Carlton-Wrenshall program provides practical experience

The PAES Lab gives students the opportunity to complete real-world tasks they might be asked to perform in an entry-level job after high school.

Carlton sophomore Sebastian Mickle looks for the next piece of the pipe he is assembling during his class in the Carlton-Wrenshall PAES Lab Thursday, May 20, at Wrenshall School. (Jamey Malcomb /

A couple times a week, students file into Aaron Lattu’s classroom and stop at a computer to “clock” themselves in for work.

The Wrenshall special education teacher’s students have spent a couple periods a week working with a new system — the Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) Lab — to learn and explore a variety of jobs they could be tasked with in the real world.

“We have all these different job categories — construction tasks, consumer services — that entry-level jobs are going to require, and they’re going to learn how to do those tasks,” Lattu said. “Once they figure out what they’re good at, then if they’re interested in it, too, maybe they will pursue that kind of career path, or at least start thinking about it as a first job.”

The Carlton-Wrenshall PAES Lab is a result of a Carlton County and Technical Career Education grant. Such labs are used nationwide to help students explore careers and allows teachers to use a practical assessment to evaluate performance.


Carlton senior Adam Anderson clocks out of the PAES Lab Thursday, May 20, at Wrenshall School before going back to Carlton High School. (Jamey Malcomb /

Practical assessment is a tool teachers use to allow students to demonstrate proficiency with a task or concept, but without the pressure of a traditional test, Lattu said.

After students clock in at the computer, they pick from five different job categories and are assigned a simple task, like fitting pipes together or installing coat hooks in a piece of wood. After they finish the task, Lattu or Carlton special education teacher Kenzie McKee evaluates their work, and the students provide their interest level in the task.

As students progress in the program, they are assigned more complex tasks, like wiring an electrical outlet and light switch.

What’s more, students are paid “PAES dollars” for the work, which they can use to purchase a number of different items — anything from snacks and books to fishing lures — at a store in Lattu’s classroom. Students start at minimum wage and receive raises based on their job performance, Lattu said.

Wrenshall freshman Ryan Mattson wires an electrical outlet during the Carlton-Wrenshall PAES Lab Thursday, May 20. The program allows students to explore a variety of career paths and entry-level job tasks. (Jamey Malcomb /

Ryan Mattson, a Wrenshall freshman, spent much of the period wiring an electrical outlet. He said he likes the variety of activities.


“You get to see a lot of different things you might be interested in,” Mattson said.

Mattson said his favorite job so far has involved working with wood because he likes to create things.

Carlton sophomore Sebastian Mickle was a little more blunt about his feelings.

“I hate sitting in a classroom,” Mickle said. “This gets me out of there.”

McKee understands Mickle’s feelings, especially after a school year highlighted by online and hybrid learning models due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The hands-on piece is huge,” McKee said. “So much this year has been on their Chromebook. This gives them a couple hours to not be staring at a screen.”

Wrenshall senior Megan Carlson goes over a PAES Lab job task with Carlton special education teacher Kenzie McKee. The Carlton-Wrenshall PAES Lab is a joint program between the two districts. (Jamey Malcomb /


Lattu said the PAES Lab has gone well in its first year, and there is a hope to expand it from two sections to three next year. Currently, it is limited to high school special education students, but often those students lack the self-confidence the program is trying to instill.

“A lot of these students think sometimes they’re just not good at anything,” Lattu said. “Now, we’re trying to show them what they are good at. We treat this like work — they clock in, they get their hours, they get their paychecks and they buy stuff with what they earned. It’s treated like a job.”

Donations appreciated

The Carlton-Wrenshall PAES Lab will gladly accept donations to help keep the class store stocked for the students to use.

Checks can be made out to the “Carlton-Wrenshall PAES Lab” and can be sent to:

Wrenshall Public School District


Attention: PAES Lab

207 Pioneer Drive

Wrenshall, MN 55797

For more information, email Aaron Lattu at

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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