Celebrating Our Antidote to Cynicism

MPA Faculty Celebrates the Class of 2019On June 8, 2019, students, families, and faculty gathered in Mounds Park Academy’s Nicholson Center to graduate the Class of 2019. The evening began with the Upper School Band’s rendition of “Pomp & Circumstance” as the junior color guard and MPA faculty and staff presented the graduates. Throughout the ceremony, the Concert Choir and Madrigal Singers shared songs and three members of the Class of 2019 spoke. Gabby Law ’19, Julia Portis ’19, and Valedictorian Ajay Manicka ’19 shared words of pride, encouragement, and inspiration for their fellow classmates.

When head of school Dr. Bill Hudson spoke, he called out the prevalence of cynicism in our society today. He referred to Operation Varsity Blues, the college admission scandal that broke this spring, as an example of the way our education system and society may seem to be heading. However, Hudson explained that while “Modern cynicism tends toward negativity, is judgmental, anti-idealistic, sardonic, and misanthropic,” the MPA education that the Class of 2019 has received has readied them “to act from a place of rational faith in the human spirit.” Before receiving their diplomas, Hudson addressed the Class of 2019, announcing to them, “You are our antidote to cynicism.”

As Hudson expressed, we are so proud of the impact the Class of 2019 has made on our community and are excited to see how they shake the world in the years to come. Congratulations, graduates!  Click here to view special moments from the night.

Another Compelling Chapter Comes To A Close

Julia portis '19 gives out high fives in the senior walkOn Tuesday afternoon, I had the privilege of attending the presentations of three seniors who will graduate having earned a Graduate Certificate of Distinction in the Fine Arts. If you are not familiar with the Graduate Certificate of Distinction (GCD), it is designed for students ready and willing to pursue their passions through additional and focused coursework, research, and volunteerism. The GCD allows students to dive deeper into one area of their choosing: STEM, Global Studies, or the Fine Arts. The depth of inquiry that students experience through achieving a Certificate typically simulates what they will find in college, requiring hundreds of hours beyond the classroom.

I was struck by the growth each student experienced during their time at MPA as they pursued their passion for art. In the words of art teacher Lisa Buck, “Each showed (just) snippets of their artworks in their high school years that spoke to an inner calling, a sense of self-worth and self-image that has now framed who they will become.” The sense of self, discovered and honed, during their time at MPA is perhaps the greatest outcome I could hope for as head of school. To witness, and perhaps be a party, to that transformation is at the heart of an educator. Read More

Three Alumni Credit MPA For Helping Them Follow Their Dreams

Matt, Paul, and JacksonMatt Berning ’18 first stumbled across Camp Voyageur when looking for ways to spend his upcoming summer vacation. He knew he wanted to be outside—preferably in the Boundary Waters—and spending it at Camp Voyageur seemed like the perfect option. After he applied for and received the position as a camp counselor there, he texted his friends and fellow MPA alumni Paul Thompson-Nelson ’18, and Jackson Peacock ’18, out of excitement. A few weeks later, unbeknownst to Matt, both Jackson and Paul applied for and received the positions as well.

As camp counselors at Camp Voyageur, the trio will host portage trips across the Boundary Waters and hike around Lake Superior with their campers. “We will take campers in pairs of two and be gone for extended periods of time,” explains Matt. “The essence of Camp Voyageur involves creating an atmosphere that embraces the wonders of the outdoors … We have not worked here too long, but have already fallen in love with it. This is where MPA comes into play. We can all agree MPA has made a large impact on our mindsets on life and allowed us to follow our dreams.” Read More

Meet MPA’s Newest Faculty And Staff

middle school science classby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School 

I consider hiring to be one of the most important aspects of my role as head of school. As a rigorous college prep school, I need to ensure that we have excellent teachers. But because of our mission, we also need to ensure that we have excellent human beings who are going to go beyond the classroom as role models, advocates, and confidants, and even sometimes, act in “loco parentis.” I am continually reminded from my own experience as a teacher that in the long run, students won’t always remember what we taught them, but who we are, how we treated them, and how we made them feel. Early in the hiring process, I make a point to remind each committee that while it is important to fill the position, we are hiring the person first.

MPA has a very rigorous and inclusive hiring process. When an opening presents itself, we first take the opportunity to review the position in light of our mission and the evolving needs of the school. Open positions are then posted both locally and nationally and despite a national teacher shortage, we have had great success in attracting a highly qualified and diverse pool of candidates. Each hiring team is led by a member of the administrative team and is comprised of faculty and staff who work collaboratively to screen resumes and conduct a first round of interviews, culminating with a day on campus and a final interview. As a part of their time on campus, teaching candidates actually teach a class and then meet informally with students. We truly value the student perspective and voice in the hiring process. The final decision rests with the head of school, taking into account the recommendation of the hiring committee and the feedback of the students. Read More

Learning The Legacy Of Lawrence Riley

Salmah and Bob RileySophomore Salmah Elmasry and Upper School history teacher Katie Murr are one of 15 student-teacher pairs from across the country to be accepted this year to the Albert H. Small Normandy Institute. The Institute is an intensive, all expenses paid program that will give Salmah and Ms. Murr the opportunity to study D-Day and the Operation Overlord Campaign of 1944. They are participating in an online course this spring, and then will travel to Washington D.C. and France to complete archival research and learn from experts. The program will culminate with Salmah writing a lengthy biography of and delivering a eulogy for a Minnesota soldier buried at the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer in France.

This soldier is Lawrence—or “Larry”—Riley, and he has a connection to the MPA community. Upper School English teacher David Loo introduced Salmah and Ms. Murr to his wife’s uncle, Bob Riley, who is Larry’s son. Bob’s father was killed as a paratrooper in WWII, and he grew up knowing very little about who his father was, how he died, the regiment he served in, or anything related to his military service. After months of rigorous research, Salmah and Ms. Murr were able to piece together Larry’s story, and they met with Bob on campus this week to share with him what they discovered.

Salmah and Ms. Murr learned that Larry was from Minneapolis, lived in a house with his parents and eight siblings, and attended DeLaSalle High School. After finding photos and obtaining records from DeLaSalle, it was clear that Larry was a remarkably talented athlete. “He played football throughout his high school career, and he earned letters in his junior and senior years,” shared Salmah during the conversation.

Bob Riley's father's medals“He had this high school education, but it was a struggle, and right at the moment he seemed to be getting back on his feet he secured a job at the Twin Cities Ordinance Plant … The war clearly took over in terms of where he went to get a job and what he was going to do,” says Ms. Murr. Due to his age at the time of the war and having three children, Larry was likely not going to be drafted, so he volunteered instead. He enlisted as a paratrooper. Paratroopers were paid an extra $50 a month, and there were a lot of men who tried to join the airborne for that reason.

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Deepening Our Global Connections

dr. Hudson's trip to Chinaby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Planes, trains, and automobiles—and even a boat. I write this message while flying over the northern Pacific Ocean on my way back from a one-week trip to China. It was a fantastic experience and I thoroughly enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the Chinese people and delighted in the wonderful culture and cuisine. Together with several other heads of school from the Midwest, I visited a number of schools in Nanjing, Beijing, and Guangzhou to learn more about the Chinese educational system.

The Chinese educational system is very different than ours in a number of ways. The National College Entrance Examination, Gaokao, is required for college entrance and the score dictates a future path for each student. There is tremendous pressure to earn a high score and get into a top college. Teaching is focused on preparing students for the exam, particularly in math and science, leaving much less time for other subjects or critical thinking. Curriculum is limited, and Chinese pedagogy is very teacher-centered. There is far less attention paid to student engagement and agency. Read More

Carrying On The MPA Tradition Of Excellence

Ms. Rossbach's group hug at the lower school art and music showby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

It is hard to put into words how I feel about coming to school each day. I am incredibly fortunate to work with amazing people who inspire me by their professionalism and by their character. They are kind and caring people who love their area of expertise, their craft, and most certainly, the children they teach. MPA English teachers indeed love literature, but they also love engaging students in the exploration of the most fundamental questions about humanity and meaning. Our math teachers undoubtedly enjoy the intricacies of the relationships of numbers, but they also love awakening the curiosity and problem-solving abilities of their students. The very best teachers do not teach math, or science, or art. They teach students.

Whether by retirement or life changes, we will say goodbye to several of these remarkable MPA educators in a few short weeks. Most of us have left jobs behind because we were dissatisfied with working conditions, or because we were bored or underappreciated. Rather than leave MPA behind, these educators move toward new chapters in their lives. While it is difficult to bid farewell to them, I do so with gratitude for the mark they have had on this community and with joy for what lies ahead of them.

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A School Committed To Inspiring Curiosity

Head of school standing in front of windowsby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School, Mounds Park Academy

I came across an article recently shared by Entrepreneur magazine entitled, “The Most Important Skill at the Office Isn’t Being Taught in School.” It caught my attention. What is that important skill? The article argues it is curiosity. Curiosity is named by many behavioral scientists to be among the most valuable attributes in the workplace and yet it is not fostered in many schools. In fact, the way in which schools are structured discourages it—so many schools are driven by standardized testing and measure performance solely on test-based standards. Rest assured that is not the case at Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul, and in fact, is quite the opposite of our approach.

At MPA, curiosity is not just encouraged, it is expected. Furthermore, curiosity is valued as a mindset to be cultivated in its own right, not just for the workplace, but for lifelong fulfillment. According to best-selling author Todd Kashdan, “Curiosity—a state of active interest or genuinely wanting to know more about something—creates an openness to unfamiliar experiences, laying the groundwork for greater opportunities to experience discovery, joy, and delight.” Whether in the classroom, the workplace, or in life, curiosity is essential. Read More

Mental Health Awareness Month At MPA

Students doing craft projectsMay is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in honor of the national initiative, each weekday throughout the month at MPA there are activities, discussions, and presentations surrounding the topic of mental health. The month’s awareness events are focused on Upper School students, and are spearheaded by Ashley Cooper, Middle and Upper School counselor. While Ms. Cooper created the calendar of daily events, she shared that a lot of what she planned were direct requests from students.

Ms. Cooper emphasizes the importance of using the right terms when talking about mental health. “We all have mental health and mental wellness,” she says. She adds that some goals for the month are to bring awareness to mental health, help students reflect on the state of their own mental well-being, and to share resources on what to do if students think they need to talk to a professional about potential mental illnesses.

The month’s daily calendar has a loose structure; every week there is Meditation Monday, an activity, a Lunch Talk, a presentation, and an exercise for students to complete on their own. The first Lunch Talk of the month surrounded the topic of stigma, and any stigma that the students thought was associated with mental health. Upcoming Lunch Talks will cover the topics of supportive language, how to help a friend who is struggling with mental health, and a discussion on how to talk about your struggles. The month will conclude with a discussion on positive self-talk. These discussions are all led by Ms. Cooper, but are driven by the students who attend. Meditation Monday reoccurs every Monday throughout the entire school year, and the idea was brought to Ms. Cooper by Upper School students, who wanted moments of relaxation and stillness throughout their busy days.

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A Language Overnight Unlike Any Other

Fourth graders at Festival of NationsLast Friday, May 3, fourth graders celebrated the end of the school year by participating in a culminating event of Lower School: a foreign language overnight! In years past, this  took place at Concordia Language Villages in Bemidji, but when they couldn’t host it this year, our very own foreign language teachers came together to create a completely unique and engaging experience for the students.

The group had a packed schedule! First, they visited the Festival of Nations in St. Paul and then stopped by El Burrito Mercado, an authentic Mexican deli selling groceries and arts and crafts directly from artisans in Mexico. When they arrived back at school, they sang and danced with guest musicians and then enjoyed a six-course dinner prepared by MPA’s Chef Doug. The dinner alternated between a French course and a Spanish course, enabling the students to have the opportunity to try different dishes from regions around the world. After dinner, the students cozied up with a movie and a “camp fire” in the library, made creatively from string lights and smooth stones. In the morning, the event concluded with crepes and churros for breakfast in the Makerspace.

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