Madison Hanninen estimated she’s spent about half of her time enrolled at Proctor High School learning outside it.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant swaths of her sophomore and junior years were spent learning from home while her mom, an essential worker at St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth, was away at work. That spurred Hanninen to throw herself into her senior year at Proctor, which is set to end on Sunday when she and about 125 of her classmates graduate at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
“I’ve really put my foot in the door,” she told the News Tribune.
The 17-year-old sampled several careers — nursing at Lake Superior College, emergency rescue via St. Louis County, autobody work at a local shop, and so on — via the “Proctor Pathways” program there and made a point of volunteering at the Boxcar, a thrift store filled with donated clothes and toiletries Proctor students can pick up free of charge twice a week or by appointment. Hanninen pushed to add a “hygiene cart” filled with soap, toothpaste, tampons, and so on.
She also put in time at the Salvation Army, cleaning and organizing donated clothes.
Inspired by her extended family’s complicated path through parts of the criminal justice and social service systems, Hanninen hopes to become a social worker herself.
Kids, she said, need a good support system in similar circumstances.
“They need a good social worker,” Hanninen said. “They need somebody that wants the best interest for them.”
She plans to head to Lake Superior College next fall to get an associate degree and then the University of Wisconsin-Superior to earn her bachelor’s degree.
Returning to class a struggle
But there was a downside to coming back to school in-person for Hanninen and many of her classmates. Switching from at-home Zoom calls and half-paid-attention-to lessons to a much more regimented, work-like class schedule was jarring, she said, which meant social anxiety as Hanninen and others adapted to their new routine.
“I suffered for the first few months of just having really bad anxiety attacks from being here,” Hanninen said, “and not being used to being around all these people and the loud noises and unexpectedness of what was going to go on with the day.”
Almost all of the students and staff at Proctor High School had a similar experience, according to Sarah Klyve, the school’s student success coordinator and its dean of students. She said she helps students with behavior issues or other “negative outlets” figure out what they want to do after high school and, the hope is, get more comfortable in school and find a way that it applies to them.
Back in a run-of-the-mill classroom, Klyve said, students were more prone to outbursts and sickness, which she chalked up to anxiety manifesting itself as, say, a stomach ache.
Most students weren’t particularly successful, academically, learning online, Klyve said. Many skirted by a subject during distance learning and weren’t ready for the rigor expected of them during in-person classes.
“It’s been really, really difficult,” Klyve said. “We’ve seen at least a year delay in most students.”
District leaders hope to make up for some of that lost time by offering “extended” school days for students who have struggled with the transition back to class. That means a spot to stay after school and work with a teacher to get homework help and other assistance.
And the Pathways program, which the district instituted a few years ago, can also help ease the switch back to a physical school by offering chances to sample careers outside their normal classrooms — such as job shadowing and internships.
“That helps students feel more engaged with school,” Klyve said, “and see the value of what they’re doing in the classroom.”
1/4: Madison Hanninen, 17, a senior at Proctor High School, smiles while between racks of clothes inside the Boxcar Thrift Store at Proctor High School on Thursday. Hanninen is a volunteer with the thrift store and she will graduate Sunday.
2/4: Proctor High School senior Madison Hanninen, 17, smiles while standing at the front counter inside the Boxcar Thrift Store at Proctor High School on Thursday. Hanninen volunteers with the thrift store. She will graduate Sunday.
3/4: Proctor High School senior Madison Hanninen, 17, gestures with her right hand while describing the donated clothing items inside the Boxcar Thrift Store at Proctor High School on Thursday. Hanninen volunteers with the thrift store. She will graduate Sunday.
4/4: Madison Hanninen, 17, a senior at Proctor High School, listens while having a conversation at the front counter inside the Boxcar Thrift Store at Proctor High School on Thursday.
You can reach Joe Bowen at 218-720-4172 or
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