Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The lists you don’t want to be on in Minnesota November 22, 2011

DO YOU KNOW someone critically-injured or killed in a motor vehicle accident who was not wearing a seat belt?

I do.

So when I picked up The Faribault Daily News and read this front page headline, “County on new motorist deaths list,” I was not pleased, not at all.

My county of Rice is already on the list of Minnesota’s 13 deadliest counties for impaired driving. (Click here to see that list.) Now we’re on that latest “State’s 20 counties with highest percentage of unbelted deaths” list, according to a recent study released by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety. (Click here to read that report.)

From 2008 – 2010, Rice County had 14 motor vehicle fatalities. Nine of those individuals, or 64 percent, were not wearing seat belts.

Ranking at the top of this list you don’t want to be on are rural Kanabec and Wadena counties, each with three fatalities, all three unbelted. Nearly every county on the list of 20 lies in a rural area.

A rural southwestern Minnesota highway.

Certainly, statistics do not tell the full story of these deaths. Many factors can contribute to losing your life in a motor vehicle accident. Yet, buckling up is the one simple action you can take to increase your chances of escaping death or severe injury in a crash. Common sense tells you if you’re not strapped in place, you’re most likely going to be ejected or partially-ejected from your vehicle during a serious accident.

Why would you risk traveling without buckling up?

I’d like to pose that question not only to my fellow residents in Rice County, but also to those living in Redwood County in rural southwestern Minnesota where I grew up.

Redwood County, with a population of only 16,059, ranked third on the unbelted fatalities list with five of the six individuals killed from 2008 – 2010 not buckled in.

Perhaps Minnesotans living in less-populated areas like Redwood County possess a false sense of security regarding travel on rural roads. I know that region of Minnesota well. You can sometimes drive forever without seeing another motorist. And seldom do I see a law enforcement vehicle. But that should not stop drivers and passengers from wearing seat belts.

As much as I detest the traffic congestion and often times crazy driving in the metro area, I know that I am statistically safer on Twin Cities highways than I am on rural roadways.

A rare, uncongested drive through Minneapolis.

That brings us back to Rice County in southeastern Minnesota along Interstate 35. I don’t consider my county—with a population of 63,034, the state’s 13th most populous county and an hour from downtown Minneapolis—to be rural although we certainly have plenty of farms and back roads.

Why are people failing to buckle up here? How does that relate to driving while impaired?

When a law enforcement officer stops a driver in Rice County for failure to wear a seat belt, does the officer ask why the motorist is not buckled in? Can that question legally be asked?

Recently, two Faribault High School students were ejected from a vehicle during a crash. The unbelted driver, a 17-year-old member of the FHS football team, suffered a neck injury and was released shortly after the accident, according to an article in The Faribault Daily News. His unbelted 16-year-old passenger was critically-injured.

I hope the two teens involved, and their families, will approach local school officials to use this as a teachable moment to promote seat belt usage. As parents of most teens will tell you, an experience shared by a peer can accomplish what all the lecturing in the world by a parent cannot.

Minnesota high schoolers interested in promoting seat belt usage can compete for a $1,000 prize in the “Buckle Up Teens! TV Commercial Challenge” contest sponsored by the state’s Office of Traffic Safety. Entry deadline for the 30-second TV public service announcement is April 16, 2012. (Click here for information about this competition.)

Realistically, I realize that no matter how hard we try collectively to increase seat belt usage in Minnesota to 100 percent via contests, education, laws, enforcement of laws and more, we’ll never reach perfection. But we’re getting close at 92 percent of Minnesotans now buckling up, according to the state Traffic Safety office.

Residents of Rice and Redwood counties, and all those other 18 counties on the state’s “unbelted fatalities list,” please buckle up. Honestly, I don’t like reading stories about traffic deaths that could have been prevented.

DO YOU BUCKLE UP every time you get into a motor vehicle? Why or why not? Share your personal reasons, your story.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why the discrepancies in AP class offerings? July 12, 2011

STATISTICS CERTAINLY DON’T tell the whole story when you’re reading a compilation of numbers. But neither do they lie.

That said, I’d like to direct you to a report by ProPublica, “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.”

The topic of ProPublica’s investigation (click here to read), advanced placement class offerings in public schools, certainly interests me. I’ve often wondered why Faribault Senior High School, the school my children attended (and one still does) offers so few advanced placement classes. These college-level classes give students an opportunity to test for college credit upon course completion. That, in my parental opinion, equals academic challenges for students and money saved for those who pass the AP exams and continue on to college.

Faribault High offers four AP classes in physics, English literature and composition, calculus and psychology.

Now, compare that to neighboring Northfield and Owatonna, each about a 15-mile drive away. Northfield Senior High School students can choose from 14 AP classes. In Owatonna, the number is even higher at 20 courses.

The three high schools are similar in size: Faribault, 1,230 students; Owatonna, 1,595; and Northfield, 1,300. They are also located in similar-sized communities. However, anyone who lives in the area knows that Faribault is clearly a blue collar town and Northfield is white collar. I’m not sure about Owatonna, but I would peg it as more blue than white collar.

WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT?

A link may exist between educational opportunities at a school and local poverty levels, some conclude. I don’t necessarily buy into the whole “we have X number of students getting free and reduced government lunches therefore we are offering fewer AP classes because students won’t take the courses anyway” philosophy. That’s an all-too-easy excuse to explain away the lack of AP classes and/or low student enrollment or interest in those classes.

Rather, I think the number of AP classes has more to do with funding, priorities and how much a school pushes, or doesn’t push, these advanced courses.

So let’s take a look at some of those statistics. ProPublica lets you type in your school and even compare it with neighboring districts. (Note: The database only includes public schools with a student population of more than 3,000 in the 2009 – 2010 school year.)

At Faribault High, 28 percent of students get free/reduced price lunches, compared to only 13 percent in Northfield. In Owatonna, 21 percent of students get those lunches that are targeted for low income households.

The statistics show high school minority populations of 21 percent in Faribault, 15 percent in Owatonna and only 11 percent in Northfield.

So you get the picture: Mostly wealthier white kids attend high school in Northfield. Not so much in Faribault and Owatonna.

Therefore you would conclude, if you adhere to the whole poverty-educational opportunities theory, that Northfield should outshine Faribault and Owatonna in the area of Advanced Placement classes and enrollment.

You would be wrong.

Owatonna shines with 20 AP classes and 29 percent of their students taking at least one AP course.

Northfield isn’t far behind with 26 percent of  students taking at least one of the school’s 14 AP classes.

Faribault doesn’t even come close with just five percent of students enrolled in at least one of the only four Advanced Placement courses offered.

WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?

I’ve discussed AP and Post Secondary Enrollment Option classes with several FHS teachers at various times and received answers ranging from an administration that doesn’t make AP or PSEO a priority to staff that prefer not to have class content dictated by AP guidelines. Whether those conclusions are accurate, I don’t know.

But as a parent, I am frustrated. Why shouldn’t any child attending Faribault High have the same educational opportunities afforded students in nearby Owatonna or Northfield?

Faribault also falls below the state-wide average of nine AP classes per high school and 23 percent of Minnesota high school students taking an AP course.

I repeat: Only five percent of FHS students take at least one AP class, of which only four are offered in Faribault.

What’s going on here?

NOTE: Statistics listed on ProPublica come from a nation-wide survey by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

THANKS TO Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins for directing readers to ProPublica’s report in his Friday, July 1, News Cut column.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The numbers are in at Minnesota Prairie Roots February 1, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:46 AM
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DEAR MINNESOTA PRAIRIE ROOTS READERS:

Today, if I possessed excess cash, I would send you all a dozen roses or the best chocolate in the world or…, well, you get the point.

But I am not rich in the monetary sense, so you will have to settle for words to express my gratitude.

I am thankful to you, dear readers, for pushing my monthly blog readership to a new high. During January, I had exactly 10,334 views, surpassing my previous record of 9,976 views in November.

And, no, the extra day in January did not skew figures. I had already reached 10,000 views on January 30.

 

This bar graph shows my views for the past eight months at Minnesota Prairie Roots. The horizontal graph lines indicate increments of 2,500, beginning with zero at the bottom and progressing here to 10,000.

I’ve been watching my stats, waiting for the month when I would reach 10,000 views. Don’t ask me why. It simply seems like an impressive number.

The past five months, in fact, my readership has consistently been at 9,500 views and higher, but just under 10,000.

So today I am celebrating. I am celebrating you, my readers, wherever you are—whether in Finland or Germany, Washington state or Washington D.C., up north or down south, in Minneapolis or St. Paul, in Appleton, Minnesota, or Appleton, Wisconsin, in my community of Faribault…

Whether you know me personally or know me only through my blogging, I appreciate the connection.

I hope that through my writing and photography I’ve made you smile, made you think, made you laugh and even made you cry. I hope I’ve taken you to places you may not otherwise have seen. I hope I’ve entertained and informed.

Please continue to share your reactions to my writing. I value your input. If you’ve never commented, do.

I pledge to continue bringing you stories from my life, from my world, from my heart, from my thoughts.

Writing is my passion.

My dusty, dirty and well-used computer keyboard.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An update on whooping cough in Minnesota November 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:29 AM
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WHENEVER I HEAR the words “whooping cough,” I listen. Last night a Twin Cities television station reported on the increased number of pertussis cases in Minnesota. Most recent statistics on the Minnesota Department of Health website show 1,000 reported cases as of October 21.

When I last checked those state stats in mid-August, and wrote about whooping cough on this blog, that number stood at 395, as of July 16.

The surge in this highly-contagious disease during the past several months is likely related to the start of school. A statement by the MDH seems to support that: “Minnesota is experiencing a peak period of pertussis that started back in the fall of 2008. Pertussis disease normally peaks every three to five years. Clusters continue to occur in the elementary school setting.”

I take a personal interest in whooping cough because I contracted the disease in the summer of 2005. If you don’t take pertussis seriously, you ought to. It’s called the 100-day cough, and it’s not misnamed, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Yes, you can die from the disease. Infants and senior citizens are particularly vulnerable.

Yes, vaccines exist to prevent whooping cough. But don’t mistakenly think you are protected because you were vaccinated as a child. Pre-teens need boosters. Adults can get a vaccine targeted especially for them.

If you want to know how many whooping cough cases have been reported to the MDH this year or in previous years in any Minnesota county, click here. As you would expect, the more densely-populated counties have reported more cases.

In Rice County, where I live, nine cases have been reported so far this year, holding steady with the previous two years of seven and nine cases.

But neighboring Steele County has seen a significant increase with cases rising from one and two the past two years to 37 thus far in 2010.

Similarly Mille Lacs County has shown a notable increase in numbers, from none in 2008, to six in 2009 and 29 this year.

I don’t know the reason for the rising numbers in those counties. But I do know that the disease spreads quickly and easily. My husband and one of my daughters caught whooping cough from me although their cases were not nearly as severe. Antibiotics administered in the early stage of the illness can reduce the severity.

I’ll leave you with this final note. When I asked my doctor five years ago where I could possibly have contracted pertussis, he told me, “You could have gotten it standing in the check-out line at the grocery store.”

That, my friends, is food for thought.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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