Cultivating Right Makers PreK-12
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Intelligence plus character—that is the true goal of education." At MPA, we couldn't agree more. Through purpose-filled curricular integration and character education, MPA helps students realize that their identities in the world should never be measured by a test score, but rather by the depth and decency of their impact on the world.
This radical idea of students as right makers has always been central to MPA's culture, but it is not achieved through a set curriculum, program, or approach. And it would never be mandated. Teaching is deeply personal and MPA was founded upon the belief that it should always be reflective of the individual teacher's passion and expertise. Thus, experiences vary widely between classrooms and divisions, creating a colorful continuum that reaches every student, in one way or another, every day.
It all begins in Lower School, where the foundation is established. As one example, in second grade, a money unit comes to life as students host garage sales at their desks with items from home. They market their items and count change as Lower School peers come to shop. Proceeds are donated to a local animal rescue organization, a natural tie to the animal research projects the students are simultaneously writing. "This is a real-world, hands-on way to use their new-found money skills while tapping into their natural passion for animals. They are so little, but you can see the compassion and empathy grow exponentially," second grade teacher Anne Scalia shared.
By fourth grade, students have become Lower School leaders and are ready to serve as conflict managers on the playground. They act as right makers daily by encouraging respectful discourse. "We help them learn how to have a constructive reaction to natural conflict," said Yamini Kimmerle, fourth grade teacher. Managing conflict strengthens the bonds across grade levels and equips students with the skills needed for navigating and improving our complex world.
In Middle School, the experiences become increasingly rigorous. For example, global studies allows students to dramatically broaden the scope of their developing citizenship. Students venture off campus on foot and via city bus to better understand the diversity present in their neighborhood. Getting to know the many assets of the community can require some students to step outside of their comfort zones. Teacher George Dalbo shared the purpose, "In order to understand the historical mechanisms at play in Southeast Asia, for example, I require our students to thoughtfully take the next step to understand how that history impacts our neighbors' lives today. I aim to build understanding as opposed to sympathy."
English teacher Anne DeVout Atchison uses reading and writing to empower her Middle School students. "I teach them to pay attention, take care, and use their words well. They need to be good observers and have the ability to respond appropriately in order to make an impact on our world," she said. Reading for context becomes meaningful when students feel equipped and encouraged to question the status quo. "They are never asked to take what they read at face value, but rather to question, dig deeper, and develop the courage and confidence to speak their own truths," she said. This is how and when critical thinking skills take root.
In Upper School, students are increasingly challenged to apply their deep content knowledge to impact the world around them. Since the 1990s, MPA has partnered closely with the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District to improve the water quality of the lakes, ponds, and streams in the two-county area. The campus pond and rainwater gardens support that goal, and biology and environmental education students also venture off campus to plant and maintain other areas. "Our students get to see how what they have learned in the classroom works in the real world. They become citizen scientists as they learn how the small acts of many can be a powerful force for good in the world," said Mitch Thomsen, Upper School science teacher.
At MPA, we nurture the right makers and arm them with academic knowledge that will propel them forward as change agents.
LOWER SCHOOL TEACHER
Right making is a seed that is planted in each student and cultivated as they journey through MPA. Not only do we teach character traits like inclusiveness and integrity, we promote a do-right attitude through our actions and words while we learn and grow together. This inspires us to dream big and impact others positively at home and in the world.
LOWER SCHOOL TEACHER
I want my students to know that there are lots of ways to change the world. Whether it's medical physicists sharpening MRI images, or a team of engineers developing a sustainable system for bringing clean water to a rural village, or using geophysical data to create an earthquake early warning system, science is one path among many that MPA students can use to make the world better.
UPPER SCHOOL TEACHER
Social entrepreneurism, a senior social studies elective developed and taught by Mike Vergin, asks students to design innovative solutions that address social problems. Students identify their passions and connect those passions to making a difference. "Through this class, students are exposed to so many people who are successful and who also give back. They see how people are charting changes in our world and that's really inspiring," said Vergin.
In addition to the many ways teachers inspire right makers through curricular integration, MPA also believes character education is foundational. Students teach each other traits such as friendship, cooperation, compassion, respect, self-control, responsibility, inclusiveness, and integrity through CHAMP in Lower School. Middle School recently launched Mind, Person, Action to engage students in a common language, monthly assemblies, discussion, and individual goal setting. And character education continues through the seminar program and service to the community in Upper School.
Right makers are also cultivated at MPA through seemingly simple ways, such as respectful daily interactions—student to student, teacher to student, community-wide. Shelley Steingraeber, third grade teacher, explained, "I inspire right makers by asking guiding questions when a student must make a choice within a challenging situation. It is during these moments of decision-making that students can discover their true selves; they can find the fortitude, strength, or courage to make the right decision. They have so many opportunities during each day to do right."
Our Middle School character education program focuses attention on non-cognitive attributes, such as respect and gratitude, and challenges students to chart their individual growth. We also carefully scaffold the curriculum and service learning experiences to heighten students' understanding of others, teach bystander intervention strategies, and encourage students to have the courage to do what is right, no matter what the circumstances.
MIDDLE SCHOOL DIRECTOR
Our students have a drive to do right that allows them to find their purpose and be positive contributors in our world. Doing what is right is at the core of the MPA mission.
Rigor and academic learning mean nothing without thoughtful application.
MIDDLE SCHOOL SOCIAL STUDIES TEACHER