A Breath Of Fresh Air

Panthers first home baseball gameby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

I often say I have one of the best views from my office. That is especially true this year and certainly at this time of year. It is not uncommon for me to see Upper School biology teacher Mitch Thomsen leading a group of students into our reclaimed prairie and rain garden to study its ecology and make observations. If I look in another direction, I can see the tents set up in the west parking lot ready to house classes and lunch. After school, I can take in a boys’ tennis practice or witness the track and field teams trek out to the track.

After months of being cooped up indoors, Minnesotans (and Panthers!) are spending more and more time outdoors. In Minnesota, the arrival of spring is always cause to spend time outside, but it also makes sense as we aim to slow the spread of COVID-19. As part of our move to dial stop one, classes, whenever possible, will be held outdoors this spring. Teachers have access to outdoor tents which are being used as flexible, alternative spaces. Although we still need to take precautions, such as wearing masks, keeping physically distant, and avoiding large crowds, moving outside is certainly a breath of fresh air. Read More

Tanner Gasteazoro ’21 Solves The Basel Problem

As part of their graduation requirements, each MPA senior completes a senior performance. These performances take on many forms, from speeches, to piano concertos, to storytelling. Tanner Gasteazoro ’21 solved the Basel Problem.

Originally posed in 1400s, the Basel Problem, which calculates the precise sum of the reciprocals of the squares of natural numbers, remained unanswered for 300 years until a Swiss Mathematician named Leonhard Euler finally solved it at the age of 28.

Tanner has found a deep love for the kind of mathematical analysis required to solve the Basel problem, and since transferring to MPA in the winter of his ninth grade year, he has taken AP Calculus BC, AP Statistics & Probability, Honors Precalculus, Advanced Algebra II/Trigonometry, and Geometry. “I’ve always been naturally inquisitive, and the logic in math problems has always been something that helped me to continue that. Using the logical aspects of problem solving I learned in math and my inquisition, I am able to solve problems in my life as well. Tanner says. “I would like to thank Ms. Anderson, Mr. Noland, Mr. Shapiro, and the entirety of the math and science departments for answering my endless questions—literally to infinity.” Read More

The Best Is Truly Yet To Come

choir singing for the first time on campus this yearby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

I’m generally not a competitive person—unless it is a board game or cards. So much so that my family will no longer let me play Sorry or Uno with them. They say I turn aggressive and vindictive, like Inigo Montoya in the “Princess Bride,” intent on exacting vengeance on someone for having played a “Draw Four” card. Auctions bring out my competitive side as well, and I find myself throwing reason to the wind as I get caught up in a bidding war, much to the chagrin of my husband Ross. For the last several years, I’ve tried repeatedly to “win” a piece of artwork from alumni parent Heidi McKeown whose art I deeply admire and appreciate. Repeatedly, I fail. Fortunately, I will have another chance in just a few days.

Yes, it is that time of year with the annual MPA Spring Auction just a little more than a week away. On Friday, April 16, we will gather virtually from around the Twin Cities, the nation, and perhaps even the globe for our premier auction. More than just a fundraising event, the MPA Spring Auction is about celebrating our community, joining together to build relationships, and honoring every member of our community. There is so much to celebrate after a very trying and difficult year. A year ago, I promised that if we joined together and drew upon our MPA can-do spirit, we would emerge stronger and more resilient. As the end of the pandemic draws near and our school and society open up again, we know for certain that “The Best is Yet to Come.” Read More

Where Every Child Is Known

bJason Schwalen teaching his classy Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Each time I pop into the Office of Admission, they are excited to have recently welcomed another exceptional student home. After a tremendous year in 2020-21 with 113 new students and 27 midyear transfers, enrollment for the fall of 2021 is off to a great start. New student applications have nearly doubled year over year and enrollments are following suit. By all accounts, interest in MPA is an at all-time high.

The good news is that even with strong enrollment (MPA grew from 466 in 2019 to our current enrollment of 538), our average class size and student teacher ratio are here to stay. We are deeply committed to offering an intimate learning environment. This is a very important part of who we are.

MPA, like many independent schools nationwide, was previously under enrolled in a few grades. Of course, small classes are critical and they are likely one of the main reasons your family chose MPA, but too small of class sizes aren’t healthy for students’ academic experience, especially at the Lower School level. “When class sizes are too small in the Lower School, we run into challenges with socialization. A peer group that isn’t big enough to support the social skills that students need to develop can be detrimental,” says Lower School director Renee Wright. “Social emotional skills are so foundational in the lower grades, and so much of what we do is based around collaboration and group work. With a really small class, it is harder for students to interact with differing perspectives from other peers, something that we value tremendously.”

There’s a sweet spot. And for us, it’s averaging 15 students in a classroom PreK-12 and an 8:1 student-teacher ratio. For comparison, Minnesota averages are nearly double this at 27 and 16:1, respectively. From additional opportunities for hands-on learning, to greater teacher access, to more differentiation, classes at this size provide the best possible learning environment for our students.

I recently asked a group of faculty members what they can do because of MPA’s commitment to small class sizes. Naturally, the responses were fantastic and I’d like to share a few with you.

  • “Everything. We’ve been designing and testing wind turbine blades and measuring their peak electrical output. We’ve also been learning about circuits and applied this to creating a solar powered house and grid. Each student was able to have their own equipment and be actively involved in the hands-on building and testing for these projects. They also had easy access to me throughout the labs so I could teach them what they needed to know when they needed to know it.” – Hannah Sullivan, Upper School science faculty
  • “So many things. We are getting ready to do our melodrama project in fifth grade. Students plan, write, act and film their own short melodrama. This collaborative work is very student centered, but I am there to help problem solve and facilitate. I cannot imagine doing this in a crowded room. Added to this, this class size gives us the space to move and act. The students aren’t overwhelmed in a noisy room.” – Heather Mastel, Lower and Middle School drama faculty
  • “To be honest, you can’t teach writing with 30 students in a class. You can practice writing with very specific outcomes and cursory feedback, but if you want to teach writing, you must work closely with students on their work, include multiple drafts in the process, and make the feedback comprehensive.” – Jason Schwalen, Upper School English faculty
  • “I can listen to every single child play a pattern back on their soprano recorders. It’s amazing. Their classmates cheer for their successes and support them through their challenges. I can listen to every single child’s idea for a collaborative movement piece. I can give individual attention to each child AND keep the flow of the class going!” – Mari Espeland, Lower School music faculty

It is not just anecdotes that govern our class size sweet spot either. It is research on long-term student success, too. A number of high-profile studies concluded that students in MPA-sized classes obtain higher test scores, are more engaged in school, and demonstrate better behavior. For example, Project STAR (also known as the Tennessee Study) found that an average student assigned to a smaller class had a reading score nearly eight percent higher than students in the medium-sized classes. The smaller-class students, on average, also achieved nine percent higher math scores. A report from the Policy Research Institute in Wisconsin determined that students in smaller classes in elementary grades perform better in a number of academically measurable ways: they record higher test scores, earn better grades, and display superior attendance.

One piece in the Wisconsin study particularly spoke to me. The study found that MPA-sized classes improve students’ growth in “non-cognitive” abilities that are not necessarily noted on tests or report cards, like grit, drive, and confidence, but are all linked to success in academics and beyond. Seeing MPA students, I witness first-hand how their small class sizes lead directly to grit, drive, and confidence, as they grow up, graduate, and positively impact our world.

In the end, MPA’s class size sweet spot ensures that students are known, understood, and seen by their teachers. They receive help when they ask for it, and they are encouraged to share their opinions and describe their perspectives. Middle School director Jenn Milam shares that our class sizes allow MPA teachers to know everyone in their classes, giving each student voice and presence. “Our class size allows teachers to know kids’ social patterns, emotional needs, academic strengths and weaknesses, and the joys of their heart in a way that helps us connect with them in a more meaningful way.”

Even with another banner year of enrollment success projected, MPA will always be the place where every child is known, loved, and understood.

Finding Solace In A Challenging Week

a tree blooming on campusby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

I’m particularly thankful to have our students back on campus this week. The positive energy radiating from their return has uplifted our entire community and helped us find joy in an otherwise tragic week of national headlines. From Atlanta, to Philadelphia, to Boulder, gun violence and hate have dominated the news and taken the lives of far too many, while altering the lives of countless more.

Though much is still being uncovered about each of these devastating events, I’d like to share my thoughts on the broader narrative that has emerged from the March 16 Atlanta area spa shootings. At the time of this writing, these shootings have not officially been designated a hate crime, but the fact that six of the eight victims were Asian Americans brings up an important point that all of us must reckon with: egged on by the dangerous, false ideals of white supremacy, anti-Asian hate is far more prevalent than many have previously acknowledged.

I’d like to pause here and affirm that MPA firmly stands with our Asian, Asian American, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander students, parents, alumni, and community members. We wholeheartedly condemn anti-Asian racism, hate, and violence in all forms. To our international students from China and South Korea, we value the experiences and perspectives that you bring to our community and we recognize the particular challenges you have faced throughout the pandemic. Read More

10 Amazing (And Included) Features Of MPA’s International Student Program

two international students in the makerspaceMPA’s international program welcomes students in grades 7-12 from a number of countries and backgrounds. Here are 10 things to love about the international program at MPA:

1. International Student Program Coordinator Mr. Becker-Kim: MPA has a dedicated International Student Program Coordinator, Cory Becker-Kim who serves as an advisor, teacher, and confidant to all international students on a daily basis, and regularly monitors their academic achievement. Given MPA’s emphasis on public speaking, college preparatory writing, and higher Lexile level reading, students work through the challenging coursework in one-on-one or in small groups with Mr. Becker-Kim throughout the entire duration of their MPA experience.

2. Advanced language and culture (AL&C) Course: Taught by Mr. Becker-Kim, Advanced language and culture (AL&C) course, with a 6:1 student to teacher ratio for all international students, is built into the curriculum as a World Language credit towards graduation. First-year international students are enrolled in AL&C to help with the cultural transition to an American high school, to discuss important social and historical events of the United States and learn the nuances of strong academic English and vocabulary to achieve fluency. Click here for the Advanced language and culture (AL&C) course description.

3. College Application Support: For juniors and seniors, MPA dedicates significant time and resources to helping international students with college applications, particularly with primary college application essays and supplemental writing essays.

4. Social and Emotional Support: All international students have the International Student Program Coordinator available to help them navigate homesickness, friendships, social situations and events, stress, and culture shock. When needed, the International Student Program Coordinator works closely with the School Counselor and/or Director of Guidance to be sure the student is as happy and healthy as possible during their time at MPA. Support includes connecting international students to domestic students, faculty and administration, and co-curricular activities.

5. New International Student Orientation: This involves one-on-one meetings with the Director of Guidance to create class schedule, acclimation to classroom and school culture, laptop orientation, plagiarism discussion, school supply shopping, sight-seeing in the Twin Cities, student networking opportunities, team building activities, and more.

6. Transition Assistance: For both students coming into our community for the first time, and to assist returning students in forming connections within the school and the Twin Cities, MPA provides transition assistance in order to make an international students transition, or transition back as smooth as possible.

7. Daily Hot Lunch: Served with culturally and religiously sensitive options, daily hot lunch is delicious and unlimited!

8. Quarterly Events: Throughout the school year and the summer, MPA’s international program hosts joyful events, on and off campus, to help support new and returning students.

9. Host Family Selection, Acclimation and Support: International host families are carefully recruited, selected and vetted to ensure the highest quality experience for our students. The International Student Program Coordinator works closely with students and their host families to ensure that the home is a safe, welcoming, happy environment for all. Quarterly home visits, one-on-one check-ins with students and host families, communication with natural parents, and student/host family events are all ways that the Program Coordinator works with host families and students to build routine, communication, and a supportive experience.

10. Translation Services: MPA provides translation services for international student and/or parents. This includes both in person conversations and documentation translation for Visa and immigration support.

How We Prepare Students To Live, Learn, And Thrive

first graders creating their 3D community modelby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Educators are infamous for creating esoteric terms and anachronyms to describe different approaches to teaching and learning. Project-based learning, or PBL, is one such term but should not be confused with problem-based learning, also PBL. Both PBLs are similar, yet different. Debate exists within educational circles as to whether Design Thinking is a more inclusive term for both PBLs. To further complicate matters, some educators prefer the term “inquiry-based learning”. Confused? Ambivalent? Let me try to translate.

Whether described as project, problem, or inquiry-based learning, this form of learning has roots in what John Dewey (American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer who is often referred to as one of the “fathers of American education”) called “progressive education.” Contemporary educational theorists refer to it as a pedagogy (another educational esoteric term that designates an educational method) that “engages students in creating, questioning, and revising knowledge, while developing their skills in critical thinking, collaboration, communication, reasoning, synthesis, and resilience” (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008). Read More

Celebrating Black History Month

Ibrahim Playing the ViolinHappy Black History Month! This February, we celebrate the vibrancy of the Black community as we honor the people, events and accomplishments in Black history. At MPA, Black History Month includes both celebrating the amazing accomplishments throughout Black history (for example, the third graders learning the music of Dizzy Gillespie), and simultaneously examining, acknowledging, and remembering both contemporary and historic anti-Black racism and the struggle for justice (for example, the Racial Justice and Equity Club’s discussion on the Black Panther’s Ten-Point Program).

Most of all, we recognize the tremendous accomplishments of Black people throughout history, and in turn, honor our Black, African American and African community members at MPA. In Mr. Cunningham’s Middle School Social Studies Classes, students have begun each class period during February by highlighting and profiling amazing African-American heroes whose stories are sadly not as well known as they should be. These people are artists, activists, inventors, politicians, aviators, and so much more. Read More

What Google’s Discovery Means For An MPA Student

Kindergarten student working in the Makerspaceby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Not long ago, Google decided to do some self-reflection. Cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page set out to determine the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees. As a company that mostly hired top computer scientists, I imagine they were more than a bit surprised to find that of these eight qualities, expertise in STEM was not first nor second, but eighth! The top seven were: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward, and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

What can we learn from Google about the future of creating smart, successful, in-demand graduates? The skills that students learn from the humanities and liberal arts are in high demand. In addition to the skills listed above, Google’s follow up research identified having curiosity toward teammates’ ideas, harboring emotional intelligence, valuing equality, being generous, and cultivating emotional safety as additional key skills for their employees. Read More

We Are In Good Hands

Kindergartners gifting Dr. Hudson a scarf by Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

I was pleasantly surprised Tuesday by a visit from Ms. Petersen’s kindergartners who presented me with a very nice MPA blue scarf. As we sat on the floor together in the hallway outside my office (six feet apart, of course!), they shared that they are spreading kindness throughout the school this month. The scarf was an act of kindness to thank me for my efforts to safely open school this year. As one of them put it, “You were a great leader and protector,” in the classroom.

For many, the future looks grim. Some people have lost faith in our society and feel hopeless and helpless. However, when so much seems to be outside of our control, I believe we must seek aspects of our lives we can control. Taking action now on something that will have a positive impact in years ahead can help us move through those feelings of hopelessness. In the midst of uncertainty, for instance, investing in the education of our children is essentially an act of hope and kindness.

Over the years, many MPA families and alumni have expressed their faith and confidence in the future by making a planned or estate gift to the school. These types of gifts might include making MPA the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or retirement plan, creating a charitable gift annuity, or most simply, by making a bequest through your will. There are many ways you can designate a future gift through your estate planning. Contact the Development Office to learn more about what options might work best for you. Read More