Fairmont native to share insights at annual dinner

Fairmont native Dr. Heather Olson is excited to return to her hometown Thursday, when she will speak at the Martin County Historical Society annual meeting and dinner at Red Rock Center for the Arts.

According to information provided by the Historical Society, Olson is a Fairmont High School graduate; a licensed and experienced social studies teacher; emotional/behavioral disorders teacher; and special education administrator. She has spent more than 25 years working with beyond-risk students, and is currently working in special education in prisons at Stillwater and Oak Park Heights.

Olson is the daughter of Harlan and Larainne Gorath, and will speak on her own experiences and the importance of education for those outside of the traditional education system, as well as how education works in the prison system.

“I’m very excited; I’m very honored to be asked to come back to Fairmont and talk about my work,” Olson said. “I’ll be talking about the importance of trauma-informed education. It’s about the importance of looking at students individually and what their experiences have been and how that impacts how they perceive education.

“By doing that in the Stillwater facility, our education team has seen tremendous growth in graduation rates. When you’re teaching the population that I do, where it’s the end of the line for education, we’ve had great results. It’s something for people to think about because things like that go beyond the school into the community.

“Trauma-informed education is my area of specialty in teaching. I teach in the segregation units and in the living units with these guys, and by the time they get to me it’s the end of the road, or the beginning of something new depending on how you look at it.”

Olson shared her some of her own history, and how she got to where she is now.

“I’m from the Fairmont High School class of 1986,” she said. “I would sit in my classes and listen to my teachers talk, including my dad, and I thought it was a cool profession and that I would like to help teach other people. So I went to college and got my undergraduate degree in secondary education social studies.

“After that, I was doing some other things, but I always found myself going back to working with kids who were in trouble, whether it was volunteering or mentoring or whatever. As I worked with these students, they were telling me that my heart was in the right place, but that I didn’t know what I didn’t know about poverty. Then I went and got my master’s degree in chemical dependency with an emphasis on mental health.”

After working in the Appalachia region, Olson returned to Minnesota where she did more work with schools.

“I started working with students who have behavior problems and who are aggressive, in particular young male students,” she said. “I ended up teaching at the Minnesota correctional facility in Red Wing in 1999 and I loved it.

“I found that I always had to bring my A-game, I couldn’t just stand there and read out of a book. I loved the challenge, and I worked with kids from all across the state including Martin County and surrounding areas. Then I got called to go up to the Department of Education, and I worked there for many years doing a whole bunch of different things.

“I was a supervisor there, but I missed working with families and students. So I left there and did a couple temporary things helping teachers and families. Then I went back to the Department of Corrections about five years ago, and I’m a special education teacher there and I got a doctorate in 2018, which is on how traumatic events impact teachers.”

Olson noted she is glad to be giving her talk, and is thankful to have been asked.

“I love to talk about my work and the fact that Fairmont asked me to come and do that just made me feel so honored,” she said. “To come home and talk is huge for me.”