard.

A different one each day, Schara has 99 lanyards as of Thursday from different colleges, universities, vocational schools and more displayed in his office. It started out with simply representing the college Schara attended. When he started working at IJ Holton last June as the new principal of an AVID school, Schara wanted to prepare students for their post-secondary education. Whether that’d be going to a two-year or four-year college, or even a trade school.

The lanyards were an easy conversation piece to segue into those kinds of dialogue.

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“I collected lanyards over the years, and wore a lanyard from where I went to school in La Crosse,” Schara said. “I wore another one from Mankato State, and people started asking questions.”

Slowly, other colleagues offered up lanyards from their respective alma maters. Then, students started noticing Schara wearing different lanyards every day, and began engaging their principal about “which school” would be highlighted that day. Since then, Schara receives about two or three specific requests from students per day on researching a school they could possibly consider attending in the future.

A part of IJ Holton Principal Dewey Schara’s lanyard collection hangs on display. Schara so far has 99 lanyards and hopes to reach 180 so that he can wear one each school day to highlight a different college, or vocational school as a possible post-secondary educational opportunity for students.

In order of when he’d receive requests, he would Google the different schools and find a place that held potential programs for the student and then highlight them on the intercom every day.

“One asked about ghost hunting, and it turns out the best school in the country to go to for paranormal activity research is at Harvard University,” Schara said. He then paused.

“I didn’t even know that was something you could study. So, I learned something,” he added.

Schara’s goal is to reach 180 lanyards at least, so that he can wear a different one each day out of the school year. He found this method to be more engaging with students, and more personal to students to open up to him about what they dreamed for themselves.

The furthest place a lanyard came from so far was Hawaii. There were lanyards from community colleges such as Riverland Community College, and some from Ivy League schools like Yale University. There are even lanyards representing each branch of the military.

With each new lanyard, Schara would feature the one he was wearing that day on social media. Usually on Twitter, Schara would tag a specific school and highlight the types of programs the school offers. Sometimes, Twitter users would also mail lanyards out to Schara to display in his office.

IJ Holton Principal Dewey Schara holds up lanyards from Riverland Community College.

“I have yet to get a negative comment, and the project has really blossomed,” he said. “Students would ask ‘what’s the school today, Mr. Schara?’ It has become an easy conversation topic and a personal one. They come up and talk to me via email, or via hallways. Seeds are being planted here.”

Having a goal and creating plans to achieve those goals are an important aspect of what IJ Holton does as a STEAM school. Students begin to think formally about what they want in the future. By having multiple conversations, Schara engages his students daily about their interests and set a goal or trajectory in what they want to pursue beyond secondary education. Whether it’d be trades, or going for a two-year or four-year college degree.

“They connect learning to wanting to be a scientist, and start forming a bigger picture,” Schara said. “They think about what they want to do in the future.”

Schara was told to go to college when he was young by his parents, and slowly, more seeds were planted. He became an educator, and now credits much of his journey to others who saw potential in him, and encouraged him to consider becoming a teacher.

Not all students have someone to encourage them or to hone their talents, and so Schara, wants to approach each child and have them share their dreams with him. By having a simple conversation and investing in a child’s interests, Schara believes that’s the key to helping them succeed and discover their own talents.

“I don’t want any student to leave IJ Holton without a dream,” he said firmly. “It’s the power of those connections, and it’s something we take for granted. We have a unique opportunity here. I would be devastated if a student went through our school system without a dream.”

IJ Holton Intermediate School Principal Dewey Schara shifts through a collection of lanyards he collected to help engage his students about post-secondary education. His goal is to collect 180 to display each school day and highlight a different school, vocation and more.

Those dreams may have previously seemed out of reach for some, where high costs for educational opportunities proved to be an obstacle. However, ever since The Hormel Foundation announced over the last summer about the Austin Assurance Scholarship Program about giving students an opportunity to attend college for two-years completely debt-free, it changed things, Schara recalled.

Not to mention the partnership with Winona State University which grows teachers in its 2+2 program and is housed at Sumner Elementary School. Schara even hired many of his teachers directly from the program, and many of those students were from Riverland Community College.

“It’s about providing access to all students,” he said. “Those dreams seem more tangible now because of our relationship with Riverland, and with Winona State. Some students struggle in school, and some think because of that they think their dream is too big. I say ‘Nonsense!’ Stay in school, and you can go to Riverland for free. I am very explicit. …you can have a dream now.”

As for what he wants to do in the future with the lanyards, Schara said it was impossible to stop collecting them, and plans to continue this project no matter what. Although, he’s coming across display issues and is running out of space in his office.

Each lanyard tells a story, and has opened up the world to the students at IJ Holton. Meaning, another world of possibilities for what they can achieve when they graduate from Austin Public Schools. Schara wanted to encourage the community to send lanyards wherever they go.

“I would love it,” he said. “No school or trade area is too small or insignificant.”

Want to send a lanyard?

For those who’d like to send a lanyard from their vocation or college, you can mail them or deliver them directly to the front desk at IJ Holton Intermediate School. The address is 1800 4th Ave SE, Austin, MN 55912