Essentia, Rock Ridge Schools enter $400k partnership to promote health care careers

Essentia will provide scholarships for students studying in high-need areas of health care and career and curriculum guidance. Essentia will also hold the naming rights of the third floor of the high school.

Rock Ridge High School Renderings
Renderings of the new Rock Ridge High School.
Contributed / Rock Ridge Public Schools
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DULUTH — The Rock Ridge School District board has approved a $400,000 partnership with Essentia Health to provide scholarships and health care career guidance to fill areas of high need at Essentia, the health care system announced Wednesday in a news release.

The Education to Employment program will designate $300,000 for scholarships to Rock Ridge students. Tuition disbursements of up to $30,000 will be awarded annually for up to 10 years to students who attend postsecondary education for certain high-need roles. Currently, Essentia has a high need for technicians specializing in radiology, ultrasound, medical lab, echo, surgical and pharmacy, plus certified medical technicians and respiratory therapists.

The remaining $100,000 from Essentia will buy the naming rights of the third-floor wing of Rock Ridge High School in Virginia. The agreement is in place for 20 years. Essentia will also collaborate with Rock Ridge Public Schools on curriculum related to health sciences, including capstone project mentoring, health care career guidance and advising on curriculum that prepares students to enter postsecondary training programs. As part of Rock Ridge's Career Academies, a Health Science and Human Services academy will be formed.

"Having Essentia as a partner in our Career Academies is a great bonus to our students,” Noel Schmidt, superintendent of Rock Ridge Public Schools, said in the release. “With this partnership, we can provide fantastic educational and career opportunities that will help our students make better decisions in the career areas that are right for them."

In the release, Essentia stated that the partnership with the school is part of its commitment to grow and sustain high-quality rural health care access and to provide area graduates with careers in their home communities. Sam Stone, administrator at Essentia Health-Virginia, said the alliance is beneficial to all involved, especially by ensuring the community will have continued access to local health care.


The Rock Ridge School District formed in July 2020 when the Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert school systems combined.

Minnesota Nurses Association nurses state low staff levels and retention rates, which put patients at risk, inspired the vote as they continue to negotiate new contracts. Additionally, Essentia Health nurses are writing to the Benedictine Sisters on the Board of Directors, asking them to advocate for staff and patients.

Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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