A Place For Joy, Connection, And Purpose

Nancy sage bringing lower schools students through the new librarySince returning from winter break, being on campus has been extra exciting and bustling in the brand new library! We asked MPA Librarian Nancy Lage to reflect on the first few weeks of the library being open. “Our beautiful new state of the art library is located in the heart of the school. It has exceeded all of my expectations and I’m so grateful that our entire community will now have the opportunity to enjoy it,” she said. In between flurries of classes eager to use the new spaces on campus, she had wonderful recollections to share. But if you have not been in the new space yourself, we invite you to experience it firsthand!

Do you have a favorite new library moment so far?
It’s been so rewarding to watch students, parents, and colleagues walk in the new library for the first time. Many people feel a lot of emotion. They look around and see how beautiful the new spaces are, and it gives them an overwhelming feeling of joy, excitement, and inspiration. To see the expressions on their faces is just priceless–I wish everyone could have the opportunity to see what it’s like when people walk in and see the facility for the first time. I think those emotional moments that took me by surprise are my favorite.

What are students saying about it?
I hear them say “It’s beautiful, my favorite spot in the school, awesome, I love it, it’s so bright, I love the natural light, it’s a great use of space… can I live here?!” A student recently entered the library and just stood there. When I asked if I could help her with something, she said, “I’m just looking at all the spaces and trying to decide which one I like the best!” And parents have a lot to say, too. A parent recently stopped in and said, “When I walk into the library, I feel the spirit of the school. This space is so inspiring.”

How are classes in the library enhanced?
The new library was built on doing what’s best for students. It’s a place of opportunity, a learning center where students use the best resources and technology available in a safe and nurturing environment. Not only do we have spaces for reading, research and collaborative learning, but we have a fireplace that provides warmth and comfort, individual study spaces, a vibrant and whimsical children’s room, gallery spaces for student artwork, and a brand-new display space for social studies and world language departments to share cultural projects.

Describe how you feel in the new space in three words.
In terms of how I’m feeling: inspired, grateful, energized. When thinking about the space itself: joy, connection, purpose. How it’s affecting students: imagine, explore, dream.

What are you looking forward to?
First of all, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of students coming in to use the new spaces and resources, which is fabulous! I’m looking forward to working with students in this new facility to encourage and help enable them to become independent readers and learners. I want the whole community to benefit from all the enrichment this dynamic new library provides!

The ROI Of An Exceptional Education

middle school students presenting their future cityby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

A January 14 article published in the Washington Post reported on a study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce that found that “over the course of a career, a liberal arts education is remarkably practical, providing a median return on investment 40 years after graduation that approaches $1 million.” With the rising cost of college, it is right that parents consider the return on their investment, particularly when there seems to be a prevailing bias towards STEM, often at the determent of the humanities or liberal arts. But the return on investment of a truly exceptional education cannot limited only to a paycheck.

I have several books stacked on my bookshelves at home and in my office as well as on night table that are half-read. My Audible account has a cue of books I am making my way through and I’ve recently been introduced to a great app called “Blinkist” that summarizes nonfiction books in short, digestible audiocasts. My thirst for news and current events is satiated by another app, “Flipboard,” that I consume alongside my oatmeal and coffee in the morning. My thinking these days has been highly influenced by two books in particular, “Range” by David Epstein and “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek. Read More

Early Education That Merges Learning And Joy

PreK student arriving at schoolThree-year-old children are amazing sponges. They absorb everything around them, learning intuitively and actively. As toddlers approach the start of Pre-Kindergarten, it’s a unique and important time to match children with high value educational programs that will meet a broad range of developmental needs, while setting the stage for future success in school.

In Suzanne Bouffard’s book “The Most Important Year,” she discusses best practices for the earliest years of school. During an interview with National Public Radio, she explains that successful PreK programs “have hands-on experiences and opportunities for children to learn about things that apply to their lives. Good teachers always engage children in rich conversations and ask them open-ended questions.” Bouffard emphasizes that “another really important piece of a good program is that it focuses on things like self-control and behavior in the class, how to wait your turn, how to share, how to deal with frustration, and how to solve conflicts. Those are skills kids are just beginning to develop at three, four, and five years old.”

Bouffard outlines that classroom activities should be interdisciplinary, celebrating a young student’s dynamic nature while providing goal-oriented learning opportunities. “The research says very clearly that children learn through play and this notion that you have to choose between play and academic learning is a false dichotomy,” she says. “One study showed that you can give children building blocks and let them build whatever they want. Or you can give children building blocks with a goal—to build a landing pad for a helicopter, for example. In both cases, everybody ends up having fun and learning something, but the kids who had a goal actually used richer vocabulary, especially around spatial skills and building concepts.”

Joyful Learning: PreK at MPA
Mounds Park Academy, one of the top two private schools in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area and one of the nation’s top STEM schools, serves students through 12th grade and features a PreK program infused with joyful, hand-on learning. MPA’s rich curriculum is outstanding starting point for your child’s college prep education, reflecting national best practices and cultivating the intellectual, emotional, and social needs of young children in a safe and welcoming environment.

The MPA early education program focuses on discovery, creative exploration, and natural curiosity by facilitating the education of the whole child. Cornerstones of the PreK program philosophy include:

  • A classroom environment where each child is valued, and where warm, nurturing relationships are evident.
  • A child-centered approach that provides structure as well as flexibility.
  • Early exposure to a wide range of disciplines and resources, including language arts, literature, math, science, social studies, health and physical education, music, visual art, drama, and technology.
  • Respect for each child’s developmental level, with instruction geared toward individual needs.
  • Social, emotional, and intellectual skills emphasized and shaped by guided play and group participation.
  • Regular feedback and assessment information for parents regarding their child that includes conferences, written summaries, and a portfolio.

PreK student working in the makerspaceSchool readiness is always an important consideration and involves several key factors. MPA PreK faculty Debbie LaChapelle and Lower School director Renee Wright offer these recommendations for assessing whether your child is prepared to start PreK:

  • An attention span of at least 15 minutes; listening skills, and the ability to follow two-step directions.
  • Early reading, writing, and math skills, including recognizing some letters and counting.
  • Beginning stage problem solving, creativity, and both verbal and non-verbal expression.
  • Communication skills such as articulating needs and feelings, and social skills like meeting behavioral expectations, sharing, and cooperation.
  • Fine motor skills, including working with scissors and crafts.
  • Independence and concentration, including choosing an activity on their own and being able to focus on an activity for up to 20 minutes.
  • Emotional development, like the ability to say goodbye to a parent or caregiver, eagerness to go to school, and the desire to make friends.
  • Stamina, with the energy and resilience to adapt to new routines and structure while transitioning to only one nap during the school day.

The Alvarenga family has been part of MPA for several years, and has seen how the school’s early education programming sets the stage for academic and personal achievement. “I would tell a family who was considering MPA that by partnering up with MPA, they are choosing a school where their child’s, physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and educational needs will be considered and supported. Parenting is a greater challenge than we could have possibly imagined. Partnering with MPA to help us educate and raise our children gives us a great sense of comfort in knowing that the school we chose is as devoted to seeing our children develop to their full potential as we are.”

Learn more about it: The Best Pre-K Programs

  • NAEYC’s 10 standards for early childhood programs are based on research on the development and education of young children.
  • Review the MPA PreK program philosophy, including PreK curriculum descriptions and a sample daily schedule.
  • Visit us at MPA! Register for the All-School Preview on January 26, or schedule a personal tour by contacting the Office of Admission at 651-748-5577 or via email.

Invest In The Future: Choose A Private School Education

8th grade students watching a robotThere aren’t a lot of sure things in life. Financial markets are volatile; fashion is fickle, and this year’s winning team can snooze next season. In an unpredictable world, one of the best bets you can make is investing in a rigorous and empowering college prep education that will pay life-long dividends for your child.

Research from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) demonstrates that independent schools—including private institutions like Mounds Park Academy—prepare students for academic success, with graduating seniors at NAIS schools achieving substantially higher SAT results. Additionally, independent schools strengthen 21st century skills, with graduates spending more time asking questions in class, evaluating the quality or reliability of information, and looking for alternative solutions to a problem.

Independent schools also nurture in students the desire for a future that combines economic success with social responsibility and personal fulfillment. The data shows that graduates from NAIS schools were more likely than public school graduates to feel it is important or essential to be community leaders or become successful in their own businesses.

Excellence And MPA
Mounds Park Academy is one of the top two private schools in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area and one of the nation’s top STEM schools. We have a proven track record for excellence that seamlessly merges academics, arts and athletics in a welcoming environment that provides personalized attention. MPA cultivates each child’s strengths and fosters a love of learning, equipping students to make their mark individually and improve our global community. Mounds Park Academy families hail from 64 different zip codes throughout the greater Twin Cities and western Wisconsin, and reflect a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. Read More

Who Mentored You?

alumni and mpa senior talking at the alumni mentor network programby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

My earliest recollection of my career aspirations is from when I was four or five. I remember having it narrowed down to two possibilities: gas station attendant and trash collector. I hope enough of you are old enough to remember when there were attendants who pumped gas, washed windshields, and checked the oil. For most of us, our thoughts about a career in our early years come from our role models, those we looked up to and wanted to emulate. My aspirations changed as I did and teaching became my desired career path.

Mentors and role models play a crucial part of our academic, ethical, and professional development. Their influence cannot be taken for granted as they help shape our values, actions, and behaviors. In the professional world, mentors and role models can influence our career paths as well as provide practical advice and insight into the workplace. They can also help to form and strengthen valuable connections that often lead to future employment. As it is said, “it isn’t what you know, but who you know.” Read More

Kindergartners Partner With Kowalski’s Market To Make An Impact

kindergarten student and fifth grader holding the bags they made togetherMounds Park Academy’s service-learning process and partnership with Kowalski’s Market is making an impact! It all began when MPA kindergartners learned the letter “T” for “turtles.” They discovered that sea turtles are dying by mistaking plastic bags in their ocean habitat for food. Then, they learned the word “activist” for the letter “A.” Through responsibility, courage, and inclusiveness, they joined the Upper School students at a weekly morning meeting to message ways to save sea turtles. The kindergartners also composed a letter to Kris Kowalski, owner of Kowalski’s Market, expressing their concern around plastic bags.

In their letter, the kindergartners acknowledged positive things Kowalski’s Market is already doing to make a difference in the community. Kowalski’s displays signage in their parking lots reminding customers to bring their reusable bags from the car, and they give five cents back to the customer for each reusable bag. Kris responded to the students’ letters, sharing more helpful information about their cause. The students learned more about consumer choices and individual responsibility for taking care of our environment. She included the Kowalski’s “Breakdown of the Bags” to help them be informed consumers.

MPA students develop academic, social, and life skills through the design thinking process. Therefore, the kindergarten class decided to make their reusable grocery bags in the Makerspace to be sold Kowalski’s Market. As the first step, kindergartners saw several prototype canvas bags and shared observations about the value in each bag. They carefully looked at the designs and sizes to determine which would be best for the consumer. After being donated canvas fabric and materials, they were ready to begin making their bags! Read More

The Impact Of Singapore Math At MPA

student listening to teacher in classby Renee Wright, Lower School director

Editor’s Note: On the first Thursday of each month, you will find a guest Head’s Message here from one of MPA’s division directors. We hope you enjoy reading their thoughts and reflections about life at MPA.

Looking back over the past 30 years as a Lower School teacher, one of my most challenging subjects to teach was math. Some students were successful, and some were not. Some students loved math, while others didn’t care for it at all. How would I address these challenges? I knew it was my job to teach math concepts and make sure these skills could be applied. At the same time, I wanted students to love math and feel confident. I was not alone with these concerns.

Teachers often report that problem solving is one area that presents the largest challenge for students. It is not uncommon for students to feel anxious or frustrated when asked to solve challenging mathematical word problems. In fact, students often give up before even trying. Problem solving in math often causes students to feel incompetent and believe they aren’t good at math. This can lead to a negative mindset about math and becomes a huge barrier to future success in the subject. Six years ago, teachers and administrators at MPA started looking for a math program to address these challenges. After much research, the Singapore Math curriculum was selected and adopted in grades kindergarten through fifth. Read More

Seventh Graders Do Right Through Design For Change

7th graders working with local PreK students“Design For Change” is more than a phrase that our students and faculty have become very familiar with this school year. It is an organization that functions on global and national levels, working with students and educators to “turn empathy into action.” More than one million students are involved in Design For Change and are positively impacting their communities worldwide. This movement has made its way into the minds and hands of MPA students through Ms. Koen, Makerspace coordinator, and Ms. Joyce, technology integrationist, as they work with seventh graders on MPA’s very own Design For Change global challenge.

In November, Ms. Joyce attended the I Can Children’s Global Summit in Rome, which featured students from over 40 countries and their Design For Change initiatives. Their solutions covered global issues including violence, gentrification, medicine, environmental issues, and teens and mental health. After an incredibly powerful experience, Ms. Joyce is helping the MPA seventh graders get their projects ready to submit to the 2020 I Can Global Summit.

“Attending the Summit was definitely a life-changing experience for me,” said Ms. Joyce. “Besides the individual impact of each of the students’ participation in their Design For Change solution, the group impact made possible by the global conference will resonate beyond anything we can imagine.”

The idea behind Design For Change is that there is no single one-and-done solution. The purpose is to spark curiosity, relationships, partnerships, and ongoing work that ripples into the community, and eventually, the world. The MPA students involved are currently focusing their efforts on the United Nations sustainable development global goal of reduced inequalities–specifically, quality education and school funding disparities. Read More

Bumpy Roads Build Skills

middle School student working in ceramics classEmpowering Students To Understand Stress And Navigate Anxiety
Feeling frightened has infiltrated everyday life. As a society, we worry about the future, and are unsettled about the unknowns. We’re stressed and we’re scared, with anxiety showing up among people of all ages.

While anxiety is increasingly common, learning how to manage—and even embrace—difficult emotions helps build resilience while cultivating individual and interpersonal skills. At Mounds Park Academy, Dr. Jules Nolan works with faculty, students, and parents to help families understand what stress means in context of overall well-being. As a licensed, nationally certified school psychologist and president of Minnesota’s association of school psychologists, Dr. Nolan brings expertise in child and adolescent mental health, behavioral issues, school performance, learning issues, and effective teaching and parenting strategies.

“We are seeing a spike in student anxiety (nationwide), driven by three key factors,” she explains. “One factor is that we have more sophisticated tools to diagnose anxiety. So, while the prevalence can seem greater, it’s tied to a better understanding of what anxiety is and what makes it different from other conditions. At the same time, we are seeing circumstances where anxiety is over-diagnosed. For example, in any given population we would expect one to three percent of people to meet criteria for generalized anxiety. However, in some schools we’re seeing as many as 20 to 25 percent of students with that diagnosis. The third, and perhaps most influential factor, is that our society often has a hard time grappling with stress and anxiety, and by trying to push it away, we are actually making it more difficult for children to develop coping skills.” Read More

Midyear Check-Ins With Your Middle School Student

middle school student working in groupAs the school calendar approaches its midway point, and winter break offers a breather from the daily routine, it’s a great time for parents and their Middle School students to connect on where they are and what their goals are for the balance of the year.

Dr. Jenn Milam, Middle School director, explains that in addition to sending home traditional report cards each quarter, MPA’s faculty provides substantive comments on a student’s progress along with posting grades. “Often times a report card is seen as a destination—a final outcome—and we are hoping parents join us instead in viewing an end to a quarter as an invitation to reflect,” she says. “More specifically, it is a moment to ask your student to reflect on their own effort, commitment, understanding of content presented, and growth as a student and human being.” She reinforces that “learning doesn’t happen in nine-week segments, or even academic years. Our role as a school is to help young people learn how they learn best, find their passions, refine their areas for growth, and develop a sense of self-confidence in who they are.”

MPA’s Middle School structure reflects the developmental process that students experience as they move from childhood to early adolescence. “Fifth grade is a bridge year between the Lower School and Middle School—for example, students have mile markers like no more uniforms, but their academic grading follows the Lower School model,” explains Robyn Kramer, Lower and Middle School learning specialist. “Sixth graders have expanded freedoms along with the according levels of responsibility. In seventh and eighth grade the bar is definitely raised, knowing that students have the skill sets to handle more personal accountability, and to prepare them for the expectations of MPA’s Upper School.” Read More