Debuting A Special, Collaborative Piece Of Art

the finished painted pianoSpecial thanks to Renee Sonka, MPA visual arts teacher

Upper School Applied Painting Class paints a piano together every year, as part of an in-depth collaborative project in conjunction with a local non-profit, Keys 4/4 Kids.

Last year, they barely began when virtual school halted their progress, making this type of group painting temporarily impossible. They carefully resumed this semester, and they finally have the exciting results to share!

This, their ninth collaborative piano, references a mural by Xavier Gonzalez. The mural originally hung at Dixie’s Bar of Music in New Orleans. It was damaged during Hurricane Katrina, restored in 2018, and now hangs at the New Orleans Jazz Museum. See the mural and learn more here.

Before painting, they prepared for weeks, learning about the history of the mural, building context by studying a timeline of related regional murals that led to this one. They considered racial relations then and now, wove in jazz history, and factored in economic trends (it was painted post-depression and so is a celebratory shift from Gonzalez’s previous work). They learned about every person featured in the full mural as they discussed at length why these individuals may have been included as well as why they are portrayed as they are. Look closely and you will see Lena Horne, Glen Miller, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, and so many more. The historians at the New Orleans Jazz Museum have been very supportive of this project, approving MPA’s request to reference the mural and sharing much information about it. While students worked on this painted piano in shifts, they simultaneously worked on their own individual paintings, inspired by the musicians featured in the mural.

Being it took two years to complete under such challenging circumstances, Ms. Sonka says, “it feels like a birth of some sort to see it finally come to life. Drawing connections between art, music, and history, while reading, writing, discussing, and painting, this beautiful piece is a grand culmination of interdisciplinary, hands on, content rich, interest driven, project-based learning!”

The piano is currently on display in the study room in the Upper School Commons, along with the related individual paintings done by the same students.


Meet Caleb Rhodes ‘21

Caleb Holding His ViolaMusic, particularly singing, has provided me with an opportunity to grow and learn. I attended Minnesota Waldorf School through 8th grade, and music is a significant component of Waldorf education. I learned to play the pentatonic flute in first grade, the C flute in second grade, the viola in third and the Alto recorder in fifth grade. Singing was an everyday activity in elementary school but I didn’t really enjoy it until my freshman year of high school at MPA.

When I made the switch to MPA, music was one of a activities that felt most familiar and comfortable to me, so I decided I would take varsity choir. At the end of my freshman year, my family encouraged me to audition for Madrigal Singers, MPA’s most select singing group. Getting in to Madrigal Singers ignited my love for singing and gave me the opportunity to express myself. Since that point, I have been in Concert Choir and Madrigal Singers for the last three school years, and I have auditioned for, and been accepted to the MMEA All-State Honor Choir the last two years. Singing provides me with an opportunity to confidently express my emotions in a way no other activity has been able to do. I am able to channel my feelings into music through my voice. This has made it much easier for me to open up to those around me and establish close relationships with classmates, and even with students from other schools, who I have met through our shared love of music. 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.


Senior Service Contributes To The Memory Project For Fifth Year

Emma Cohen's painting for the memory project 2021MPA senior Emma Cohen created portraits for The Memory Project for her Senior Service Project. The Memory Project is a nonprofit organization that connects artists with children throughout the world, who then get sent their portraits after completion. Her portraits specifically will be sent to children in Cameroon. This is MPA’s fifth year collaborating with The Memory Project! Visit www.memoryproject.org/programs to learn more.

Every year, the Senior Service Project is an opportunity for MPA students to use their voices and skills, propose, and carry out a service project with an organization or for a cause they are passionate about. All students submit a proposal, complete a minimum of 30 hours of service work, keep a record or journal of experiences, and prepare an exhibit or presentation based on their experience.


Register For Summer At MPA!

MPA Music teacher Hannah LawsonWe are pleased to be offering an expanded summer program with a larger choice of academic programs, enrichment classes, athletic clinics, full and half day Panther Camp, and much more for students of all ages! As always, our goal is to provide our participants with the highest quality program in the context of a safe and healthy environment.

Register at moundsparkacademy.org/summer. All Lower School classes and camps are currently open for registration. More Middle and Upper School options will be added in the coming days.

If you have any questions, please contact Russ Purdy, extended day program coordinator, at 651-748-5571 or rpurdy@moundsparkacademy.org.

Summer Athletic Camps
Register for our great athletic camp options this summer! MPA is excited to offer a basketball, soccer, and volleyball camp this year. Panther Boys and Girls Summer Basketball Camp is open to students in grades 4-9 from June 14-17. Panther Boys and Girls Soccer Camp is open to students in grades K-6 from June 21-24. Panther Boys and Girls Summer Volleyball camp is July 12-14, and Panther Girls Volleyball Camp for grades 9-12 is July 19-21. Learn more and register here!


“Almost, Maine” Honored By Hennepin Theatre Trust

scene from winter show, Almost MaineThe Upper School Winter Show, “Almost, Maine,” took part in the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Spotlight Education program this year. As part of the Spotlight Education program, the show was evaluated and recognized with multiple honors!

Production Honors

  • Achievement in Theatre: Honorable Mention
  • Overall Production: Outstanding
  • Overall Performance: Honorable Mention
  • Ensemble Performance: Honorable Mention
  • Acting Performance: Honorable Mention
  • Costume Crew: Honorable Mention
  • Overall Technical Team: Outstanding
  • Light & Sound Crew: Honorable Mention

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


Summer Registration Is Open!

summer campers in science campWe are pleased to be offering an expanded summer program with a larger choice of academic programs, enrichment classes, athletic clinics, full and half day Panther Camp, and much more for students of all ages! As always, our goal is to provide our participants with the highest quality program in the context of a safe and healthy environment.

Register at moundsparkacademy.org/summer. All Lower School classes and camps are currently open for registration. More Middle and Upper School options will be added in the coming days.

If you have any questions, please contact Russ Purdy, extended day program coordinator, at 651-748-5571 or rpurdy@moundsparkacademy.org.


“Some Good News” Returns February 5

Some Good News by the Middle School PlayIf you loved the first episode of the series “Some Good News,” created by the cast and crew of this year’s Middle School play, stay tuned for episode two on February 5!

Inspired by John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” series, the Middle School students (with Upper School students mentoring) were responsible for pitching ideas, collaborating, and writing stories, interviews, jokes, and sketches to produce four webisodes in the series. This approach allows the cast to go beyond acting, but to be involved in writing, filming, and directing.

The Middle School Theatre Department is proud to offer students and community members meaningful theater experiences year after year. Given the unique challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Middle School production is fully virtual so all community members far and wide can experience the joy of the students involved in this special project. Read More


“Some Good News” Premieres Tomorrow, January 22!

the middle school play cast and crewThe upcoming webisode series “Some Good News,” created by the cast and crew of this year’s Middle School play, premieres tomorrow, January 22 at 7 PM on YouTube! Inspired by John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” series, the Middle School students (with Upper School students mentoring) were responsible for pitching ideas, collaborating, and writing stories, interviews, jokes, and sketches to produce four webisodes in the series. This approach allows the cast to go beyond acting, but to be involved in writing, filming, and directing.

The Middle School Theatre Department is proud to offer students and community members meaningful theater experiences year after year. Given the unique challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Middle School production is fully virtual so all community members far and wide can experience the joy of the students involved in this special project.

If you love and support the Middle School Theatre offerings every year, please consider making a gift that is right for you to help offset lost revenue from ticket and concessions proceeds this year. Every dollar you give will directly support the students and staff making these experiences a reality. Click here to make your gift and help us reach our goal in support of the Middle School Theatre Department. Simply add Middle School Play in your gift designation on the easy giving form. If you have questions or want to learn more about giving opportunities at MPA, please contact Jennifer Rogers director of development and community engagement at jrogers@moundsparkacademy.org.