A Message From MPA Alumni Board Member Annie Stewart ’11

Annie stewart '11As many MPA Alumni are choosing a gap year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Alumni Board Member, Annie Stewart ’11 shares her thoughts and experiences. We want to hear your story! Contact alumni@moundsparkacademy.org to let us know your plans for the upcoming school year and to share your insights on gap years, navigating a new school during these challenging times, or other topics.

I started my St. Olaf career as a double major in biology and environmental studies with the intent of going to medical school. This past spring I completed a master’s degree in elementary education. Looking back, I wish I would have gotten a fine arts degree.

You know what I would have benefitted from? A gap year.

There are lots of reasons why students take a gap year between high school and college. I never knew that was actual option for me, and I didn’t know anyone else who was taking one. Once I got to St. Olaf I met dozens of people who had taken gap years. All of them seemed to know what they wanted out of their college experience, they were confident in themselves, and they had a strong sense of purpose. I changed my major 3 times as a undergraduate, now I wonder what I could have figured out about my goals and interests had I taken a gap year–before paying for 16 credits of pre-med classes. There is no guarantee that a gap year will give you clarity or all of the answers, but if your gut is telling you that a gap year could be right for you, listen. Read More

Characteristics Of A Resilient School And Resilient Children

lower school student arriving on campusby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

With the beginning of the school year less than two weeks away, I find myself increasingly excited to greet our returning students and ever so eager to welcome our outstanding new students. No matter how many years as an educator, the start of a new school year is as exhilarating to me as it is to a new teacher. This year is no different. And yet, the year ahead will be different and will present challenges that we will collectively need to overcome.

As I reflected on a guiding theme for this year, I kept coming back to the importance of resiliency. Perhaps I was influenced by the life and death of U.S. Representative and Civil Rights hero John Lewis several weeks ago. Like many, the depth of my sadness in his passing was buoyed by reflecting on the impact he had over the course of his life. Mr. Lewis suffered life-threatening setbacks and faced hardship that many of us cannot imagine. However, he developed the resiliency necessary to persevere and succeed. Read More

The MPA Alumni Mentorship Program Experience

alumni networking event 2019The MPA Alumni Mentorship Program completed its second year full of meaningful connections and a successful networking event to conclude the year. The program is designed to enhance personal and professional development experiences for our senior class students, while also providing alumni with an opportunity to reconnect to MPA and share their own experiences and knowledge with the next generation of graduates.

The program connected alumni like Dorothy (Schilling) Tiernan ’02 and Grace Holloway, senior from the Class of 2020, with their common interests of literature and travel. Read more about their experience here.

Lyndon Lyu ’20 had dreams and aspirations of becoming a pilot, and through the MPA Alumni Mentorship Program he was able to create a connection with Matthew Navarro ’04 who is currently a professional airline pilot. Read more about their involvement in the program here. Read More

Register For Summer Basketball Camp!

basketball campers 2019Children entering grades 4-9 this fall are invited to Summer Basketball Camp at MPA held Monday July 27-Thursday, July 30 from 9-11 AM. On behalf of Boys Varsity Basketball Coach Jacob Schwartz, and our entire program, we are looking forward to a safe and enjoyable camp. This camp is for MPA and non MPA students at all skill levels, so whether your child is looking for a chance to hone their skills after a summer of AAU, or try basketball for the first time in a welcoming environment, MPA’s camp is open to all. Mounds Park Academy’s Summer Basketball Camp costs $75 per camper, via check/cash/Venmo on the first day of camp, and includes a camp t-shirt.

A quick note on safety: From prearrival home screenings, to all participants and coaches wearing masks, to temperature checks on arrival, keeping a safe, healthy, COVID-free camp environment is our number one priority. We will be employing 27 distinct protocols and safeguards. More information on safety is available on our registration page.

Register here and contact Nate Bander with any questions.


MPA Social Consciousness Club Resources & Recommendations

Student-led Social Consciousness Club at Mounds Park Academy has focused on resources for education and personal actions. They are currently reading “ How to Be an Antiracist”  by Ibram X. Kendi, and many of our students have also read  ”Just Mercy“  by Bryan Stevenson, “ Between the World and Me”  by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and “ The New Jim Crow”  by Michelle Alexander. They also recommend to watch the Netflix documentary  ”13th”  for those interested in understanding the evolution of systemic racism in our country.

Some organizations that they are recommending support for right now are the Black Visions Collective, which is Minnesota based, The Marshall Project, Campaign Zero, and Black Futures Lab.

Students are emphasizing the need to exercise our democratic rights come November. The vote will drive change.  In our immediate community, 63% of eligible voters in the neighborhoods surrounding MPA voted in the last election, 10 points below the state average. This turnout makes is particularly important to mobilize our community to vote, so we are hoping to sponsor a lit drop campaign where we distribute voter registration and vote by mail request materials on doorsteps. MPA students are encouraging anyone who interested in expanding voting rights to do is request a vote by mail ballot to ensure their vote is counted and they can participate safely during this pandemic. For students who are not yet eligible to vote, they encourage them to serve as an election judge since there is a fear that there will be a shortage.

Meet Alumni Board Member Christopher Staral ’06

Chris '06Christopher Staral ’06 attended MPA for Middle and Upper school, and chose to serve on the Alumni Board to give back to the MPA community by offering mentorship in a career field that may be underrepresented and difficult to break into. He is currently the biotech Investment Analyst for Mangrove Partners and is responsible for making investment recommendations as they relate to the biotech sector.

He majored in chemistry and minored in biochemistry at Carleton College, and also performed medical research at the University of Minnesota’s Lillehei Heart Institute during breaks. He then attended the University of Minnesota’s Medical School immediately following undergrad, where he met his now-fiancée, a Minnesota native and investment banker in healthcare. She introduced him to the concept of trying to predict developmental drug program success as a way to value biotech companies, which he began doing during his spare time while at med school. This lead him to New York and pursue a career full-time in finance, starting at Canaccord Genuity in biotech and pharma equity research, and shortly thereafter moving to Goldman Sachs in a similar capacity.

While there are a diverse set of skills that Chris says can lead to success as an investor, a few that he learned during his time at MPA stand out as crucial. “The ability to think for oneself and to be skeptical of arguments that are made on the basis of authority rather than merit; the ability to quickly break down an abstract thesis into digestible, constituent parts and identify the crucial one or two questions that need to be answered in order to evaluate whether the thesis is valid or not; to have the self-awareness to know when your own knowledge base is insufficient to answer a question and seek out the resources that are needed; to have the confidence to know when you are right in the face of challenges to your beliefs that are unsubstantiated, but also have the self-confidence to admit that you can be wrong when new information disproves your beliefs; have an understanding of risk management,” he lists. “MPA was particularly important in providing a sound foundation for all of these points by providing a challenging, intellectually stimulating yet safe environment that pushed students beyond what they viewed as their own limits. Teachers would encourage students not to hang onto beliefs simply because someone told them it was true, but rather understand the facts and reason out for themselves why they ultimately believed (or dis-believed) something. Lastly, MPA’s strong math (and particularly statistics) provided students with the tools needed to independently test and verify hypotheses themselves rather than rely on someone else to tell them what is and is not true. Furthermore, and even more importantly, it allowed students to separate fact from falsity which is a crucial skill becoming ever-more-important in an age where technology has dramatically amplified the ability for those with perverse political incentives to manipulate and obfuscate truth in favor of a story that supports their own self-serving needs.”

Chris’s favorite experience at MPA was when he worked with three other students to pass a law that mandated 30 minutes of organ donation education in driver’s ed classes throughout the state of Minnesota, which came as the extension of a project he worked on in Ms. Conway’s public policy class. The class served as a way to combine many of the skills we learned throughout high school to creatively solve a problem we identified ourselves and effectuate actual change that continues to positively impact the lives of Minnesotans today.

Congratulations To Alumni Award Winner Heather Otto ‘97

heather Otto '97Nate Bander ’09 spoke with 2020 Alumni Award winner Heather Rose Otto ’97 about her Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit, See You at the Summit.

Tell us more about your role as founder of See You at the Summit. How did that idea come about and what was the journey like to establish your organization?

I was working in the field of wilderness therapy and I actually attended an international conference where I heard a Canadian speaker share more about what they were doing to improve the psychosocial health of teenagers undergoing cancer treatment. I realized that there wasn’t anything like this happening in the United States, so over the course of 15 years, I developed and founded See You at the Summit. I went back to school to get my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and spent years researching and presenting to the medical community to get their buy in. Now there are 18 hospitals in the Pacific Northwest hoping to get involved in our organization.

See You at the Summit takes eight kids ages 13-18 who are undergoing or have just completed cancer treatment and brings them on a nine day wilderness trip, followed by 21 days of additional programming. So far, we have done backpacking trips but we are adding white water rafting, snow shoeing and dogsledding trips as well. We bring a team of 20 volunteers including physicians, nurses, child psychologists, porters and program facilitators and we’re able to provide the trips at no cost to the teenagers and their families.

Going on a See You at the Summit trip helps this underserved group develop self-esteem, make friendships, build resilience, tell their story, and just learn how to be teenager, all skills that are much harder to develop from a hospital room. This is so important because teens with cancer experience depression and anxiety at a 30% higher rate and are four times more likely to attempt suicide. Through our trips and programming, we give them the tools to navigate a very challenging part of their lives.

We are researching the long and short term outcomes of our work as well. We believe that teens who experience a See You at the Summit trip will have better cancer recovery and mental health outcomes. We hope that our research provides the medical professionals who care for teens with better ways to provide social-emotional support as well.

How did your MPA experience prepare you for your life today and your work as the founder of a nonprofit?

I am an MPA lifer and I am so grateful for my time at MPA, it really was a great education. Looking back on it, I especially appreciated the small class sizes because I always felt heard and respected.

In particular, four teachers had a special impact on me. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Thacker was one of them. She actually adopted a puppy from the animal shelter and we cared for it as a class. I also remember my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Zimmerhakl really fondly. She was teaching us about privilege, equity and inclusion in the late 1980s, before most people were incorporating that into the curriculum.

From my Upper School days, Mr. Meacock and Mrs. Conway were of course teachers that made a lifelong impact on me. They stand out because their classes were filled with hands-on experiences. They were teaching about life just as much as the subjects they were responsible for. After MPA, I attended North Park University in Chicago where I studied theology.

What’s next?

I am continuing to build this program. As I mentioned, there are 18 hospitals in the Pacific Northwest, and more emerging on the East coast, who want to be involved. I am looking to do even more fundraising so that we can support more kids to go on our trips. For anyone looking to get involved, we are always in need of sponsors for our teens. For more information, visit www.seeyouatthesummit.org.

MPA Community Members Are Rehabilitating Campus Gardens

working on the outdoor garden areasAfter the completion of the new Martin Lenz Harrison Library at MPA, current MPA parent Michelle Mick had a vision for a beautiful Panther Garden in the adjacent outdoor space. Thanks to the help of Samantha Forgosh Class of ‘22 and Jaeden McFarland Class of ‘19, it is well on its way to achieving this vision. These volunteers and many others are helping to remove sod, prepare the ground, and create beautiful sanctuary gardens with sustainable wildflowers and plants, as well as vegetable and produce gardens which will be used in the MPA kitchen next year.

Jaeden, Samantha, Chef Doug, and MPA parent volunteers Tim and Michelle Mick continue to be hard at work volunteering to rehabilitate several outdoor spaces on MPA’s campus, already having cut and removed all the sod of the 120 by 40 foot-area, rototilled the entire space, and continue to remove the weeds and rake.

At first glance, the soil underneath was unusually sandy and barren. But after Tim rototilled the soil, which means using a tool that breaks up and tills the dirt, plenty of healthy worms and lots of other interesting bugs popped out! They found the area just beyond the library soaked after a night of rain, which Michelle was able to help drain by adding rocks.

This week, new mulch will be delivered, and the group will be moving it (while socially distant) from the drop off zone in front of Lower School to the new gardens. We are so grateful to have volunteers in our community making these gardens happen! A special thank you to Jaeden, Samantha, Doug, Tim and Michelle Mick, and all who continue to volunteer!

What The Class Of 2020 Has Given Our Community

by Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

I have a number of books on my shelf, waiting to be read. I’ve started a few of them, including “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World” by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and “Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World by Olga Khazan.” What do these two books in particular have in common? They remind me of our wonderful Class of 2020 who will graduate in just over a week. Before jumping to the conclusion that this class are a group of lonely weirdos, let me explain.

According to author Olga Khazan, everyone, in some way or another, is a little weird. That’s a good thing because we all have different talents and ideas to contribute, and a perspective that is all our own. Khazan goes on to say that to make the most of our weirdness, it’s important to recognize what makes us special, examine how it functions in our lives, and consider how to use it to our advantage. The Class of 2020 has long impressed me with their willingness to embrace their own uniqueness, but also appreciate and accept the individuality of others.

Some may call the Class of 2020 “weird,” but they are anything but. They wield their distinctiveness as a superpower and are not shy to place it in service of others. For example, in her senior speech, Priya Manda poignantly shared her experience of growing up struggling for acceptance and learning to harness her unique religious and ethnic identity to improve society. “I come from a family who has always fought for what they believe in, and this, combined with the passion of my peers at MPA, inspired my interest in social advocacy. I learned how to use my naturally, talkative personality to find my voice on issues I had taught myself to be silent on. I worked to create safe spaces for kids who, like me, didn’t have any.”

Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy writes from the perspective of a doctor, bringing to light the reality that loneliness can be as harmful to our health as smoking. Humans, by nature, have a vital need for social connection. It was Dr. John Cacioppo who developed a theory of loneliness rooted in the observation that humans have survived as a species not because of physical advantages but because of the ability to communicate and work together in groups.

Our seniors like to laugh together, hug one another, cheer for one another, and share with one another. It is not unusual to find them piled into tight groups in the Hart Commons, lamenting a difficult Calc or Physics test, and then laughing together about their struggles. In fact, the class invented the term “cuddle puddle” to explain this phenomenon. Their commitment to community is not reserved solely for themselves. They have worked hard to include underclassmen in school events and in everyday conversations. They have not established themselves as ‘seniors’ by ‘ruling,’ but by ‘including’ and have been ever the more successful for it.

How ironic that this class who collectively valued community and connectedness are unable to end their MPA career together as a school community. Worried that they did not have an opportunity to say goodbye, they wrote a letter to their classmates to urge them to strive to “Dream Big and Do Right”: “The Class of 2020 worked hard, set goals, and achieved them. However, we recognized how our future was not a competition with each other. We learned our success was dictated by us. We learned we were more successful collaborating and supporting each other than competing.”

I was particularly moved by the collection of six-word memoirs written by the senior class. They speak a truth so much more than I could ever capture:

Saved my life, gave me life. Lilly Ramalingham
Expected a school, found a home. Galen Juliusson
Everything, friends, home, love. It’s everything. Emma Finch
New Kid, Strange kid, Loved kid. Quincy Lewis

I am grateful for the many gifts the senior class have given our community and I look forward with great confidence and in anticipation of how these gifts will impact our world in the years ahead. There is no doubt in my mind that these amazing incredible young people will indeed “stir the human spirit, stand for justice, and shake the world.”

Thanking Our Impactful Retirees

by Dr. Bill Hudson, head of school

Many years ago I had my first opportunity to speak at a national conference. The meeting was held in Baltimore and I found out that my favorite high school teacher, Br. Jim, lived nearby and was going to be in attendance. I was able to track down his email address and wrote to him, sharing that he was my favorite teacher and the reason I decided to become a teacher. I also asked if he would like to get together for lunch while I was in town. Br. Jim was principal of my high school and had stepped into teaching a ninth grade class at the last minute. He was an amazing storyteller had a way of teaching that made each student feel that he was talking directly and personally to them. Br. Jim was gentle, kind, and brilliant, too. He never talked down to us and found ways to bring all of us along, inspiring us to higher levels of critical thinking. After that year, he moved on to a new job and a new city yet I never forgot him.

Br. Jim accepted my invitation and we met for lunch. As he entered the restaurant, it was clear he didn’t know who I was. Sheepishly, he admitted as much and said he had been trying for weeks to remember me, even pulling out an old yearbook to jog his memory. He said he was embarrassed and began to apologize profusely. I stopped him and that I was not at all offended. To me, what was important was not that he would remember me—it was that I remembered him. He had hundreds if not thousands of students over his career. But for me, there was only one Br. Jim.

All teachers aspire to having such an impact on our students. Of course, teachers strive to be their best, to employ the very best pedagogy, techniques and strategies, and excel in their respective academic area. However, and more importantly, they strive to touch the hearts of their students. Teaching as a career is much more than a job or a transaction between employer and employee. It is transformational. I can safely say that our retirees this year have been transformational in the lives of their students and in the history of the school. Read More