Minnesota’s most creative educators recognized on state and national levels

By JOE NATHAN – Gazette Columnist

There are critics, complainers and creators. Today we’ll focus on some of Minnesota’s most creative educators, including some in Woodbury, Forest Lake, Isanti, St. Paul and Coon Rapids. They are being recognized at the state, and some at the national level.

A terrific statewide organization, Synergy & Leadership Exchange, is honoring Minnesota district, charter and independent schools for their work to help young people develop good character. The word "character" may sound boring. But the award winning activities are anything but.

Footprints Academy, a K-6 elementary school in Woodbury, is being recognized for helping students develop leadership skills with a focus on helping the community.

As Darlah Krug, Footprints principal wrote, "Our students have come together as a student body with leadership from Student Council to lead in very influential projects. Students have raised monies for the Minnesota Veterans Home, made over 30 blankets as a school community for patients at Minnesota Children’s Hospital, made over 400 sandwiches to be delivered to homeless families, collected school supplies for the students in Niger collected over 300 items for various charities this past holiday season with our ‘Giving Tree.’ All projects are student led and directed from decision asking to parental involvement."

Lakes International (charter) Middle School in Forest Lake is being selected for its partnership with the Minnesota Twins. According Julie Lundgren (jlundgren@lakesinternational.org)

"Students engage in activities with the Twins to help build a community that sees strength in diversity. Just as the Twins team is composed of people from many backgrounds, so too is our community. Students have learned about the importance of diversity and been key ambassadors through their skills in multilingualism to bridge cultural differences throughout Twins Territory.

"LILA is a K-6 language immersion school and International Baccalaureate (IB) World School whose mission focuses on international-mindedness, multilingualism, and character development through Responsive Classroom and the IB Learner Profile.

"The partnership creates opportunities for students to act on their learning; since it began, students have participated in Twins Spanish radio broadcasts, written winning essays for the Jackie Robinson Day contest, and when Japanese player Tsuyoshi Nishioka debuted in 2011, LILA students sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in Japanese as a special welcome. The annual Twins Caravan has made LILA its first stop, generating excitement for the upcoming seasons and offering advice about baseball and life."

Coon Rapids Middle School is being cited for its successful efforts to reduce bullying, and increase positive contacts between young people. Having worked for some years with middle school students, I can affirm that these are major issues at this age. As sixth grade teacher Mrs. Lisa Torbenson wrote,

"Owning Up is about teaching young women and young men how to deal with bullying. Bullying comes in many forms- students need the tools to be able to deal with the bullying, overcome being the victim, stop being a bystander, and stop bullying once and for all.

"Students are taught how to use the SEAL steps, how to deal with bullying online such as Facebook, and how to deal with bullying via text messages.

"My after-school program consists of 46 girls who focus on dealing with gossip, rumors, exclusion and the threats that face young girls everywhere. The hope is that the cycle stops before these young women reach adulthood. We cook in our class, make lotions and lip gloss, talk about fashion, and of course, boys.

"While we are cooking we discuss some of the issues that they are going through the week – together we use the tools that I have taught the girls and we being to problem solve as to how we can handle the problems faced with each week. The girls learn how to build one another up- instead of tearing one another apart. Many girls have devoted themselves to be kind and to make sure to think before they speak, so that the words that come out are helpful to others instead of hurtful.

"I am seeing less gossip, fewer rumors being spread, less exclusion and more students helping one another out. I am seeing the girls build one another up and genuinely being happy for each others’ successes. I am seeing kind actions, I am hearing kind words, and I am seeing happiness among the girls."

She can be reached at lisa.torbenson@anoka.k12.mn.us

The Isanti Intermediate School, School For All Seasons, in collaboration with Isanti Primary School and Isanti Middle School, for its program designed to improve the quality of the bus riding experience for students.

As Isanti educators wrote, " The name of the program is "Ride With Pride." It is a program designed to recognize and reward students with praise and a "pride" slip for demonstrating the behavior expectations on the bus that lead to a pleasant riding experience for everyone. The program encourages bus drivers to notice positive behaviors on the school bus and to praise students for demonstrating the behavior expectations.

"This increases positive interactions and will lead long term to better relationships on the school bus between student and driver. Data collection has shown a decrease in office discipline referrals relating to bus behaviors. For example, within the third grade, bus-related referrals went from 11 in February 2011 to 6 in February 2012, and the fifth grade has gone from 15 bus-related referrals in February of 2011 to 6 in February 2012. Contact person is teacher Mrs. Sara Edwards. She can be reached at: sedwards@cambridge.k12.mn.us

Avalon Charter in St. Paul was cited for its advisory program, which the school uses to create a strong sense of community. Advisories consist of 20 to 22 students and one to two advisors (licensed teachers). The implementation of this practice goes far beyond simply assigning students to advisories, although that is a process done with care, with an eye to balancing gender, learning differences, grade level, and special needs.

"Once advisories are established, we work hard to develop the community through thoughtful morning check-ins and conversations, the use of peer mediation to solve conflicts, and service-learning projects designed by those advisories. We also use these advisories as the launching pad for project-based learning.

"Students within advisories utilize each other to brainstorm for ideas, develop proposals, and help each other find resources. Completed projects frequently are presented and celebrated within advisories. Students remain in the same advisory throughout their middle school and high school careers, giving all partners in each student’s education an opportunity to really get to know each other and to work together as a team to support each learner."

Contact person is Gretchen Sage-Martinson, gretchen@avalonschool.org

In the last few days, Lakes International, Avalon and a middle school in Austin were notified that they were selected by the national Character Education Partnership as one of 297 national "Promising Practices." They will be honored in Washington, D.C., this coming November. For more information, see http://synergyexchange.org/Home.aspx

Gov. Mark Dayton’s State of Minnesota Proclamation for Character Recognition Day puts it well: "Minnesota is strengthened when good character and ethical leadership are encouraged and citizens make decisions that positively affect themselves and other."

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Macalester College. Reactions are welcome at jnathan@macalester.edu.

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