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Why they love homeschooling

Posted on 28 August 2020 by Tesha Christensen

24 authors of all walks, including Standish resident, talk about how homeschooling works for them in new book


As COVID-19 forces educational changes, some parents are considering whether online schooling through their district or homeschooling on their own will work better for their families.

Kathy Oaks

To help families decide, Midway-Hamline resident Kathy Oaks has co-edited a new book with Brynn Steimle titled, “Why I Love Homeschooling.” In it are essays written by 24 people on how homeschooling works for them, including an essay by Standish resident Theresa Redfern-Hall. The book is currently available on Amazon.
“For everyone, those homeschooling and those not, I’d like to reiterate that what most people did this spring isn’t homeschooling,’” stated Oaks, who has been homeschooling her three boys ages 8 through 16 since the beginning of their education. “For the majority, it was way harder, for the students, the parents, and the teachers. Our hearts went out to you, watching the struggle. Whatever your choice in the fall, we all wish you an easier time, and joyous learning.”
The Messenger spoke with Oaks and contributor Theresa Redfern-Hall, whose children are current 24, 23 and 20. She and her partner homeschooled from the birth of their first child in 1995.

“The book can be useful for those people who are considering homeschooling and for those homeschooling. There are reflections from 24 different people, all different backgrounds, lifestyles, and types of homeschooling,” said Redfern-Hall. “The essays show that there is no one correct way to homeschool and that even seasoned homeschoolers have questions and bad days. It also shows that homeschooling is a wonderful opportunity to watch, learn and grow with your children.”
What makes homeschooling different from crisis schooling?
Oaks: Crisis schooling is just that, throwing together a way to keep regular school going during a crisis. It’s not meant to be long-term, nor is it an ideal way to learn. School teachers did not go into education to do online school, and have been scrambling to make things fit into a different format and many are ill prepared and certainly underpaid for this extra work.
Homeschooling, on the other hand, is intentional. The best part of homeschooling is that it isn’t one size fits all. Families get to find ways that work best for them, instead of trying to squeeze into a more rigid system. Some kids love online learning, but it would work better for the family if it wasn’t at a set time. Other kids do poorly with online learning, and would benefit from having more hands-on instruction. And sometimes those kids are in the same family! With homeschooling, everyone can be accommodated.
There are plenty of places that are already set up to do online learning, and do it well, for any income level, and home-schoolers have been taking advantage of them for years.

The Redfern-Hall family of Standish started homeschooling after the birth of their first kid in 1995. Left to right: Sophia, Joni, Zoe, Zane and Theresa.

Redfern-Hall: I’d have to say that homeschooling is a lifestyle choice. The parent is the one making the choices on how learning will proceed and what type of materials or programs their students will follow. Crisis schooling is just trying to keep things as much like a normal school day as possible – still following along with the school-mandated lessons or materials. Making sure that the kids will keep up with all the classes and subjects in school so they don’t fall behind.
What questions have you heard from people who are thinking about switching to homeschooling and what are the reasons driving this discussion?
Oaks: I have seen all kinds of reasons for switching to home-schooling. For some, the stress of dealing with online public school was just too much, and they hope to see happier kids (and parents) through home-schooling. Others are worried that their kids won’t be safe and are intending only to home-school until the pandemic eases. Still others have said they were already considering homeschooling and are taking this opportunity to jump in.
Many of the questions I’ve seen have centered around finding the “right” curriculum. Honestly, there is no “right” curriculum. Sure, there are all-in-one box sets you can buy, for quite a lot of money. But what if your family ends up hating it? Many homeschoolers draw from a variety of resources rather than using one set curriculum.


Zoe Redfern-Hall stands by her science project.

What is your advice for those who would like to transition from homeschooling to crisis schooling?
Oaks: The best advice I know of is first, to deschool. That is, take time off. Fortunately, the summer is helpful for that! But also spend some time thinking about what you and your family like and don’t like about school. The people most likely to give up on homeschooling are those who try to faithfully reproduce school at home instead of fitting homeschooling to their unique needs. Start slowly with one subject – ideally your favorite or your child’s favorite subject – and add in another as you get your footing. Adjust as you go along. Most people are surprised at how little actual instruction is needed; much of the public school day is taken up with things like moving from classroom to classroom, waiting for students to all be ready, and busywork to make sure the slowest students have enough practice.
Redfern-Hall: My first suggestion would be to let go of what you think you should do to teach your children. Don’t plan to re-create a school environment. Let you kid do some unschooling. (There are lots of books and info on unschooling.) Unschooling is particularly useful for students who have suffered from bad situations in school – anxiety, bullying, depression and so on. Just let them be for a period of time. You don’t have to have everything figured out all at once. I know homeschoolers who change curriculum more than once a year because it’s just not working for them or their kids.
Don’t feel tied down to a certain way of doing things. Reach out to the online homeschooler community. There are so many folks out there now who are homeschooling. When COVID-19 was not an on-going issue, the opportunities to meet other homeschoolers at events and get-togethers was amazing. Often, we laughed about the socialization issue. We wanted less socialization. There was so much to do. Hopefully, this will be available again in the near future.

Zane Redfern-Hall took a rocket launch class. Homeschooling enabled the students to pursue their interests through various classes.

Does homeschooling have to be all or nothing? What are some other options for people?
Oaks: Anyone with more than one child has noticed they’re not the same. I know a number of homeschoolers who send one child to school and work with another at home. In Minnesota, depending on the school district, homeschoolers can participate in classes and sports through their local schools, as well. There are also local homeschool co-ops, including secular ones, that meet weekly to cover academic needs. We participate in Planet Homeschool, which is online for the fall semester. Through our co-op the kids have taken math, creative writing, history, language, fencing, ballroom dance, and theater classes, which are just a small sample of the options that have been offered over the years.
Redfern-Hall: No home-schooling does not have to be all or nothing. I have known some families who have utilized some online learning programs that were perfectly okay with students having outside learning activities. Some kids have taken classes at co-ops while attending the online schools. My kids attended a project-based high school, Avalon, and still took classes outside of the classes there. They received credit for those classes and projects. Even while not homeschooling, I tended to put an educational element into most of the things we did as a family. We enjoyed and learned.

Sophia Redfern-Hall stands in front of painting at an art show. It was created in one of the many classes she took.

Highlights from book contributors:
“Our goal with ‘Why I Love Homeschooling’ is to show parents the various ways that people from all walks of life homeschool,” stated co-editor Kathy Oaks. “We hope it will give confidence to those who are ready to give it a try, and those who feel it’s the best option for them right now, even if they don’t feel ready yet. We reached out to 24 authors to get their perspectives on the joys and challenges of homeschooling and why they love educating their kids at home. Lots of people only talk about how great homeschooling is, without addressing the challenges, and leave parents unprepared. There are always challenges, but managing them can in fact become part of the learning process, adding emotional intelligence to education.”

Some quotes from the book:

Carrie Pomeroy (“The Art of Knowing When to Push,” Home School Life Magazine) – ”Above all, homeschooling requires the patience to trust that even when my kids spend most of their time on pursuits that aren’t conventionally academic, there is often important learning, development, or rest and gestation happening, even if I don’t see it right away.”

Mary Jo Tate (Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms)—“There will never be a perfect time or place for homeschooling. Life will always present challenges, whether big or small. Instead of being disappointed and paralyzed by what you can’t do, focus on what you can do and how you and your family can best use each day’s opportunities.”

Melissa Calapp (Homeschool Adventures: Learning Through the Power of Field Trips) –“Homeschooling can be examined and designed to fit your particular child and family. It can include all the things that you thought were missing and all the pieces you think they will need. There can be room to pursue individual passions. And for parents who are new to homeschooling, you can start slow.”

Michelle Huddleston (Just for Today’s Homeschooling Mom) – “Being an ex-school teacher, I had many hurdles of my own to jump. Not only did I have a teacher mindset, but I also had a public school system mindset. It was embedded in me that school looked like waking up at a certain time every morning, starting school work by a certain time every day, and having subjects taught separately according to what was in the lesson plans…. Now our homeschool doesn’t look much like school at all. When it comes to home-schooling, the possibilities truly are endless.”

Faye Badenhop (Help Me Homeschool!)— “Lest you think you do not have it in you to give and give with nothing in return, let me remind you that you get to pick what you teach! Have you ever wanted to learn to decorate fancy cupcakes, do yoga, excel in a certain art or craft, or start an herb garden? Add it as a subject and you get to learn it too!”

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Mississippi River connects teachers from ‘The Headwaters to the Delta’ despite COVID-19

Posted on 28 August 2020 by Tesha Christensen

The Virtual Mississippi River Institute blends online and hands-on outdoor learning

Last February, more than 30 educators from Minnesota and Louisiana were looking forward to a special river journey. They were making plans to come together on the banks of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities for the 16th annual River Institute, an intensive, highly experiential learning event focused on America’s greatest waterway that is offered by Hamline University’s Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE) in St. Paul.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic sent the teachers, along with their peers across America, scrambling for online learning resources and strategies to use for distance instruction. CGEE, drawing on the an extensive multimedia and video archive about the great river, quickly adapted the institute to a breakthrough hybrid format that combines online and hands-on experiences.
“We were uniquely positioned for doing a very quick pivot,” said Tracy Fredin, CGEE Executive Director. “We had content and pedagogical expertise, decades of experience in hands-on education as well as distance learning, plus a huge online media library. Out of COVID-19 chaos, we created a new model of professional development that celebrates and educates students about our most important river. And from the results, I’d say this is only the beginning.”
CGEE’s The Mighty Mississippi (, an award-winning public television special about the Mississippi featuring student reporters, gave Institute participants a rich documentary introduction to the river from its headwaters to Gulf. This program was complemented by three of CGEE’s modular online multimedia learning programs about the Mississippi and its watershed: the wide-ranging Waters to the Sea® Mississippi River Adventure program (; Big River Journey Online (, which focuses on the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities region and was developed in collaboration with the National Park Service; and Adopt a Drain Interactive (, which engages citizens and schools in reducing urban water pollution by keeping harmful debris and pollution out of storm drains.

“CGEE is an international leader in creating interactive educational resources that are free for educators everywhere to use, and many of them focus on the Mississippi River,” Fredin continued. “We have hours and hours of online activities about multiple subjects in our award-winning Waters to the Sea® programs about North American waterways.”
“Learning to use Waters to the Sea® is always an important part of the River Institute,” said Robinsdale School of Engineering and Arts Program Coordinator Cara Rieckenberg, who has led CGEE Rivers Institutes for nine years. “But by the end of the school year, everyone was tired of sitting in front of their computers all day. So, we created a virtual institute that used video conferencing for building community, presentations by content experts, and sharing among participants. Exploring CGEE’s online learning resources were balanced by several hours of outdoor, hands-on activities each day. This hybrid approach to distance learning really resonated with our 50 participants, who are excited to use the same strategy with their students this fall.”
The successful hybrid River Institute program will be offered again this fall with a special focus on the Mississippi Delta region. It will be available to teachers nationwide at no cost.
“I will use the Waters to the Sea website with students – a lot. Our students do a Mississippi River Project each year and [the] web adventure touches on so many great topics. I’m planning to rewrite much of my curriculum in order to incorporate much of this,” said Katie Humason, middle school science teacher at Minnehaha Academy.
“Inquiry activities are possible! Connecting students to their actual environment is possible! There are lots of resources available if we’re willing to look!” remarked Anwatin Middle School science teacher Laura Kimball.
Educators were inspired by the connections they made with colleagues across the Mississippi’s enormous watershed, despite only interacting with each other via video conferencing.
When asked about the top take-aways she left the Institute with, Mill City Museum Education Curriculum Coordinator Wini Froelich said, “Students can handle a lot more depth and scaffolded activities digitally than I thought. CGEE is pretty amazing. The stories of the Mississippi are varied and vast. It is alright to have a narrow focus at one point but make sure to consider it as “One River” as well.”
“The collaboration with other teachers in Minnesota and Louisiana on this topic is an eye-opening experience,” said a New Orleans Middle School teacher. “As a teacher from Louisiana, I realized there is much more to the Mississippi River…[Our students] have not learned all about the watersheds and how precious the Mississippi really is from North to the South.”
“We’re excited about the impact that our new hybrid Institute had on educators,” Fredin said, “especially in a time when these skills and resources are more important than ever.”
In addition to Waters to the Sea® Mississippi River Adventure (, CGEE has an extensive archive of interactive, multimedia educational resources available for free online that span the country from Hawaii to Texas to Georgia to Minnesota (

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History’s push and nature’s shove

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Two Sanford students win the National History Day contest

Jackson Nguyen’s screen lagged a bit. He nervously awaited to hear the news of how his, and his partner, Jack Randolph’s, website had done in the National History Day competition (NHD). Due, to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the awards were broadcast online. What had started out as an assigned project for all seventh graders at Sanford Middle School, 3524 42 Ave. S., had become a long road to the NHD competition. In the past couple of weeks, there had been a Google Hangout each day with Jack and teachers in order to revise their project. But, it wasn’t long until he heard his family’s cheers come from downstairs and he knew he had won.
More than half a million students around the world participate in National History Day each year by submitting a project with research done on a history topic of the students’ choice. Of these half a million, more than 27,000 are students at the Minnesota local levels. Minnesota’s local levels are hosted by the Minnesota Historical Society and the University of Minnesota – College of Liberal Arts.
If a project is in the top two at the local levels, they move on to the national levels hosted by the University of Maryland. While the competition is usually held in Washington, D.C., the 2020 National History Day contest moved online, due to COVID-19, with the award ceremony shared live on June 22, 2020 via a live stream from the National History Day website. Nguyen and Randolph’s project won first in their category for the NHD contest; the prize was $1,000.
Randolph and Nguyen’s website, “The Four Pests Campaign: The Consequences of Breaking Ecological Barriers” found at https:\\\48608894, is 1,200 words focused on what happens when humans try and get rid of animals seen as pests. They did this through the lens of The Four Pests Campaign. This was a campaign started in China in the 1950s; the thought process being that if some pests were exterminated for good, it would boost public health. In reality, it led to the Great Chinese Famine and changed the way the ecosystem worked.
“I was interested in the idea of countries going to war with animals,” Nguyen said.
The idea of breaking ecological barriers came to him when he saw a YouTube video about The Great Emu War. This was when Australia tried to get rid of the large birds called emus in order to control their population as they were considered a nuisance to the public at the time. This “war” on the emus lasted from Nov. 2 to Dec. 10, 1932.
However, Australia’s attempts to eradicate the birds did not prevail. With a topic picked out, Nguyen and Randolph were ready to begin their website. Part of the assignment was done before schools switched to online delivery. The two were able to do research at the libraries, go to helpful informational lectures held at the middle school, and interview ecologists. But after the Stay-At-Home order began, meeting and research became more difficult.
“Once COVID-19 started, it was mostly on our own time, and in the last week, we had Google Meets every day along with some interviews. It was a lot,” Randolph said.
As the History Day competition went on and their website moved up through levels of the competition, Randolph and Nguyen revised their research at least six times. This was done with the help of teachers and judges’ feedback. Before the Stay-At-Home order was instated, they would go to the Media Center at the middle school, but later in the competition, all of the revising was done online. The Google Website Designer, a program made to guide users through steps of building a website, was so finicky that it would only save one person’s work at a time. The two would screen share over Google Hangouts and talk over ideas while one typed in the information and the other watched from the opposite side. After each level and revision, they were excited, but became more and more nervous. They never thought that their website would go as far as it did.
“We started off aiming for state, but as the competition went on, it became more nerve wracking,” Randolph said. “Our thought process became: We’ve made it this far, but now it’s time to bring it the final mile.”
Neither Nguyen nor Randolph know if they’ll do the competition next year because it’s no longer required by Sanford Middle School and will be entirely on their own time. However, they say that they’ve learned a lot from this experience. They’ve learned things not only about ecology, but also in general. They feel more comfortable with interviewing people and have gained knowledge for projects in the future.
When asked what advice they’d give to others, Nguyen said, “Always look for feedback. Ask everyone around you for open advice.”

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Being the bridge: South High Foundation helps students in financial crisis

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Judy Ayers, South High Foundation

The South High Foundation, 3131 19th Ave. South, was started in 1983 with only $75.
Their goal was to provide financial assistance to students and school programs in order to enhance the students’ ability to learn. It’s come a long way since then. In the 2017 school year, the South High Foundation funded more than $62,000 in grants for athletics, academics, fine arts and extracurricular activities.
When asked how many students were impacted by grant money, foundation president Judy Ayers said, “I would tell you that every student at South High is.”
Normally, students and teachers would be able to meet with Ayers or another member of the foundation’s board in order to request a grant. But now, COVID-19 has changed the way they are able to meet people’s needs. Staff are only allowed in the school once a month to get their mail, all meetings are done remotely, and challenges of the pandemic brought on more families with financial needs. They had to think of a way to continue giving money to South High families in crisis.
The South High Emergency Relief Fund was created. This fund is for families who have gone through financial crisis or homelessness during the pandemic and Uprising. Sheri Harris, a social worker who has collaborated with the South High Foundation for 20 years, works with a team made up of other social workers in order to run the fund.
“We problem solve to take care of whatever the need might be,” Harris said.

Sheri Harris, South High social worker

How this helps
A family that particularly stuck out to Harris was one whose members all contracted COVID-19 at the same time. They were too ill to get up and cook. They were unable to see anyone outside the family or have someone they knew come help as they needed to remain quarantined. But, they reached out to Harris and she gave them an e-gift card. This way, they were able to order in food until they were strong enough to cook for themselves once again.
“What everyone knows is the full impact but seeing it on an individual level – the challenges of COVID-19 – made the difference,” Harris said.
The South High Emergency Relief Fund serves many families like this. Donations can be made through PayPal or GiveMN on the South High Foundation’s website,; specify relief fund. Families can reach out if they are in need by contacting Harris at After families reach out, the foundation transfers money to gift cards or e-cards for rent, insurance or groceries. Harris and the social work team then work with families to see if there’s anything they can do in the long term to help them through the crisis.
“Being able to help with this [rent] just one time means that they aren’t looking at eviction. They’re looking at another month when unemployment could kick in or when the stimulus could come through,” Harris said.

A united community
Even during the challenges the pandemic and the Uprising have brought on, both Harris and Ayers mentioned that the community has still been incredibly helpful and banded together for a greater cause. Normal fundraisers for the South High Foundation like the pancake breakfast or the golf tournament were cancelled, but donations have still been coming in. Teachers at South High held a food drive and graduates, even those who now live in other states, have continued to donate to both the Emergency Relief Fund and the Foundation itself. But, they still hope to grow even more.
“With all of the cuts that schools seem to face every year, there’s more and more need. I see the Foundation being able to fill those needs,” Ayers said.

Moving forward
Looking toward the future, the foundation wants to be able to fill more of the gaps between families or students in financial need and how to help them get an education. They want to get to the root of what causes struggles for families. Ayers is aiming to get more donations from outside companies to pay for bigger programs students may need. Ayers works as a volunteer and does not gain any money from donations, but believes that if people are able, then they should be helping.
“My goal is to continue doing this until I can’t anymore,” Ayers said.
The foundation also aims to create more relationships with students, teachers, staff, and families. They want to directly ask the community what it needs and will do whatever they can to meet those needs in order to give students access to a better education. They don’t want to let the gaps of a financial crisis impact how far a student can go.
“The needs are there and the needs have always been there; the goal is to be the bridge and support in order to help students be the best student that they can be,” Harris said.

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Athena award winners honored in shortened school year

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

High school sports evaporated with the spring thaw due to COVID-19 but recognizing top student athletes didn’t.
Three area seniors received Athena award honors, capping their high school careers in May. Named by the Minneapolis Athena Awards Committee, the annual honor goes to a female senior student athlete at each participating high school. The committee considers athletic achievement, volunteering in the community and other school extracurricular participation in addition to academic success.
Awards went to Emily Mulhern of South, Marie Peterson of Roosevelt and Kate Pryor of Minnehaha Academy.

Emily Mulhern
Emily Mulhern had a duffel bag of supplies handy for teammates in addition to being a strong competitor for the Tigers.
“Each athlete plays a different role on the team, and I was known as the ‘team mother,’” Mulhern said. ”I was the one who had the extra pair of gloves, the bottle of sunscreen and a huge bag of trailmix to share. If someone was having an off day, I could be counted on for moral support.”
Mulhern led Nordic skiers as team captain her junior year and made a splash as rookie of the year for Tigers cross country in the eighth grade. She also helped the ultimate frisbee club team reach nationals.
“For me, the (Athena) award itself acknowledges the important role participation in athletics can play in girls’ lives,” Mulhern said. “I am also very grateful to my coaches and teammates who helped form supportive communities for all of the athletes.”
Outside of athletics, Mulhern volunteered at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital and environmental service projects in Central America. She also performed with Project Opera and played flute in wind ensemble.
Her academic achievements included being the valedictorian, an AP Scholar with Distinction and National Honor Society treasurer. She also earned a certificate of recognition for the Academics, Arts and Athletics Award.
Mulhern will attend St. Olaf College to study psychology and play for the Ollies ultimate frisbee team.

Marie Peterson
Marie Peterson excelled at sports with Roosevelt, but her biggest success came in club wrestling.
She won a state club title in 2017 and took runner-up in 2018. She also competed on a national level.
“To win state was one of the proudest moments of my high school athletics career,” Peterson said. “Competing nationally was definitely eye-opening because I was introduced to so many amazing wrestlers.”
Peterson also succeeded in tennis and track and field for the Teddies as she won Minneapolis City Conference all-conference awards in both sports. She helped the Teddies rugby club team take runner-up in state.
“I have been dreaming about the Athena award for my whole time at Roosevelt, and so it means everything to me as an athlete,” Peterson said.
Her volunteer involvement included serving as president of the Asian Club at Roosevelt, math team captain and as a student ambassador. She also volunteered with the National Honor Society.
Peterson also received the Smith Book award, academic all-state, academic achievement award and made the honor roll. She hopes to major in biology for college and play rugby but hasn’t decided on a major yet.

Kate Pryor
Kate Pryor went from losing a baby tooth in her year of high school softball as a seventh-grader to holding school records in home runs, RBIs and hits.
“I don’t even remember the play I made at third,” Pryor said about the game. “But apparently people were impressed by it and one of my teammates yelled from the dugout, ‘she just lost her last baby tooth today’ and everyone started laughing.”
Her softball prowess will lead her to Boston University next where she will also study health science, but she leaves Minnehaha Academy as being much more than a softball star. She helped the Redhawks girls basketball team win a state title as a junior and won Independent Metro Athletic Conference all-conference honors twice. In volleyball, she also earned all-conference honors and all-section honors once.
“I feel really honored to be selected as the Athena Award winner because there are a lot of really talented female athletes at Minnehaha,” Pryor said.
Outside of sports, she volunteered as a retreat leader for Minnehaha’s middle school. She also served as a camp counselor for Covenant Pines Bible Camp.
Academically, she earned AP Scholar and Academic Letter honors. She also participated in the National Honor Society.

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Educators retiring

Posted on 26 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Gbai Gutknecht

Jan Bauer

Jane Fischer

Kim Berg McGowan

Lillie Pang

Nancy Hofschulte

Community Schools


This year the Hiawatha/Howe Community Schools will be losing educators with 201 years of combined experience. Four teachers, Kim Berg-McGowan (grade 2), Gbai Gudnecht (grade 1), Nancy Hofschulte (Special Education), Jan Bauer (music), Jane Fischer (speech pathologist) and Lillie Pang (principal) are retiring moving on to a new phase of life. Like other rites of passage this spring, their send-off celebrations have been put on hold, but our gratitude remains.
Daily joy and greeting the unexpected with students is what these educators say they will remember. Special events and traditions such as musical programs and Howe Drama Club, Field Day, Field Trips and Spirit Week will be special memories. There were funny memories along the way. This one comes from Principal Pang:
“It was time for recess as I was giving directions to the class. I picked up a volleyball from the corner of the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something black on the volleyball. I grabbed it and threw it on the floor. All the students gasped. What I had thought was a big clump of dust was really a big black spider. I gained a lot of respect that day from my students.”
And this one is from Ms. Fischer: “I was working with a student in front of the speech mirror on the /gr/ sound. I said, “/gr/, like the color green.” The student said, “Yeah, kind of like your teeth.” I replied, “Really? I never noticed that.”
What will they miss? Seeing “The spark,” when students have that moment when the learning comes together. They will miss the fun of the children, support of families, colleagues and volunteers like Mr. Eddie Speers, and the wonderful atmosphere of Hiawatha/Howe Community Schools. The word “joy” was used many times when describing what will missed.
Grandchildren and family came up most often when inquiring about plans for the next chapter. Mrs. McGowan has moved to Fergus Falls to be closer to her grandchildren. The move came sooner than expected because with Distance Learning she can teach from there. For some, transitioning out of their current roles is a process which will include volunteering to teach in other capacities. Mrs. Hofschulte plans to teach reading to immigrant adults. Friends, and travel are also in the future for these retirees.
With over 200 years of experience, there are most certainly a few parting words of wisdom and advice they would like to share. Mrs. Bauer says, “Be kind and keep growing.” Ms. Fischer says, “Enjoy each day. It goes by fast.”
And Principal Pang says: “There is a saying: Give me a fish, I eat for a day. Teach me to fish I eat for a lifetime.
“I believe an education is the ticket out of poverty. Teaching will give students skills to reach their dreams. I enjoy running into former students and learning about their careers which range from being a manager, to a daycare director, to a nurse. Teaching is a very rewarding career. It is not for the faint hearted. I have a coffee mug on my desk that reads: What’s your super power? I teach. It is time to pass my cape on to the next generation of educators and watch them soar!”
Saying good bye to these retirees is hard especially at this time.  We hope we can celebrate with them in the fall. In the meanwhile, if you’d like to send them warm wishes, you can email them before school gets out for the summer. Connect with them through Hiawatha Community School website.
Hiawatha and Howe have been very lucky to have had such dedicated staff members. As they move on into retirement, we wish them well.

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Kids learn through play

Posted on 04 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

While you’re at home during this extended break from school, try these ideas from Free Forest School


Free Forest School Executive Director Anna Sharratt said, “This idea started as an outdoor play group. It has turned into a river I’ve been riding for several years now.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Let them be kids, outdoors. Let them learn through unstructured play in nature.
That’s the cornerstone belief of Free Forest School, a volunteer-led program that operates in 200+ cities across the country.
Right now, their weekly outdoor gatherings are, of course, suspended, but it’s easy to put the principles of Free Forest School to use during this extended break from school.
Longfellow resident Anna Sharratt developed the idea for the program five years ago, when her young family lived in Brooklyn, N.Y. She and her husband had signed their four-year-old up for a pre-K learning program, and the kids didn’t set foot outdoors for a whole month.
Sharratt, who grew up alongside Minnehaha Creek and camping in the BWCA, was stunned. She said, “In my way of thinking, learning and nature are inseparable. I had hoped to meet other families in the neighborhood, thinking we could get together outside of school, chill out, and play. I found parenting in New York City to be very competitive. The idea for Free Forest School grew out of that longing for non-competitive, quality time spent outdoors with other families.”
Two months after Sharratt started the first chapter of Free Forest School in Brooklyn, her family moved to Austin, Texas. Once seeds were planted in those two places, people started contacting her from around the country asking, “How can I start this up in my town?”

“There is no such thing
as bad weather,
only bad clothing.”
~ Scandinavian saying

Focus on supportive communities for parents and kids
The Free Forest School model is straight forward; it focuses on creating supportive communities. Parents can parent in different ways while encouraging child-led, unstructured play.
Sharratt said, “There are so many people who attend our play groups. Adults say they forge a deeper relationship with their kids through unstructured play, because so many of their usual power struggles disappear. There is less adult talking and explaining, there are fewer rules.”
The suggested age range for children is 0-6 years, but the majority of kids are 1-4. Every Free Forest School chapter has a director. It’s that person’s job to recruit parent facilitators from the community and to train them.
One of the ongoing Minneapolis sites is Theodore Wirth Park, where a Free Forest School chapter has met on Monday mornings at a certain trailhead for the past four years.
Sharratt explained, “We have a strong emphasis on place-based learning, so we go back to the same place throughout the seasons. Kids love to explore in the rain and mud of April, the heat and humidity of June, the snow and ice of January.”
Place-based learning might come as something of a relief during this time of staying at home, or close to home. According to Sharratt, young children are just as happy, maybe happier, going back to the same place over and over again.
Now that even playgrounds are closed or discouraged, here’s the best news yet. Find a scrappy patch of woods near your house; any nearby nature spot will do. Take the kids there and, after making sure it’s reasonably safe, led them take the lead in their own unstructured play.
Sharratt encourages parents to think back to their own memories of childhood, asking, “What places in nature were most meaningful for you? It’s probably not the trip your whole family took to a national park, though it could be. It’s more likely a tree you loved to climb by yourself, or a vacant neighborhood lot where you built a fort with your friends. These are experiences that give kids a sense of autonomy, which is especially important in this time of ‘helicopter parenting.’”

“Kids are hard wired to learn through play in nature, but parents can get in the way with too much structure and over-scheduling.” ~ Anna Sharratt

Every day outside
It is unlikely that Free Forest School playgroups will be meeting this summer, given the current health emergency.
In the meantime, the website is resource rich, and includes a COVID-19 inspired initiative called Every Day Outside on the blog. It’s a place to share ideas, play prompts, inspirations, and ideas for child-led activities. There are also weekly emails that dive deeper into the value of unstructured play for the whole family. For more information, visit or or email
“It may look like we’re educating children, but we’re really educating adults,” said Sharratt. “Kids are hard wired to learn through play in nature, but parents can get in the way with too much structure and over-scheduling.”
So, even though Free Forest School isn’t formally meeting right now, Sharratt said the emphasis hasn’t changed one bit. Today is the perfect day to get outside with your kids. Let them cross a stream on rocks or climb a tree. They might look like they’re “just playing,” (and what’s wrong with that?) but they’re also developing their sense of spatial awareness, large and small motor skills, balance, critical thinking, and much more.

In a nutshell
Free Forest School ignites children’s innate capacity to learn through unstructured play in nature, fostering healthy development and nurturing the next generation of creative thinkers, collaborative leaders, and environmental stewards.

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Schools revised?

Posted on 24 March 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Minneapolis schools propose major overhaul

Minneapolis Public Schools has proposed some sweeping changes that would affect where 63% of its students attend school beginning in fall 2021. Parents brought their questions about high school changes to a meeting at Roosevelt High on Feb. 24, 2020. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Here’s what you need to know about how the Minneapolis Public School Comprehensive District Design would affect high schools.
• High school transition would begin with 2021-22 incoming ninth graders.
• 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students would remain in current high schools until graduation.
• This proposal aligns high school boundaries with middle school attendance areas to keep middle school cohorts together.
• It builds enrollment on the north side. Right now, North High is at 17.5% capacity with only 326 students.
Career and Tech Ed
The district is seeking to centralize its Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs by consolidating classes at three sites.
1) North Tech Center at North High: engineering, computer science-information technology, robotics, and web and digital communications
2) Northeast Tech Center at Edison High: business, law and public safety, and agriculture
3) South Tech Center at Roosevelt High: auto, construction, machine tool, welding, and healthcare
• Schools that lose their CTE programming could opt to have afterschool programs and clubs, or use school budgets for elective courses.
• Currently, across MPS, CTE is up to 82.2% underenrolled

Vote planned in April
In December 2017, the district began comprehensive design with system-wide assessment, and the school board authorized the superintendent to create recommendations for changes in the district at its Oct. 19, 2019 meeting. The district released its high school plans to the public in late February 2020. The board plans to vote on the design in April despite community requests to take more time.


High School Boundaries
Above: Current

Below: Proposed revision

Under the proposed plans, K-5 and 6-8 magnet schools would be moved so that they are more centrally located, markedly changing school options in South Minneapolis. The district would stop offering K-8 options, which are heavily used by immigrant groups. Several magnet programs would go away, including Folwell, Dowling, Bancroft, Windom and Armatage Montessori. Note colored dots.

Which elementary schools feed into which middle schools is modified under the proposal in an attempt to reduce transportation costs and create stronger community schools.

All graphics but top table courtesy of Minneapolis Public Schools.
Find detailed presentations on the district’s web site.

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El Colegio hires new executive director

Posted on 11 February 2020 by Tesha Christensen

El Colegio High School is excited to announce Katie Groh de Aviña as the new executive director. She began after winter break.
El Colegio (4147 Bloomington Ave.) is a small public high school in Minneapolis that has been serving students in English and Spanish since 2000.
Ms. Katie comes to El Colegio after having most recently served as one of the directors at Academia Cesar Chavez in Saint Paul. She has many years of leadership, experience, and knowledge in charter school management and cultural competency in education.
Ms. Katie has worked with the Latinx community for 20 years in multiple capacities, and has always believed in the potential of all her students. “El Colegio has a created environment and space safe for all learners to be successful! I want to build on that and make sure more youth know about El Colegio when they are selecting their high school!” said Ms. Katie.
Her predecessor, Ms Norma C Garcés, will be concluding her nine years as El Colegio’s executive director. She will support the transition during the month of January, then go on to pursue her Bush Fellowship.

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Inside schooling decisions

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Get a glimpse into the lives of local families who are navigating through the many educational choices available today, and forging a path that fits their families.

The Hide family


Meet Longfellow resident Julianne Hide, parent of Landon (age 10), Holden (7), and Isla (3). She’s married to Phil.
Why did you select this school?
We began homeschooling when my eldest started to suffer with anxiety at school. We did our best to address the issue, but he was not happy at school. After looking into options for other schools we decided to give homeschool a try. We’re into our third year now. It’s so much fun to learn together.
What do you appreciate most?
We greet each day with the idea of doing what feels right. Sometimes we stick with the plan, sometimes we grab an opportunity to get outside and enjoy the weather. We go to nature center programs, theaters and museums. The kids are able to pursue their area of interest in long sessions uninterrupted. Play is part of everyday. We attend a homeschool group each week and have made many friends.
What are the challenges?
The challenges have come in the form of being willing to accept that each homeschool day looks different depending on the mood of the kids. Sometimes we have to change the plan. Our daily rhythm also has to adapt to the needs of the kids as they change. As long as I’m willing to keep going with the flow I know everything will be fine!
What skills do you think are most important for schools to teach kids in 2020?
I think the skills needed for 2020 revolve around getting people to work together to solve problems. Creative thinking. Good communication skills. The strength to believe in yourself.
Share your school hacks or tips.
I think the best ‘hack’ I’ve come across is actually just really talking with him my kids and letting them help guide our learning. Anytime I let them lead they blow me away with their willingness to work.


Northrop Elementary

Meet Gina Brusseau, PTA President at Northrop Elementary School, a K-5 school at 4315 S. 31st Ave. She is mom to Finnegan (grade 2) and Stella, who will be a kindergartner in fall 2020. Rounding out the family is her step-daughter Becca and husband Karl.
Why did you select this school?
We chose Northrop because it was our neighborhood school, had an environmental STEM focus, and had a great reputation in the neighborhood. Big factor: late start.
What do you appreciate most?
We love the community, the entire staff is awesome, and the teachers are dedicated.
What are the challenges?
Diversity – as it is declining based on the demographics of the neighborhood. We wish we had more diversity representing an urban school.
What skills do you think are most important for schools to teach kids in 2020?
Social emotional learning, environmental, STEM, working hard, teamwork, individuality, respect, and caring for others.
Share your school hacks or tips.
Be involved with your kids education, be involved with your PTA, volunteer when you can, and connect with other families.

Career Pathways

Meet Kelina Morgan, whose daughter Nasi is in ninth grade at Career Pathways, one of the Minnesota Transitions Charter School options.
Why did you select this school?
I chose Career Pathways for her because it was close to my employer, and it offered a non-traditional way of learning, with small class sizes.
What do you appreciate most?
Career Pathways also is a welcoming place with diversity of race, culture, religion, and sexual orientation. It’s a place where my daughter feels a sense of belonging. We’ve lived in various cities, including Vadnais Heights and Somerset, Wis. It was important to me that she attended a school where the staff and students welcome diversity.
What skills do you think are most important for schools to teach kids in 2020?
I believe that acceptance and appreciation for differences is a valuable skill to learn, as well as life skills needed to find and maintain a career if college is not the choice.
Share your school hacks or tips.
Because education is important to us and can open many doors, our family hacks on how to help kids learn are 1) read to kids early and daily, 2) require they read at least 20 minutes five days a week, and 3) purchase workbooks for their next grade level that they complete over the summer breaks to continue learning.


Yinghua Academy

Meet South Minneapolis resident Starr Eggen Lim, who is married to Albert. Her daughter Lily is now in 11th grade at Highland Park High School, and daughter Magdalena is currently a ninth grader at Highland Park High School. They are at Highland because Yinghua Academy has an agreement that kids can continue their Chinese education at an appropriate level at Highland Park in St. Paul.
Why did you select this school?
I chose Yinghua Academy because it is a total immersion school meaning that the entire school is focused on Chinese and not just one area or several classrooms. Being that our children are Asian and adopted, it was a good fit as they would learn much about their birth culture as well as having Asian role models and influence. Many kids at that time who were attending the school were also adopted from China, so I felt it would help normalize their experience as kids and adolescents. I had read many books about some of the difficulties Korean adoptees had in the 1970s who grew up in rural areas with little acknowledgement about their birth countries or even issues being racially different than most of their peers. I really wanted to find a school that would allow my kids the opportunity to be around many other Asian kids and many who also had similar birth stories.
What do you appreciate most?
Having my kids learn to read, write and speak Mandarin has so many advantages. If they ever chose to search for their birth parents, or even wanted to live or experience their birth country, having the language and cultural understanding would help to cross over so many barriers that could inhibit that from happening. I also wanted to give them the opportunity to feel at ease around other kids in college who may be international students from their birth country, whereby they could understand and feel a part of that community. I had read that some kids who were never given these opportunities would sometimes go to college and didn’t feel like they fit in with the Caucasian population (even though these kids had grown up in “white” culture), so were initially not accepted into those circles… And even though they looked like the Asian international students, they did not fit in there because they did not understand the culture, so were not initally accepted there either.
Yinghua Academy not only provided this backdrop for my kids, but also having a second language like Mandarin allows so many doors to be opened for them. When learning a second language at the tender age of five, kids absorb things so much easier. Having the ability to read, write and speak can open potential careers opportunities, as well. The school’s academic expectations are quite rigorous and kids have adapted well into all kinds of high school experiences. I liked that the school uses Singapore math, allows for different levels of learning in math and Chinese, and provides many extra curricular activities after school. They also put on a dynamic Chinese New Year program every year which is held at Bethel University, and is almost always sold out. As adoption from China has slowed, Yinghua Academy continues to grow as many kids from all sorts of backgrounds attend the school.
What are the challenges?
Chinese Immersion is not for everyone. Yinghua does have some expectations for kids to do quite a bit of learning in a more traditional style and hasn’t, at least in my experience, allowed for a lot of diversity in teaching styles or methods. Parents need to be in tune to what their specific child’s needs are and how best to meet those, but Yinghua has worked well for our family.
What skills do you think are most important for schools to teach kids in 2020?
As far as the most important skills for kids to learn, I would think preparing them to be global citizens is a priority. Language immersion does help to accomplish this. Critical thinking is probably one of the most important skills for kids to learn as our current administration (in my opinion) has become so harsh on scientific research, facts, and the media in general. Learning how to decipher facts from fiction and how to ask questions is critical to our society’s survival as a democracy.

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