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Secondary Technical Education Program (STEP) celebrates 20 years of partnership, success

STEP program (05/28/20) This year marked the 20 year anniversary of the district’s Secondary Technical Education Program (STEP), a high school in a college setting where Anoka-Hennepin’s students in grades 11 and 12 can explore hands-on technical and manufacturing careers while earning both high school and college credit.


The program and facility are unique. STEP was born from a partnership with Anoka County, Anoka Technical College (ATC), and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, and today is one of the only such schools and programs in the country. It’s also a magnet for national and state leaders in education, who visit looking for ways to replicate STEP’s success elsewhere.


“The work that (STEP) is doing here, I think, is a national model,” said U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) during a visit to the school in 2018. “I want to take what they’re doing and bring it back with me to Washington, D.C., so I can help make sure the federal government is a good partner.”


Just months later, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Dr. Mick Zais visited STEP, too. “This is an amazing facility and kids can obtain certifications and diplomas that lead to high-paying jobs,” Zais said during his visit. “It’s a fantastic program.”




At first, it was just an idea — a dedicated place where Anoka-Hennepin’s high school students could explore hands-on technical and manufacturing classes and earn college credit at no cost while still fulfilling their high school academic requirements.


Through the 1990s, the district already had its traditional post-secondary educational options (PSEO), in which students would take core classes at their home high school and attend vocational classes at Anoka Technical College (ATC). But administrators wanted something bigger — a way to expand the program, and also provide a place for students to immerse themselves in a college-like atmosphere.


As it turned out, ATC shared the same vision — a way to provide a unique learning environment for applied high school learners. By 1999, the idea began to grow into something larger, and a decades-long partnership began to bloom.


“Our school district formed a partnership with Anoka County and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MNSCU) system in 2000 to construct STEP, which opened its doors in 2002,” said Anoka-Hennepin Chief Operations Officer Greg Cole.


MNSCU and ATC agreed to have STEP on the college’s campus, and to partner with ATC to share equipment, and supplies. In addition, MNSCU would allow many of the college credits earned by Anoka-Hennepin high school students to be transferable to other institutions once they graduated.


Meanwhile, Anoka County agreed to sell $8.5 million in bonds to construct the 60,000 square-foot STEP facility on the campus of ATC. The district, meanwhile, agreed to pay principal and interest payments on the bonds until they were paid off.


“The final stipulation negotiated was once the bond was paid off, the district could purchase the STEP building and property for $1,” said Cole. And that occurred this year when, after making the final bond payment, the School Board, on Feb. 24, authorized the official purchase of the STEP building and property from Anoka County for a dollar.


The school


According to Jessica Lipa, director of the district’s STEP program, the school has 700-800 students each trimester, who come from all five of Anoka-Hennepin’s traditional high schools (Andover, Anoka, Blaine, Champlin Park, and Coon Rapids). Most are part-time students, which means they take core classes at their regular high school, and then come to STEP at some point during the day for technical and manufacturing studies.


There is no gymnasium or cafeteria in the STEP building – high school students eat in the cafeteria alongside college students and learn beside them in vocational classrooms.


Programs at STEP include aviation, engineering, music technology, cosmetology, law enforcement, firefighting, nursing, dentistry, automotive studies, welding and a wide variety of other options for students. In addition, STEP boasts accreditation and certification in a number of study areas, as well as numerous local and national partnerships, including with Delta Dental and Cummins Diesel.


“Partnerships are really important for our schools and our students,” Lipa said. “Without these kinds of partnerships, it would be difficult for the district to offer the kind of programming and opportunities where students can learn and work in a hands-on way with cutting-edge technologies in an industry setting.”


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