The Wisconsin Idea in Southern Door

In 1905, Charles Van Hise, then president of the University of Wisconsin, claimed, “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every family of the state.”

The statement is thought to be the genesis of the Wisconsin Idea, a principle at the school promoting research and education for every resident of the state, not just those enrolled at the university. The philosophy lives in the programs and activities at Southern Door High School, where the walls between the school and its surrounding residents comes down and community service is just part of the curriculum.

Every year, Principal Steve Bousley takes interested community members and business owners on a tour through the school to shed light on public education of today.

“The thing I’ve come to realize is that oftentimes people will associate public schools with the experience that they had when they were in public school,” said Bousley during a tour on Nov. 17. “The further that an individual is removed out of that setting, it creates this interesting experience of what is really going on versus what they perceive is going on.”

The walk-throughs also give community members the opportunity to provide input on things they would like to see happening at the school and the district listens. Through technical education and hands-on programming, Southern Door strives to provide those things the community needs. In the rural part of the agriculture-heavy section of the county, agriculture sciences is one of those needs.

“We have an agriculture science program, Sevastopol has an agriculture science program, and that’s really it for Door County,” said Bousley. “We’re competing with other private industry and public institutions for certified agriculture teachers… because there’s only a handful that graduate from UW-Stout each year.”

That same practical education applies to metals, woodworking and other technical classes offered at the school. Southern Door understands that not every student is looking to attend a four-year university. Many are excited to work with their hands in the industry and community they grew up with.

“We have about 40 to 45 percent of our kids that are going on to a four-year college, 40-45 percent of our kids are going to a two-year college,” said Bousley. “The kids at the tech school are highly successful.”

Programs at Southern Door, such as Formula One racing, cater to one of the more unique career paths as the district tries to find the balance between career development and college preparation when many students are simply looking to enter the workforce with the experience they get in high school.

“That’s really the million dollar question within the state because the expectation that we have is that we’re getting kids ready for college, career and community,” said Bousley, explaining the variety of courses including those called STEM classes (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

“We realized we have a talent pool that’s missing the boat,” said Bousley. Southern Door had students attending prestigious engineering universities without having any practical experience in the science. “The STEM component emerged not because STEM was a buzz word. Our STEM program emerged because we were evaluating our graduates and we had individuals… they were going into these engineering programs to build these great things but they didn’t have any experience in technical education.”

But the education at Southern Door does not stop with the students. Using $25,000 of state funding from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Southern Door is able to buy materials for a fabrication lab (Fab Lab). The two rooms at the high school will provide the software, hardware and machinery for anyone, students and residents, to come in and create.

“Within our community, we realize we have a lot of people building stuff or some sort of home-started business within their garage and our intention is to have community access to this,” said Bousley. “In a rural setting something like this is really important because they don’t have access to it right now. The only access is by their own financial means and in some cases that’s pretty limited.”

In doing so, Southern Door is not only tailoring students to contribute to the local community and workforce, but also improving the ability for residents that did not come through the school system to improve their own education and develop ideas for the business and the home.

“When you look at programs that have either lost interest or school districts have abandoned, we’re very dedicated,” said Bousley of technical education courses. “When we look at the demographic of the students that come through, it’s essential and we can’t reduce this area because our kids and our community is counting on it.”

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