The Woodbury Area Chamber of Commerce kept alive its streak of looking beyond traditional classroom instruction in selecting its annual Educator of the Year.

This year's honor went to Nicole Loch, work coordinator for the South Washington County School District's Next Step Transition Program.

Next Step seeks to empower young adults with disabilities, and Loch, for her part, "has gone above and beyond to help special education students obtain employment," say her colleagues, who nominated her for the honor.

"Her commitment has enabled our students to realize that they can overcome barriers and become productive and independent young adults," said Nancy Meyer, supervisor for the Next Step program.

According to a district news release, Loch developed and coordinated seasonal employment relationships with Afton Alps and the Minnesota State Fair, and organized an employment fair giving employers a chance to meet students for possible summer positions. The fair, held last March, was the first of its kind for the Next Step program, the district said. Loch also has worked with the Goodwill-Easter Seals employment program.

She was recognized on Jan. 23 at the chamber's annual gala at the Prom Center in Oakdale.

The two previous honorees were Robin Kazek, a middle school counselor, and Brent Comeau, a high school band director.


'Jeans & Jewels' event set for March

Improvements in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instruction will be the focus of an annual "Jeans & Jewels" fundraiser set for March 7 at the Prom Center in Oakdale.

The event, which includes dinner, games and an auction, is in its ninth year and is organized by the Partnership Plan, a nonprofit group that funds enrichment programs in the Stillwater Area Public Schools.

Both live and silent auctions are planned, the group said in a news release.

"We are joining the modern age, and for the first time ever, guests will be able to bid on their smartphones all night long," the release added.

The Partnership Plan has funded STEM curriculum support in the past and hopes to steer more contributions this year to the district's fabrication lab.

"The money we raise at Jeans & Jewels provides the extras that help make our great schools extraordinary," event coordinator Kristin Kroll said in the release.

Tickets and information are available at the Partnership Plan website at


Elementary school earns IB designation

Scandia Elementary, a K-6 school in the Forest Lake Area school district, has earned the label of International Baccalaureate World School.

On Jan. 9, the school learned its three-year quest to win the IB designation had paid off.

IB is a style of learning aimed at helping students build upon and retain their youthful curiosity. Lessons still are taught, but children are encouraged to seek out answers on their own and to act on what they know and ask questions.

"Students are more immersed and connected with their learning," Julie Greiman, the school's principal, said in a district news release. "For example, we see the growth between how a kindergartner and a sixth-grader looks at 'how the world works.' "

The question of "how the world works" is one of six key inquiry areas in an IB program. "Who we are" and "where we are in place and time" are two others.

The IB program also requires schools to adopt a second language so students can express themselves and problem solve in multiple languages. Scandia Elementary chose Mandarin Chinese as the best option for preparing students to function and succeed in today's world, the district said.

"Families here in Scandia expect their children to do more in the world and to make this world a better place," Greiman said. "Parents who enroll their children at Scandia know that their children are being prepared for the 21st century" through the IB program.

Anthony Lonetree