What Makes a Global Citizen?

Salmah and Ms. Murr talking togetherThis message is from MPA’s Office of Admission from the September 21, 2023 issue of InsideMPA. Click here to get in touch with Admission and learn more!

At MPA, we are nurturing dreamers, doers, and right-makers. We are equipping students with academic knowledge to be change agents and world-shakers. In fact, in MPA’s Code of Ethics, our community acknowledges the responsibility of being a global citizen by advocating for social justice, caring for the welfare of others, and promoting human equality, among other pillars rooted in respect.

“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,” Kristine Petersen, MPA Kindergarten teacher says of global citizenship at MPA.

Through rigorous curriculum with meaning and purpose, and an educational blueprint with character education at its heart, MPA pushes students to realize that their identities are measured by the depth and decency of their impact on the world–our world. Perhaps Ms. Murr and Salmah ’21 could illustrate what this means.

Global citizenship at MPA is all about students discovering how to make a positive difference in our world, helping one another, and feeling connected. We emphasize character education. We require service projects prior to graduation. We support student-led clubs with cause-based initiatives. We partner with global organizations–The Red Cross and Seeds of Change, for example–for our students as young as first grade to realize their responsibility to positively impact our world. This is what makes a global citizen–and cultivating a service-based mindset in students is key to unlocking a larger worldview, while also preparing them for all that lies ahead.

MPA Dreamers: Parents Of Lifers

Quote from Kelsi Picture yourself in the position of a parent of a PreK or kindergartener, perhaps anxiously, but jovially, beginning your school search. If you are looking at a school like Mounds Park Academy, you want your child to grow into a free spirit, a risk taker, a right maker, a dreamer, and a doer. You want an independent thinker. You want your child to be known. You want your child to love school. Your role, as the parent in the school search process, will determine the foundational years of your child’s education. It seems that for parents of the Class of 2023 Lifers, the memory remains clear as day.

Parents of MPA Lifers, the students whose entire K-12 or PreK-12 journey has taken place here at MPA, made a choice for their students and continued to choose MPA every year for all 13 years of their education. Right before they graduated from MPA, we interviewed the Class of 2023 Lifers in a group reflection on their MPA journeys. Their responses and recollections, punctuated with gratitude, nostalgia, and undeniably helpful feedback, led us to further expand on the conversation. We decided we needed to hear from the Lifer parents, as well.

An MPA education emphasizes the value of purposeful academic rigor in a hands-on, experiential, college-prep environment with the goal of instilling a lifelong love for learning. So we asked:

How has MPA accomplished this for your children, helping them find personal and academic success?

Christine (Anthony ’23): Anthony’s a quiet kid, more on the introverted side. And I think one of the things, from preparing personally, is being somewhere this many years and really knowing people and having those longitudinal relationships with teachers, classmates, and other staff at school. It has really been beneficial for him as far as building confidence and being comfortable–coming out of his shell a little bit. The first time he came here, he was 10 days old, so by the time he came as a student, he was super comfortable and felt like it was somewhere that he was familiar with. I definitely think that’s made a difference for him.

John (Freya ’23): When it comes to Freya, one thing that I think has been beneficial for her academic success is the small size of the school and the exceptional students that she’s with. And some of those kids being so exceptional and doing such exceptional work has forced her to become a better student.

Natalie (Henry S. ’23): I couldn’t agree more. One thing I’ve been really pleased about and so proud of is the diversity that Henry’s experienced here. It’s something he was looking for in his college search, which I was just so profoundly impacted by. He’d say, “mom, that’s just not what I’m used to, and I’m looking for a school with more diversity.” That is MPA. I love that. Read More

MPA Dreamers: Lessons From Lifers

MPA Class of 2023 LifersIn the spring of 2011, some of the littlest dreamers in the school were wrapping up their first year together. These members of the Class of 2023 were sprinting around the track and testing their throwing skills at Track and Field Day, graduating from kindergarten, and nestling together to watch the seniors, the biggest kids in the school, say their bittersweet goodbyes at the Yearbook Assembly.

This week, they are those seniors, concluding their time at the only school they’ve been at for their entire academic career. As they graduate on June 3, 11 of them join MPA’s Joanne Olson Club, reserved for students whose entire K-12 or PreK-12 journey has taken place here at MPA.

Recently, members of this group–Henry Galicich, Aidan Harms, Griffin Jones, Nicholas Larson, Gabby Magistad, Jack Peterson, Freya Rahm, Henry Seum, Siri Springer, William Tan, and Anthony Troullier–gathered together for a group reflection on their MPA journeys. After all, who knows more about the MPA community than the students who joined in kindergarten and now leave the school as young adults, each bound for college and charting their own paths?

MPA teachers foster the ability to solve authentic, real-world problems. Students are empowered to be architects of their education, and furthermore, their lives. So we asked,

How has being a student at MPA shaped you?

Freya: My communication skills have definitely developed because of MPA. I’m able to express how I feel and what I need to say. I feel prepared to answer questions, and when I was applying for jobs, I felt ready.

Nicholas: Adding on that, we do a lot of class presentations and public speaking, and I think that’s an aspect that MPA students are really good at. On my swim team, we have to do something similar to senior speeches–when you graduate, you give a speech to the whole swim club at the end-of-the-year banquet. And a lot of my teammates were really nervous. But it was just another speech for me.

Siri: Also, we have so much one-on-one time with our teachers. Talking to them helps. You learn to talk to adults and it’s encouraging for things like interviewing for jobs. Read More

MPA Freethinkers: Student Leaders

MPA varsity basketball celebrating their playoff run

“Leadership is being in the middle of the herd, moving it roughly westward.”

This is one of Head of School Dr. Hudson’s favorite metaphors that he learned from a mentor years ago. Dr. Hudson meets with the current senior class throughout the school year to walk them through various leadership theories and ideologies as they prepare for their journey after MPA. He shares this one with them, asking them to think about how it applies to leadership in their own hands. When they unpack it together, common themes arise:

  • If a leader is at the tail end, the herd lacks direction. On the other hand, sometimes a leader needs to step back in order to consider crafting a broader vision.
  • Those who lead from the middle are often better in touch with other members of the herd and can nudge them forward in a common direction. They help others feel valued as a part of the solution as the team moves ahead.
  • Sometimes a leader needs to be bold and chart a new path.

We teach our students that leadership requires adaptability, responsiveness, and resilience. When we look at the freethinkers among our student community, student leaders do not come one-size-fits-all. They are leaders of clubs, team captains, and thought leaders. In Lower School, fourth graders are the conflict managers to help resolve conflicts on the playground. In Middle School, eighth graders set an example for all other grades, and are the peers who make themselves available and approachable for help. In Upper School, Peer Leaders take on being role models for the school, teaching others what leadership is to them. At every stage of their education, empowering students to live, learn, and thrive means guiding them and infusing their education with leadership skills–many of which are learned through experience. Read More

Community Support For MPA’s Track

from Bill Hudson, head of school

You wouldn’t know it, but somewhere below several inches of snow lies the MPA track. While we wait for spring to arrive, our track and field teams and physical education classes make do, anticipating the day they can move outside. And yet, the track itself is in bad shape after many brutal Minnesota winters. Imagine what it would be like to have an outdoor track that reflects the excellence of our students and athletes. I believe that if we can imagine it, we can achieve it.

MPA athletic programs have enjoyed a rich tradition of success by providing student-athletes with the tools necessary to succeed on and off the field. MPA athletics are not simply extra-curricular programs; they complement our academic experience, provide balance to our students’ lives, and foster school spirit. Through inclusive teams and a no-cut policy, everyone can be an athlete at MPA.

For example, MPA student-athletes have won ten state championships in track and field events. And yet, we cannot host home events because of the condition of the track. We haven’t had an outdoor track worth of our students’ achievements and capable of hosting competitions. Click here to watch the 2023 Fund A Need video, and learn more about the impact of this project! Read More

AI To Advance And Deepen Learning

middle school student coding on laptopby Dr. Bill Hudson, head of school

The debut last fall of ChatGPT and, more recently, Microsoft’s Bing GPT-4 and Google’s Bard have been getting a tremendous amount of press lately and have many in the educational field up in arms and very nervous. I’m not one of them. Instead, I believe that artificial intelligence can benefit students and teachers significantly to advance and deepen learning.

ChatGPT is not a technology to be feared, discouraged, or banned but to be embraced and harnessed. Artificial Intelligence can assist students in understanding complex topics better, provide assistance with homework, and sharpen their critical thinking skills. I don’t believe that AI will ever replace a teacher, but instead, it will provide them with a powerful toolbox to assist them in very practical ways so that they have more time to spend with their students.

Last fall, I wrote about Climate Alpha, a company using AI to understand how climate change will affect property development. Climate Alpha founder Parag Khanna began by asking, “How are cities adapting and investing in infrastructure to protect against climate impacts? Where are jobs growing? Where are people moving now, despite extreme heat or wildfires or sea level rise?” Climate Alpha is an excellent example of the shift from the Information Age to what author and futurist Daniel Pink calls the Conceptual Age. While the Information Age was all about big data, the Conceptual Age is concerned with using the information in new and novel ways to make the world a better place. Read More

Ten Things To Consider When Choosing A Private School

students working on lab togetherWith spring around the corner, private schools all around the country are in the thick of their own season–admission season! Here at MPA, decisions are released on March 24 and the enrollment deadline quickly follows on April 7. This means families are currently facing a decision, and sometimes that decision can be difficult. So with the help of our community, we collected a list of ten things families should consider when deciding on a private school.

1. Your Community
When choosing a school, you’re not looking for a community just for your children, but for yourself and your entire family.

The MPA community is robust. We are built upon shared values and firmly committed to freethinking, collaboration, diversity, and connection. Lower School parent Andrea Goldstein recalls her first impressions of MPA early in their school search. “We wanted a great school for the kids, but we wanted a space, community, and home for us as a family,” she said.

She also noted how seamless it was to become part of the community after enrolling at MPA. Andrea began volunteering as an MPA Parents Association grade representative, finding the responsibilities to be a great opportunity to get to know people quickly and easily. “You don’t have to put in that much to get a lot out of it,” she said.

2. The Pedagogy
MPA’s highly rigorous education does not challenge top students by piling on busywork, nor does it take away support and individual attention from a teacher, but rather by promoting and instilling a deep understanding of what they are learning. We deeply value purposeful academic rigor in a hands-on, experiential, college-prep environment.

Middle School parent KiJuan Ware is elated to see his daughter enjoying this type of learning environment at school, finding the balance of academics and extracurriculars, and constantly trying new things. “The Makerspace is where she is hands-on, doing what she wants to free her mind,” he said. “There’s a lot of discovery when it comes to learning, and homework reinforces comprehension.”

3. Areas For Growth
Natalie Waters Seum, director of admission and communication at MPA, says that this is such an important piece to consider when making your decision. “The things that we at MPA are transparent about working on are just as important as the things that we are already exceptional at,” she said.

One of MPA’s opportunities for growth–which is also a priority in the current strategic plan, 2024ward–is faculty and staff diversity. With nearly 40% of current MPA students identifying as students of color, there is an opportunity to have faculty that reflects the diversity in the student body.

Lucia Simon, an MPA Class of 2022 graduate, says she appreciates seeing MPA’s other areas for growth fulfilled during her time as a student–namely, “Growth in resources for student mental health, stress management, and creating affinity groups for BIPOC students,” she said.

Quote by Lucia Simon4. The Return On Investment
We have many excellent public schools in the Twin Cities, and families often ask what the value is in tuition at MPA. Matt Larson, a parent of three MPA students, says that it is “The array of opportunities that our children have had.”

When Matt and his family were looking at where they wanted to invest over the next 15 years, education was at the top of their list. “We are prioritizing tuition in our budgets every single day,” he said.

Families should look at the investment as a foundation for success in college and preparation to be successful, including building upon students’ skills and interests. In addition to being prepared for life, Matt says that the relationship his children have with the school and their teachers are invaluable for their education at MPA.

“We want our kids to be seen and valued, and that is something we’ve realized in every way we’ve imagined,” he says.

5. Class Size
At MPA, the average class size is 15, with a student-teacher ratio of 7:1. Small classes allow for more time in class, adding value through more ideas, perspectives, and voices. Lucia says that this was one of her favorite things about MPA.

“Having a small class size allows for so many more opportunities between students, teachers, and the material,” she said. “Having been at a big public school before MPA, I definitely felt lost within big groups. I felt I was only regarded as whatever my grade was. That promoted a competitive environment to be in. I didn’t feel seen as who I was. At MPA, I found amazing relationships where I can be myself and what I bring to the classroom.”

When classes are small, teachers are able to form relationships not just with a student, but with their parents, too. Teachers quickly recognize the things parents are trying to work and focus on at home, and can therefore reinforce them daily in the classroom.

6. College Preparation
At MPA, we take college counseling very seriously. It starts in ninth grade and walks students through the process every step of the way during their time in Upper School. MPA’s college-going culture is based on each individual student’s unique set of interests, priorities, and aspirations.

“It’s really interesting to see the difference in how taken care of we are by our schools throughout the search. I don’t have any need to go beyond MPA and find resources to help me because it’s completely provided,” recalls Lucia. “We have an actual class for juniors and seniors completely committed to the college search process.”

When Lucia came to MPA, she was encouraged to apply early decision to help her get into her dream school–which she did. Not only was she ecstatic to have her top choice, but the entire process decreased her overall stress. “They know what you need and are here to listen and work with you,” she said.

But the college prep and search process at MPA does not exist in a vacuum. Throughout the entire educational journey, MPA ensures that students develop skills for success in higher education. Confidence in their ability to communicate, give presentations, and work in teams is one of the key takeaways Matt Larson has seen from MPA graduates over the years.

“Their communication skills are developed every day, layered in, threading in practice opportunities. And by the time they graduate, they are some really incredible communicators. Not only are they learning things, but learning how to give voice to what they’re learning and become articulators for themselves in the world around them,” he said. “It is not enough to know things–you have to be able to communicate what you know and use it across disciplines.”

7. Diversity And Inclusion
When prospective families ask how diverse the school is and whether it is inclusive of all families, we are proud to say that it is central to who we are as a community. Equity, belonging, and inclusion are a part of MPA’s DNA. We find that because this attracts families with mission-aligned values in the first place, the commitment continues as our community grows. Our school environment is enriched daily by students and their families from around the world.

KiJuan chose MPA for his daughter because of the challenge, voice, and diversity she would find here. He recognized that the MPA community comes from all walks of life and different backgrounds and beliefs, and that she would have to learn to navigate that space. Learning about the differences in academic background, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation promotes an environment of understanding and appreciation. “At MPA, she has the opportunity to do that,” he reflects.

Quote by Matt Larson8. Collaborative vs. Competitive
Learning should be fun and inclusive, with no students left behind. At MPA, we value collaboration over competition. And as a student, Lucia says she benefitted from MPA’s collaborative learning environment, which guided her to discover what she sought in a college as well because she thrived at MPA.

“MPA fosters rigor in a way that I am working with my friends constantly around the material.
There’s no embarrassment, and students are asking why they got something wrong and how they can solve it,” she says. “Teachers want to see you succeed and enjoy the material.” Having a collaborative environment gives so much more space for that exploration without consequences.

9. Your Feelings
Making your school choice is going to be a very feelings-based decision that comes down to how you and your children feel when you’re here. When asked how they feel when at MPA, Andrea, KiJuan, Matt, and Lucia said: Comfortable. Authentic. Energized. Hopeful.

When you come to MPA, you are so much more than just a number. You are a member of our community–part of the fabric of our school.

“I felt so seen as a new student,” Lucia recalls. “Sometimes at smaller schools, you feel nervous because everyone already knows everyone else, but that is so far from the truth.” She adds that it was “Amazing to walk through the halls and have teachers, students, and various people in the building ask how you’re doing and being really genuine about it. That definitely adds to the energy of the environment.”

10. Your Values
Do your family’s values align with the school? Natalie says that this is the most important question you can ask of yourself and the school. By pondering these ten questions and knowing your own family, only you can answer this question best.

“Creating the whole person by educating ourselves, having school spirit, making sure we’re educated spiritually, and taking care of our bodies is how we live as a family. MPA gave us the opportunity to educate our daughter academically and athletically, while being able to fit her schedule. We take care of educating her spiritually. That’s what it’s all about–it fits our values, and we love it,” said KiJuan.

Keep asking those questions and grappling with that really important school choice. We’re here to support you at MPA.

MPA Risk Takers: Exploring The New Science Curriculum

Students working on Anatomy LabIt’s always a risk to be the first. Investigating the unknown requires genuine curiosity, determined commitment, and an appetite for asking questions. It commands acknowledging that you are paving the way for whoever takes this journey next. It warrants a sense of courage.

The secondary science curriculum of biology, chemistry, and physics was created to meet the needs of society 200 years ago. But in the last two decades, we’ve witnessed the needs of society change drastically. To evolve with it, MPA’s Upper School science curriculum has undergone a well-planned, research-based reform, and the new science curriculum is a comprehensive program that coordinates math together with science as a coherent whole. In this model, each concept builds a framework upon students’ previous learning.

The MPA students partaking say the new science electives have transformed the way they think about, study, and even experience STEM. When enrolling in the new offerings–Advanced Physics: Mechanics; Advanced Physics: Waves, Optics & Electromagnetism; Advanced Topics in Chemistry; Anatomy and Physiology; Astronomy; Biotechnology; Earth, Atmosphere, & Planetary Science; Environmental Chemistry; Environmental Science; and Neuroscience–for the very first time they’ve been offered as MPA science electives, these students are properly considered risk-takers. Diving into subject matter unlike any other, with the promise of guidance from skillful MPA faculty, they are ready to explore the unknown for the first time in our curriculum’s history.

“The investigative approach is really valuable”
From flying pigs to labs that take place in the Lansing Center weight room, senior Kensi Binstadt says, “Advanced Physics labs are like escape rooms or mystery novels–puzzles that must be solved.” While she finds them to be initially daunting, she notes that they fuel her fiery motivation to find answers. By critically thinking, she starts from a place of perplexity to calculating the most reasonable next steps.

“The investigative approach is really valuable. We are often given labs where we are asked to answer a question with the limited information, and through the lab we discover a formula. Instead of just being given the formula, this ensures that we actually understand the concepts and the process, or the ‘why,’ behind the concepts,” Kensi said. Read More

MPA Free Spirit: Setting The Example For Our Students

Katie Murr, Upper School history teacherBy definition, a free spirit is an independent person. And at MPA, we teach kids to think independently–by setting the example for them. MPA teachers are free spirits themselves, equipped with a community of support behind them. When asking teachers what their favorite part about teaching at MPA is, we often hear a trait that they say is very unique to MPA: the freedom of teacher autonomy.

There’s a lot that makes MPA teachers amazing, memorable, and impactful. But their autonomy to be creative and collaborative allows them to not only adjust their lessons to fit the ever-changing world, but to ensure that their students are enjoying what they’re learning. In MPA’s early years, the first batch of teachers shared a common vision around creating a different type of school and learning environment for children. Our founding faculty wanted to teach at a school that would foster their own collaborative spirits as well as their students’. They began working together to design a cohesive curriculum, and this early emphasis on collaboration among faculty set the foundational groundwork for teacher autonomy at MPA today.

Free Spirits Know Their Students
Teacher autonomy applies to all disciplines at MPA and is highly valued by teachers and administrators alike. In order to work, it relies on trust and the understanding that MPA teachers are professionals who know their students best. Knowing our students is one of the hallmarks of a Mounds Park Academy education, stemming from our commitment to small class sizes.

Upper School biology teacher Mitch Thomsen can attest to this. He appreciates that each lab, project, and lesson can be customized to fit his students’ highest possible growth and potential. “The small size makes it easier to communicate with colleagues and to help ensure that no student gets lost in the shuffle,” he remarks. “I like that I am in charge of my budget and the chance to obtain materials, in the right amounts, to maximize the learning from each lab.” Read More

Thriving Through Winter in Minnesota

student playing in the snow at recessWith any relocation, there are many moving parts as families transition their lives somewhere new–one of them being your first Minnesota winter! Minnesota has a climate that allows us to experience four distinct seasons. With the right mindset and preparation, experiencing the transformation from one season to the next is inspirational and invigorating. Here’s how you can set your family on a path to thrive, not just survive, through your new favorite season here.

Keep Kids Moving
The winter months can get long here in Minnesota. It’s cold outside and there is less daylight, so it can be hard to stay motivated, but physical activity is important for everyone all year round–especially young children. Physical activity is vital to a child’s success emotionally, physically, and mentally. It helps them build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints, and prevents chronic diseases. Physical activity is beneficial for the development of cognitive skills, which can help kids stay more focused in the classroom. It also helps kids sleep better and significantly reduces stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

At Mounds Park Academy, we believe in the importance of physical activity and encourage students to be active outdoors throughout the year. We know that children need time to play and socialize, so our students have recess every day—even in the winter. Although it’s colder outside, all it takes is a few extra layers. The benefits are seen in the classroom as well as on the rosy faces of our students.

MPA students also embrace winter through their activities and athletics, such as the Middle and Upper School Alpine (downhill) ski team, Middle and Upper School Nordic (cross country) ski team, the boys hockey team, grade level group outdoor adventures like snowtubing, and Northern MN i-Term adventures like dogsledding. Read More