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.

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

Class of 2020: Graham Li

Graham Li As the 2019–20 school year comes to an end, we’re sharing the college choice stories of the Class of 2020!

In what grade did you come to MPA?

I came to MPA in 10th Grade.

How did you come to choose the college that you did?

I chose Purdue University based off its excellent options for majors and areas of study.

What are you most excited about as you embark on your college experience?

I am excited about taking some challenging courses and learning new things. Read More

Maintaining Connection Through Virtual Learning

6th Graders with ChickenAs the MPA community transitioned to distance learning, Dr. Jenn Milam, Middle School director, wanted a fun way to keep Middle School students and teachers connected and supported during the rest of the school year. Enter We-Connect Wednesdays!

“Wednesdays will be a time to connect individually with teachers for academic support, to gather in small groups with each other for projects and social time, meet with Dr. Nolan, school psychologist, or Ms. Cooper, school counselor, and offer enrichment and social opportunities for social and personal connection in fun ways,” wrote Dr. Milam in her message introducing the new plan to the students. Read More

Class of 2020: Izzy George

Izzy GeorgeAs the 2019–20 school year comes to an end, we’re sharing the college choice stories of the Class of 2020!

In what grade did you come to MPA?

I came to MPA in 9th grade.

How did you come to choose the college that you did?

I thought I didn’t really know what I wanted in a college, and that’s why I decided the day before the deadline. But when I chose Grinnell, I knew it was the right choice. I chose Grinnell College because I knew I wanted a small school. MPA has a really small community that I love, and I knew I wanted to have a similar experience in college. Grinnell is also far enough away to really feel like I’m leaving, but it is still fairly close to home.

What are you most excited about as you embark on your college experience?

I’m excited to begin this new part of my life, learn new things, and meet new people. I’m also excited to follow my passions and see where they take me, and I’m especially excited to be more independent. Read More

Class of 2020: Charles Grimes

Charles GrimesAs the 2019–20 school year comes to an end, we’re sharing the college choice stories of the Class of 2020!

In what grade did you come to MPA?

I came to Mounds Park Academy in 9th grade after looking at a variety of college preparatory schools in the Twin Cities area. MPA’s small class sizes, laptop program, and modern facilities piqued my interest during open houses and my shadowing experience. However, I ultimately chose MPA for high school because I knew my time there would be a valuable experience full of opportunities to try new things, find a passion, and challenge myself.

How did you come to choose the college that you did?

I chose to attend Barret Honors College at Arizona State University because it is a small academic community within a larger university setting. I found during my time at MPA, small classroom sizes were a huge factor in my academic success and wanted a similar environment for college. Barrett offers these small class sizes with focused and dedicated faculty, yet has the resources and opportunities of the larger university. Therefore, I chose Barrett because the combination of both these factors will best prepare me well for success later in life.

What are you most excited about as you embark on your college experience?

First off, I am most excited for the Arizona weather! But in all seriousness, I am eager to experience an independent life outside of Minnesota and take advantage of the opportunities Barrett has to offer. I cannot wait to meet new people from all over the country or world and learn from their experiences, opinions, and viewpoints. Additionally, I have never travelled outside of the United States before an am super excited to seek out study abroad opportunities and connect with people from wherever I go. Read More

2020 Virtual Senior Service Fair

Jerusalem Thao Please join in the celebration of the service work for the class of 2020 in a virtual display on the MPA website. Due to the COVID19 pandemic, the annual Senior Service Fair could not be held on campus as usual, so the Fair was moved to a virtual format allowing seniors to share their service reflections with the larger community. While we all wish we could be together in person, this online display is still a great celebration of what the seniors were able to get done. Given the events of the spring of 2020, their accomplishments are especially hopeful and impressive.

There were a large variety of service projects this year. Students did work with the Minnesota Youth Ski League, volunteered with the organization Serving Shepherds, coached for a local tennis nonprofit, delivered meals for Meals on Wheels, and much more. Senior Aaliyah Kellogg volunteered with a nonprofit called Female Refugees for the Future, which was started by two of her classmates, Nasri Maktal and Priya Manda. The organization aims to help first generation women and immigrants through service and education. “I’m so appreciative of this opportunity to connect with womxn and hear their perspective and experiences,” shared Aaliyah, “It is so important for people to be allies for other groups as they can help amplify and spread their message while still giving individuals the platform to do so, and I’m so grateful I was able to do this.”

senior service signNathan Harvanko conducted research for the History Unfolded, which is a program run by the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. “I looked through newspapers from the Twin Cities and St. Cloud,” said Nathan, “and found many interesting articles which told bits and pieces of the story of the Holocaust.” Nathan’s research helps the National Holocaust Museum gain a bigger picture about how Americans were learning of the Holocaust through their daily newspapers.

These highlighted service projects are only a small snapshot of how the Class of 2020 gave back to their communities this year. Visit the Upper School Community Service Project page to read more about their projects. 

Mental Health During Virtual Learning

middle and lower school students on campus with parentsAt Mounds Park Academy, our community is built upon shared values, strongly committed to freethinking and collaboration, diversity and connection. Right now, our shared commitment to each other is helping us collectively get through today’s uncertainty with understanding and compassion. Our whole-child approach that attends to the intellectual, social and emotional growth of our students is apparent now more than ever, even though we are not physically together.

MPA’s distance learning classes are continuing to challenge and engage our students intellectually (see example at Innovation & Student-led Learning Enhance Online Science at MPA). At the same time, our students are connected to each other and their teachers—and to our school counselors, a critical lifeline to both our students and parents who are guiding us on how to persevere during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our connected community, built on our small classes, means that our children are known and understood, which is critical given current levels of stress, fear and uncertainty, as is our collective creativity to meet the social, emotional, and intellectual needs of our students. Read More

Class of 2020: Amanda Khouw

Amanda KhouwAs the 2019–20 school year comes to an end, we’re sharing the college choice stories of the Class of 2020!

In what grade did you come to MPA?

I came to MPA as a freshman in high school. I ended up meeting the best classmates ever (Class of 2020!) and created friendships from different age groups. MPA truly gave me opportunities to thrive as a student and to share my passions with those around me. I have made eternal memories that will be forever cherished.

How did you come to choose the college that you did?

Carleton College was one of my top reach schools on my college list and I was fortunate enough to be admitted. It has an incredibly diverse community alongside with an academically challenging environment. Carleton College is also very close to my own home. Meaning that I can go home easily and grab what I need in the cities. I am extremely excited to join Carleton College as it was a very pleasant surprise to find out that I had been admitted after the “official” Decision Day on May 1. I hope I can make new friends as I did the same in MPA and be able to pursue my career goals.

What are you most excited about as you embark on your college experience?

I am most excited about the experience of being independent. I cannot wait to be able to spread my wings and indulge myself into new experiences in college whether it would be joining the many clubs in my college or exploring the city of Northfield. I am also very eager to meet new people and make new memories with them.

What did you appreciate most about the college counseling process at MPA?

From my personal experience with the college counseling process at MPA, I felt very confident in my college plans and choices. Ms. Pederson’s meetings were extremely useful, especially since I am the eldest daughter of an immigrant household and that it is the first time my family has ever gone through the American college application process. Thank you Ms. Pederson! And thank you to Ms. Kaltved for always updating scholarship opportunities!

What about your MPA experience has best prepared you for college?

To best summarize my MPA experience, I would say that MPA has taught me how to tackle problems and to always follow my passions and dreams. If it were not for MPA’s warm community, I would have never been able to found the Asian Culture Club or even dare to join the Student Council Executive Board team. Trying new things at MPA allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and to gain more self-confidence. With these newfound skills, I feel prepared to be independent in college!

What is your advice for MPA’s Class of 2032 (kindergartners)?

It is okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. Smart people aren’t smart. They are hard workers.

The 53 members of the Class of 2020 plan to attend 41 different colleges and universities in 18 states, Washington D.C., Canada, and Australia. See their destinations here. Learn more about MPA’s College Counseling Program here!

Developing A Sense Of Belonging

Jordan AkersThe following essay is adapted from MPA Class of 2020 member Jordan Akers’ Senior Speech.

The enemy was drawing closer. Footsteps echoed in the distance, and all I could do was sit and wait. I had my plan, but this was sure to be bloody. This battle, this war if you will, was more than violent. The conflict, between who I objectively was and who I so desperately wanted to become, countered all laws of nature. Any free will was a causality in this war, and my boon was the masculine persona. It was the ambition for which I was desperately fighting.

There have, of course, been battles of a similar nature throughout history. Several years ago, my father was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy. His body attacked itself until he lost the ability to walk. He lost his balance, memories, and fine motor skills. Only upon the administration of an intravenous steroid did his condition begin to improve. It was his secret weapon. Even then, any sense of normalcy was far in the future. Repairing the damage took time, money, and endless work.

His body was fighting a war against itself. Meanwhile, so was mine. Every moment hosted a cognitive dissonance so forceful that it too was debilitating. It was the seemingly magnetic repulsion between the acceptable way to act and my parasitic queerness, infecting my thoughts, behavior, and reputation. The obvious cure was suppression. I had to choose between two sides of myself, so I kept after my boon, my longing for “normal”, with an energetic determination to eliminate anything in my path.

Although I was fighting hard, surely hard enough to win, I kept facing defeat. Obstacles permeated my battles. They kept revealing themselves, and I felt ostracized among my male friends. I over-analyzed every word, every action, and exacerbated my misery. I found myself in conflict regardless of who was around me. Either I was too immersed in femininity or outcasted by masculinity. In my solitude, peace was absent, and only my ruminations persisted. Perhaps I should surrender to my queerness, I thought. Perhaps I’m too weak to overcome it. If I lost the war within myself, I would have to live forever with my defeat. And yet, victory was unattainable. Read More