Mpls students clear a path for Junior Olympians


What did you do on your summer vacation? A proud group of 10th and 11th graders from Minneapolis North, Patrick Henry, Edison, Washburn and South High Schools can return to school this fall with stories about their having paved the way for Junior Olympians.

Quite literally, this team of students built the stairway path behind the Wirth Park Chalet in Minneapolis’ Northside for the 2011 Cross Country Junior Olympics.

Under the guidance of Jake Wollensak, project manager for Tree Trust and a University of Minnesota School of Architecture graduate student, these teens dug, raked, graded and tiered a rock- and root-infested hill. They measured, squared, leveled, tamped, and spiked timber framing into a sound terraced structure strong enough to endure the harshness of Minnesota winters.

The stairway will serve as a key pathway to the cross-country (aka Nordic) ski stadium area, now in early stages of development for the City of Lakes Loppet Foundation, which will serve as host to the Junior Olympics event in March 6-11, 2011.

The Wirth Park team of workers is one among three crews managed by Tree Trust, a nonprofit partner with the City of Minneapolis’ Step Up program. Step Up, a city program to hire and train high schoolers, requires team members to qualify through a rigorous selection process to earn their jobs.

“I wanted to work outside,” explained one of the team members when asked how she ended up here.

Working with their hands and building something were also mentioned as reasons others agreed they applied for these jobs.

While there’s plenty of physical labor behind the work, these summer jobs are much more than manual labor. In addition to working eight hours a day two to three days a week in the field, these students also gain on-site instruction from Tree Trust and Step Up program instructors who use laptop computers to teach money management, project cost estimating, writing about the project, and developing their résumés.

And, there are the less tangibles. “Working as teams has got to be one of the biggest skills they develop here,” stated project manager Wollensak.

“They all come in here from different neighborhoods, different cultures. They learn to work together. I’m seeing friendships come out of this, too!”

The City of Lakes Loppet is proud to be working on this event that places Minneapolis on a national stage. “We really appreciate these guys,” stated foundation Director John Munger. They’re doing real quality work out there.

“We walk that hill many times a week as we prepare the stadium site. I’m thrilled to know we’re going to have a great trail for us now, for all those who attend this national event and those who follow.”

“Rocks and roots” are the project’s greatest challenge, the team members agreed after digging into the hard-packed hill to build the timber-framed stairway path.

Team members nodded and smiled when Wollensak suggested math skills were a key takeaway from this summer job. Lots of math and geometry went into measuring dimensions and estimating costs, not to mention calculating how much they’re earning this summer for their hard work.

In the end, this project is much more than a summer job. It’s a first summer job for many and one that will leave these students with stories to share about adding focus, dedication, effort and learning to their life paths.

Along with the Junior Olympians, it’s a path these students are traveling with pride and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Steve Kotvis welcomes reader responses to


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