A Legacy Of Resiliency And Perseverance

Prek students at track and field dayby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

As we close out the school year, I couldn’t help but think of the prologue from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. The series of paradoxes in the prologue rang true as I reflected upon this past year. We are living though one of the most extraordinary moments of our lives when just about everything has been turned upside down and called into question. Who could have imagined all that we would be faced with this year—a world-wide pandemic, social unrest, political discord, and racial reckoning?

If the pandemic has been a paradox, then this school year has been nothing less than a triumph. In the midst of darkness and despair, we found light and hope, resiliency, and perseverance. And while I sometimes take it for granted, I am reminded that is no simple feat to remain open throughout the school year and preserve the continuity of learning. It is true we’ve had our share of challenges and low points; our community is stronger and more resilient than ever.

In my first Panther Post message of this school year, I quoted author Diane Coutu who observed that resilient people possess three characteristics—a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. As I reflect upon this school year, I believe that our school and students have certainly demonstrated these characteristics. Resiliency and perseverance will be the legacy of our collective journey this year.

Even as this school year draws to a close, the Administrative Team has been hard at work throughout the spring planning for our next school year. Like we did at this time last year, we began by naming the values that would guide all decision-making, beginning with the health and safety of our community, on-campus and in-person learning, and a joyful, whole-child hands-on, experiential, exceptional learning. While there may be some necessary mitigation strategies, we will be monitoring the guidance from the CDC and Minnesota Department of Public Health throughout the summer and adjust plans accordingly. However, as vaccination rates climb higher and higher and young children begin to be vaccinated, fewer and fewer health and safety measures will be needed.

This is certainly a week to celebrate and I am pleased to bring back so many of our time-honored traditions, such as Kindergarten Graduation, Moving Up Ceremonies for the fourth and eighth grades, Lower School Vocabulary Bee, Track and Field Days, and Yearbook Assembly. On Saturday, we will bid farewell to a group of amazingly talented leaders and students who I am certain will continue to dream big and do right in all that lies ahead of them.

I want to thank you for entrusting your children to us. I also want to express my gratitude for investing in the school and our faculty and staff through your philanthropic giving. I am continually in awe of the generosity of our parent community and the strong partnership we have. Have a wonderful summer and I look forward to coming together again in August.

Celebrating What’s Next To Come

Karen Widerskiby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

As the school year hurries to a close and we look forward to celebrating the graduating Class of 2021, we are also celebrating two employees, payroll and benefits administrator Karen Widerski, and Middle School math teacher Dan Ethier, who are graduating on to other endeavors.

Karen came to MPA in the 2012-2013 school year after a long and successful career in human resources at Target Corporation. In her time at MPA, she has made wonderful impressions with colleagues. Rose Wick, who works alongside Karen in the business office, shares, “Karen is a true friend, the most hilarious person I have ever worked with.” Other coworkers describe Karen as “awesome,” “a hard worker,” “fun,” and “humorous.”

Karen purchased her father’s home on Child Lake in Hackensack, MN, where she will surely continue to the throw the best fourth of July party on the lake, complete with a fireworks show. She is very close with her family and will enjoy spending more time with her husband Jim, daughter Jess, and son Keith. Her father and brother live nearby as well. Karen is a pet lover who has raised several black labs, including her current dog, Jax. Up North, Karen will get to continue her love for the outdoors, especially, snowmobiling and cross country skiing, and she’ll have lots of time for the annual family trip to the Caribbean each winter.

“Karen came at a time when there was much change at MPA. She brought an amazing sense of calm and confidence, and she is always willing to do whatever it takes to get things done,” says CFO Gina Wallraff. “She is a major team player with an amazing can do attitude. We have relied on her tremendously and she just takes care of things. She will be missed.”

We all wish Karen a wonderful and happy retirement.

Mr. Ethier teaching math class

Dan Ethier joined MPA in the fall of 1992, and for 29 years, has been a fundamental part of the Middle School, as well as a highly successful and much loved cross country running and math league coach.

In the classroom, Dan exemplifies MPA’s experiential, hands on approach to learning. He built his curriculum on solving rigorous problems and he’s an expert on crafting open ended problems that require his students to apply their deep content knowledge in creative ways. Rather than giving students problems that have a clear, procedural approach, Dan instead sought ones where the methodology was not obvious nor straight forward from the start.

Dan’s problem solving approach connected academic rigor to real world concepts. Whether it was learning about investing and interest or measuring the depths of craters on the moon using trigonometry, his students have found themselves solving problems that apply mathematics to life.

Dan’s personal sense of curiosity and love for learning made him a great teacher as well. “Students ask good questions. I make sure to spend time pursuing those questions and demonstrating interest in them,” he says. “Sometimes I raise the questions myself. It’s about being curious myself and letting that spill over into the lesson.”

Though a math teacher, Dan fiercely advocated for all subject areas, and especially championed the fine arts. “The arts allow students to see the world in new and different ways, and that new vision will allow them to apply their science, technology, engineering, and math knowledge with the creativity and innovation our 21st century world needs.”

In the end, what most propelled Dan to the upper echelons of the teaching profession was his knack for truly getting to know each student he came across. He was known for writing a comment on every challenge problem that a student answered incorrectly with advice on where they went wrong.

“Dan has been, and always will be, a cultural icon of sorts in the Middle School. From his silly stuffed animals, to his dry sense of humor, students have come to know math and themselves better in this great big world,” says Middle School director Jenn Milam. “We will all be better for having shared this journey with Dan–his passion for mathematics and teaching is out-matched only by his passion and love for Middle Schoolers.”

Dan also poured his heart and soul into Mounds Park Academy cross country. He took over the program in its infancy, and through his guidance and passion, turned it into a perennial contender and one of MPA’s most successful athletic programs. He took three teams to the state meet, placing as high as second in 2013, earned section 4A coach of the year honors in 2008, and coached six all state-athletes and two state champions.

Dan’s connection to his team is clear. He is invited to and attends nearly every graduation party, creates individualized race plans for each varsity runner at every meet, writes detailed recaps of each race, and is a true master of making everyone on the team, from state champions to sixth graders, feel welcomed, included and special. It’s no wonder that so many seniors on the team ask Dan for a letter of recommendation when heading off to college.

Dan coaches the right way, with humor, care, and respect. He instills a terrific work ethic in every athlete and transforms a sport that some find monotonous and difficult into something enjoyable and rewarding. Whether it’s the annual run to Dairy Queen, the game of “Foxes and Hounds” or the professional quality end of season banquets, Dan brings joy, sportsmanship, and camaraderie to the team.

As Dan moves on from MPA into retirement, I hope he will get to enjoy more time with his passions outside of MPA, including drone photography, distance running, astronomy, app development, and current events. And I know he will always be rooting for the next generation of MPA runners.

Please click here to leave farewell messages and well wishes for Dan and Karen!

Preparing For The Post-Pandemic World

8th Grade engineering showcase in the makerspaceby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

The pandemic has disrupted nearly all aspects of our lives and society. Families, civic life, the economy, and our government are just a few of the institutions that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. At the expense of being branded “Captain Obvious,” education has also been tremendously impacted by the pandemic. Most of the conversation has been about what students have lost, and rightly so. Many educators have great concerns about a significant learning gap for students who spent the year learning remotely. Poor mental health resulting from sustained isolation is also worrisome.

While there have been losses, students have also experienced tremendous gains. Over the last year, students were confronted with numerous challenges that they had never encountered before that they needed to overcome. Students had to learn how learn remotely, to discover new ways to express themselves and their ideas, and develop a measure of autonomy, independence, and personal responsibility. They also learned how to care for themselves and overcome isolation. They learned how to push though difficulty, bounce back after failure, and try something new. Read More

Diligence Is Needed

ninth graders testing their mousetrap carsby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

If you’ve been in an airport recently, it certainly appears that the pandemic is waning. Having just returned from a short trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit my 81-year-old mother whose health has been failing, I can attest to that. The lines to get through security are getting long again and planes are beginning to fill up again. It’s almost as if life is back to “normal” but we know that it is not, at least not yet.

There is good news as more and more people are getting vaccinated. Minnesota is near the top of the list of states with the highest percentage vaccinated with 64% of Minnesotans 18 years and older having received at least the first dose of the vaccine. And with the FDA recently authorizing the vaccination of children 12 and older, we may be in the last leg of the pandemic.

With all the positive news, it’s easy to forget that we haven’t crossed the finish line just yet. According to the Star Tribune, pandemic activity remains at high levels in Minnesota, which had the second highest rate of new infections in the latest White House COVID-19 state report released last Tuesday. While it is true that the risk is lessening as more people get vaccinated, given the rise in variants, our on-campus dial stop one mode, and increased cases in recent weeks, diligence is needed now more than ever. Read More

A College Choice Day Unlike Any Other

Isak Dai '21by Dr. Bill Hudson, head of school

I remember sitting in the bleachers in the upper level of Jenison Fieldhouse at Michigan State University to witness the graduation of my father. At five years old, I had no appreciation for the sacrifice he and my mother made for that to happen. I didn’t know that my dad joined the Navy after high school to help support his family and that afterwards, he worked full time to put his younger brother and sister through college. I didn’t know that over the course of seven years he drove 80 miles round trip to attend classes at Michigan State all the while working a full-time job, leaving my mother to care for three small children. I didn’t know any of that, sitting in the bleachers that hot May afternoon in 1969. But I did know how important college was as I spotted my dad cross the stage to receive his diploma.

MPA seniors, together with the entire MPA community, will celebrate College Choice Day this coming Monday, May 10. Sporting their chosen college apparel, seniors will gather in and around the Upper School Commons to create their college pennants and feast on individually pre-packaged cookies and beverages. “This class has my heart,” says director of college counseling, Lisa Pederson. “The pandemic literally shut down campuses last spring break as many were arriving to tour campuses. They rebounded and conducted the rest of their college search almost entirely online, demonstrating an amazing degree of resilience, imagination, determination, optimism, and support of each other.” Read More

Planting Seeds

perk students doing the story walkby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Outside my office is a skinny rubber tree with branches extending in all directions. A scarcity of leaves is clustered on the end of each branch, like hands and fingers on outstretched arms waving at passersby. I have to admit that it looks quite peculiar and often is subject to ridicule, like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. But it means a great deal to me and I love to share its story.

The tree was a gift from long-serving Upper School Math teacher Theresa Reardon Offerman upon her retirement. Theresa told me she bought the tree during her first year of teaching. It was the winter of 1977-78 and she happened upon it at the old Sears on Lake Street in Minneapolis. “It looked lonely sitting all by itself in the aisle,” she said. “It was sickly, partially frozen from sitting outside too long, and on sale. I bought it and nursed it back to life.” Every time I walk by the tree I think of Theresa, her dedication to MPA, her love of math, and the many seeds she planted over her teaching career, touching the hearts and minds of so many.

This week and last, MPA has been observing our annual celebration of reading, the MPA Book Festival. This year’s theme is centered on and coincides with Earth Day, which was celebrated on April 22. Students in all divisions were each given a beautiful bookmark and a packet of seeds with the quote, “All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.” A hallmark MPA tradition, the Book Festival began 21 years ago, in 2000 by the Parents Association under the leadership of Elaine Johnson and Karla Myers. Like the library at the center of our school, reading is at the heart of a MPA education.

There are many special activities occurring this week. For instance, in Lower School, our librarians read the book, “We are Water Protectors” by Carole Lindstrom and the students all took the Water Protectors Pledge. This pledge went home with students so families could work together to be stewards of the Earth. Students are currently working on an illustration which will be hung up in Lower School promoting taking care of our Earth. Upper School Student Council organized a casual Earth Day activity in the Benz Courtyard for their peers. It involved painting plant pots filled with succulent plants, and also painting rocks with messages of peace and love for our planet. Council members set up tables in the courtyard and played music.

The annual Book Festival provides our MPA community with opportunities to participate in reading activities, purchase great books, and support our local booksellers. The MPA Library will use the donations from the booksellers to purchase books for teachers, for the classrooms, and the Library. Books are available for purchase from two local independent booksellers, Usborne Books and Valley Bookseller. Since our event is virtual, you have the ability to purchase any books available through their distributors.

I give credit to co-chairs and Lower School Parents, Michelle Mick and DeeDee Clendenning, for choosing such a brilliant theme—reading and gardening have much in common. For me, libraries are like wonderous gardens, filled with countless varieties of flowers. In this garden, books are the flowers and seeds are the ideas that over time, grow and give life. From childhood, books have fed my mind, sparked my curiosity, and nourished my soul. Reading has planted seeds that have taken root and grown, forming me into the person I am.

In an age of instant gratification, live streaming entertainment, and overnight delivery, gardening, like reading, takes time and patience, and teaches us to slow down. Seeds need to be cared for and nurtured, like the experiences, perspectives, ideas, and knowledge that stem from reading. If properly cultivated, its blooms are transformational.

Please join me in celebrating Book Festival 2021. May the seeds of knowledge we plant today bloom innovators, scientists, doctors, artists, peacemakers, and leaders we desperately need.

What “Dream Big. Do Right.” Is All About

middle schools students in Spanish classby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Ask my kids or my husband. Ask a member of the administrative team. Any of them will say I am wrong a lot. That probably does not inspire great confidence in your head of school. However, if you ask Adam Grant, author and professor of Psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, it’s a good thing. According to Grant, keeping an open mind means reexamining our ideas and beliefs. For him, the purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs, it’s to evolve our beliefs.

These days continue to be difficult for many people. I keep asking myself when it will be that we can just “teach” and not feel the weight of social unrest, racial inequality, mass shootings, police shootings, political discord, and the pandemic. The truth is probably never, and I don’t think that is being pessimistic. Throughout history, educators have been called upon to walk with their students, helping them make sense of the world. As a school that teaches the whole-child, we cannot shut the doors and ignore the outside world or limit learning to only what happens in the classroom. Read More

The MPA Spring Auction Is Tomorrow!

Spring Auction time is one of our favorites every year! We feel the excitement every day, from gathering donations from those within our very own community who want to share their time and talents, to the local businesses that have partnered with us for many years, to all of our new donors– the energy is palpable. With more than 200 items to bid on and a special Fund-A-Need, we are excited for you to participate in whatever way is right for you. You won’t want to miss out!  Because this is a virtual event, when you join our live Zoom program Friday evening at 6:30 PM, be ready for our very own MPA student co-emcees, some amazing guest speakers, and live performances that are sure to impress. This event is open to all whether near or far, so be sure to share an invite for this once-a-year fundraiser within your network of family and friends! The more the merrier as we build community to fund important needs for our students, faculty and staff, and incredible school. We can’t do what we are able to without your unbelievable support and the love we share for MPA.

Thank you,
The MPA Development Team

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

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