MPA’s Enduring Spirit

 

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Over the long weekend, my family undertook the colossal challenge of cleaning out the storage room in the basement. While I wouldn’t classify myself as a hoarder, I must admit that I have a tendency to save a lot of seemingly useless things. A quick search on Google led me to the following definition: “people with a hoarding disorder have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions due to a perceived need to save items.” To be sure, there was a fair share of junk but there were also some treasures that made me feel vindicated.

In one bin, I found a stack of birthday greetings from fourth graders in Ms. Stacy’s class from 2014 in which the students shared what they liked about MPA. What made this find special was that they were written by this year’s graduating class. Here are a few examples:

  • “What I like most about MPA is the great lunch variety. I also like that next year when I am in fifth grade I get to stop by at the official salad bar! (I’m kidding but it would be nice.) Anyway, I like how I can make choices on which classes I take when I am older, how we have drama and all those other classes that most people don’t get to take, and once again, a great lunch.”
  • “My parents send me to this school because it’s a really good school and you make a lot of nice friends and this was the school for me.”
  • “I like MPA because I get to have learning opportunities that other schools don’t have like the Book Fair.”
  • “I like MPA because all my great friends are here and the fun teachers. MPA is a great school because everyone is open minded and have great personality (especially the teachers).”
  • “One of the reasons Mounds Park is important to me is that the teachers are really nice.”
  • “I think MPA is a great school because of all the kids. I just love how they all include each other and play with each other and are really friendly.”
  • “I like the risks the school takes to make me happy. I think the new things help us learn, and if not, then they can just stop doing it. I also like the more open-ended responsibilities that the school lets me take control of on my own.”
  • “There are a lot of different things that Mounds Park Academy has in store, from great and positive students to awesome fun loving teachers who know how to teach so that the lessons can be fun. MPA also has great class sizes so it is easier to get one on one attention.”

Reading their letters caused me to pause and consider all that has happened over the course of their career at MPA. Our world, our society, and our school community has experienced significant change in many ways since they were in fourth grade. It was the philosopher Heraclitus who said that the only constant in life is change. Without change, there is stagnation, a lack of growth, and no progress. While some people prefer the predictability of the status quo, such stagnation limits the full potential of an individual or institution.

While we’ve had our share of challenges and change this year, what has stayed constant is the spirit of MPA as reflected in the letters of the seniors as fourth graders. The mission and values of MPA have provided the certainty and the inspiration for growth. As I look back over this school year, I delight in the growth of our students, in their resiliency, in their excitement for learning, in their accomplishments, and in their joyfulness.

As the school year draws to a close, I want to thank you for entrusting your children to MPA. I also want to thank you for investing your expertise, volunteering your time, and contributing your financial resources to the school. I am continually in awe of the generosity of the MPA community and grateful for the positive relationship and partnership between parents/guardians and the school. It is hard to let go of our seniors and other students and families who are moving on. However, I am grateful for their impact and contributions to our school community.

As all of us part ways for a few months, I extend my warm wishes for a restful and relaxing summer. I hope you will enjoy time with family and loved ones and look forward to coming together again in August.


Providing A Safe And Secure Space

from Lamar Shingles, Director of Equity and Belonging

One Thursday per month you will see a guest Head’s Message from a member of the Institutional Advancement Team. We hope these additional perspectives will help you catch a glimpse inside the inner-workings of your school.

As the sun begins to set on my first year at MPA, I have become increasingly reflective of my experience over the past 10 months—a cerebral space where many educators find themselves to be on the eve of commencement and summer break. What can I say, introspection is my jam! I have learned so much about education that I didn’t already know and engaged with amazing people across this community. What has really stood out for me and made a profound impact on my experience thus far is the time I’ve spent with students in the Middle and Upper School BIPOC affinity groups.

When I think back on my own experience as one of only a few black students in my class, every day was a reminder that I was different from my peers. I recall my mom’s reaction when I begged her to let me bleach my hair blonde. I remember the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach when racial epithets were read aloud in class text—the bewildered eyes that descended upon me throughout the classroom as my peers searched for my response. Mostly, I remember an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. As a child, I didn’t have the terminology, adolescent social development models, or supportive resources to help define how I felt—but knew, I just wanted to fit in.

So what are affinity groups?

In a recent conversation with two of our Lower School teachers, Ms. Santiago and Mr. Moore, I thought they summed it up very well:

“Affinity groups provide a safe and secure space for students to explore and develop their sense of identity in a facilitated environment where they do not feel isolated, but connected. This enables them to grow into strong advocates for themselves and others”.

Affinity groups provide an opportunity for students to speak from the “I” perspective, at a critical time when they are formulating who they are among their peers and the broader community. These spaces can serve as a powerful mechanism for self and group affirmation by reducing feelings of isolation and discomfort that many students face—and instead, encourages students to be confident and proud of who they are.

At MPA, there are currently three BIPOC affinity groups—fifth and sixth, seventh and eighth, and Upper School—that were established in 2021 out of a request from students of color who wanted a safe space to gather and reflect on their experiences, without feelings of marginalization. More than 30 students have consistently attended facilitated group meetings and engaged in dialogue across a broad range of topics throughout the year.

It has been a privilege to see firsthand how affinity space can positively influence the sense of belonging for students at MPA, while also demonstrating the value of our commitment to becoming more inclusive as a community. Looking back on my own journey, I can’t help but to wonder, what may have been different if I had the benefit of a safe space that celebrated the most authentic version of me? Looking ahead, I am incredibly optimistic that we will continue to create opportunities that ensure all are students will never have to ask that question.


Honoring All Who Make MPA Great

from Bill Hudson, Head of School

Great schools depend on great teachers and staff. I am reminded of that each day as I travel from my morning post in Lower School to my office in Upper School. It’s the informal conversations, not necessarily the perfect lessons, that most often illustrate that for me. It’s the quick reminders, the high fives, the quiet conversations. What I have learned from my past experience is that one can become a better teacher or staff member, but someone needs to have the heart of an educator first and foremost. MPA has been fortunate to have a strong school culture built and fostered by faculty and staff who not only have the heart, but they are also masters of their craft. They are all committed to continuous improvement and lifelong learning.

As a community, it is our privilege and responsibility to honor the people who make our school great. And next week, we have the opportunity to not only honor faculty and staff who are retiring dating back to the 2019-2020 school year, but the larger community as well. MPA would not exist without the vision of the founding families and generosity of time and resources of so many through the years who have built our incredible community and beautiful campus. This year we are celebrating 40 years of MPA—40 years of faculty, staff, alumni, parents of alumni, grandparents, trustees, and friends coming together to demonstrate their love for and commitment to the MPA way. Read More


A Match To Be Made

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

I don’t think I ever fully realized the value of college counseling until I came to MPA. I was the first in my family and extended family to go to college. We didn’t have a college counseling office or program when I was in high school, and for the most part, we were left on our own. Although I had a wonderful undergraduate experience, the only reason I initially applied was that there was no application fee or essay required. My worldview was pretty narrow, and my college search did not extend beyond the borders of Michigan. Even the two high schools I worked in did not have such a thoughtful, comprehensive, and personalized college counseling process as we are fortunate to have at MPA.

May is one of my favorite times at MPA because of the many joyful celebrations and events. One in particular, College Choice Day, was celebrated last Wednesday and is on my top 10 list. Sporting their chosen college apparel, seniors gather in and around the College Counseling Office to create their college pennants and feast on cake and punch. The pennants and senior pictures hang in both Upper and Lower Schools. It is enjoyable to see our younger students look for their Upper School buddies and try to find the locations of all of the different colleges and universities on the map.

Fifty-one seniors will be attending 38 different colleges and universities in 19 states and Washington, D.C. They have chosen large research universities, public and private institutions, small liberal arts colleges, Ivies, art schools, and women’s colleges. Students will be attending schools in urban and rural locations that are across town, in-state, and across the country. One student is taking a gap year, and another plans to attend a trade school. Read More


Cultivating MPA’s Vision

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

For me, one of the best parts of spring is seeing the land come to life with plants poking out of the ground and flowers beginning to bloom. A stroll through our Lower School garden this morning filled me with anticipation as I imagined the awe and joy our younger students will soon experience as the garden comes to life. With a vision and a great deal of hard work, Michelle Mick, parent of Isaac ‘29 and Freya ‘33, together with a small but committed group of volunteers transformed an unused plot of grass into a magical garden of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. Students across all grade levels care for the garden and in the fall, harvest the vegetables for Chef Chris to use at lunch.

Planting a garden is an expression of hope. It requires patience, knowing it will take years to grow, mature, and bear fruit. In an era of on-demand, instant gratification, gardens requires vision and commitment. In much the same way, ensuring the long-term viability and sustainability of our family, loved one, and causes important to us require decisions today that will pay dividends later.

MPA would not exist without the vision of the founding families and generosity of time and resources of so many through the years who have built our beautiful campus and school community. This year we are celebrating 40 years of MPA, and I am particularly grateful for those families who have supported the school financially through philanthropic giving. I humbly ask you to consider making an estate or planned gift to the school. Like the Lower School garden, your investment now will pay dividends for years to come.
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Belonging At MPA

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

It has been a hectic several weeks for members of the MPA community! We had a wildly successful Spring Auction with more than 250 parents, alumni parents, alumni, grandparents, faculty, and staff gathered at A’Bulae in St. Paul to celebrate MPA and raise much-needed funds for our students. It was a full house, and everyone seemed to have fun and were undoubtedly happy to be together again.

Yesterday, we hosted Grandparents and Special Friends Day with several hundred attending for Lower, Middle, and Upper School students. For some, it was their first time in the school and the first time experiencing a little bit of the magic that happens each day at MPA. In my opening remarks to the grandparents and special friends, I shared research highlighting the importance of grandparents and mentors/role models to young people’s academic, social, and emotional health and well-being.

The importance of a strong sense of community to the growth and well-being of young people cannot be understated even more so as we emerge from the pandemic. Belonging is an essential human need, and we all require and long for caring, genuine, and ongoing connections with others. In a school environment, students deeply desire to be accepted, respected, included, and supported by others in the school social environment.

A recent article in the New York Times caught my attention and presented evidence that all educators and parents feel instinctively. While I have been concerned about student mental health for some time now, and MPA has made it a priority to address, the article powerfully but sadly presented the current reality of our young people in a post-pandemic society.

There is some good news. In many instances, young people are avoiding high risk behaviors. “Young people are more educated; less likely to get pregnant; use drugs; less likely to die of accident or injury,” said Candice Odgers, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine. “By many markers, kids are doing fantastic and thriving. But there are these significant trends in anxiety, depression, and suicide that stop us in our tracks.” For example, emergency room visits for suicide attempts rose 51 percent for adolescent girls in early 2021 compared to the same period in 2019. The figure rose four percent for boys.

This winter, Middle and Upper school students participated in a survey asking them to share their stressors, anxiety, and ways to address their mental health. The results are encouraging. For example, Upper School students overwhelmingly agree that teachers are available to help them, answer their questions, and talk about their concerns. Nearly every student agreed that at least one adult in the school cares deeply about them and their success. Almost 80% of Middle School students agree that their teachers care about them and are there for them when they need help. A vast majority feel like they fit in, belong, and are happy to be at MPA. An even greater majority report feeling safe at school.

The more we as parents know, the better we are at anticipating, recognizing, and helping our children. I was pleased with the participation at last week’s Middle School parent education presentation and conversation on the middle school years. In partnership with Lamar Shingles, director of equity and belonging, our wonderful Parents Association has offered several parent education programs this spring. One is scheduled next Monday to support LGBTQ students.

Addressing MPA students’ social, emotional, and mental health happens each day, in small and big ways, both obvious and less noticeable. As the recent student survey found, the role of teachers and trusted adults at MPA cannot be understated. Programs like CHAMP and advisory in Middle and Upper School interweave social and emotional learning. All new students and students in ninth and eleventh grades participate in annual suicide awareness education and screening. We openly address mental health and resources available to students in ninth-grade health and eleventh-grade wellness classes. Counselors are also a part of our ninth-grade seminar class.

Belonging affects a variety of social, emotional, and academic variables. It nurtures self-esteem and self-confidence, leads to higher academic achievement, fosters resiliency, and helps build positive peer relationships. In an uncertain and rapidly changing world, community and belonging provide an anchor for our young people. We need one another. The Spring Auction and Grandparents and Special Friends Day are evidence of what can be when we join together in partnership.

Recognize The Signs Of Anxiety And Depression

  • Approach with sensitivity: Be direct, but with compassion and understanding.
  • Offer health ways to manage emotions: Exercise, meditation, and journaling.
  • Get the correct diagnosis: Be critical consumers by doing your research and finding the right doctor.
  • Carefully consider medications: Partner with physicians by being well-versed in options available.
  • Don’t forget the basics: Sleep and physical activity are essential.

Source: New York Times


MPA Moments That Matter

from Natalie Waters Seum, director of admission and communication

One Thursday per month you will see a guest Head’s Message from a member of the Institutional Advancement Team. We hope these additional perspectives will help you catch a glimpse inside the inner-workings of your school.

In honor of the conclusion of MPA’s treasured Book Festival, I want to share with you a book I’ve been listening to on my commute. I believe this book should be required reading for everyone in the business of people: “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact,” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, the bestselling authors of “Switch” and “Made to Stick.” Like all great books, it was recommended to me by a trusted friend and colleague as one that directly applies to our work in admission and communication.

The premise is that moments matter—our lives are defined by moments—and through intentionality, some moments can matter much more than others. The opportunity lies in our ability to engineer moments that will have a lasting impact on those we serve. They describe in detail the four elements impactful moments often contain and how to build in these elements: Read More


The Importance Of Reading

Head's Messagefrom Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

I delight in the number of students who come into school in the morning with a book in their hand and a finger holding their place. Clearly, they love reading as much as I do. Reflecting on the great books I’ve read, from Dr. Seuss to Chaucer, I see how reading has changed my life. Through reading, I have plumbed the depths of despair and witnessed the triumph of the human spirit. I’ve lived through momentous battles and traveled the world. Reading has transformed me and made me into the person I am today. While my parents actively encouraged reading, it was in lower school that I learned to love reading, and it was my teachers who introduced me to great books.

The 22nd Annual MPA Book Festival (April 5-17) is a true reflection of our mission as we choose to celebrate reading in such a joyful way. By coming together to celebrate reading, we send a powerful message to our children about its importance. I am very grateful to the MPA Parent Association for sponsoring such a fantastic event. Funds raised from book purchases support the MPA library and directly impact students. Read More


Let’s Dream

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

“I need to start living again,” I said to myself last week after exchanging a series of texts with a good friend that I have seen only once in the previous two years. I immediately texted her again, and we made plans to meet for breakfast over the weekend. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. The last two years of the pandemic have been difficult for a number of reasons, including the lack of opportunities to socialize with and expand our circle of friends. I noticed this at school also. My heart was bursting at the seams during our Lower School Art and Music Show last week, and I realized how much I missed the casual, joyful interaction with parents.

In just a few weeks, on Friday, April 22, we have an opportunity to burst out of our pandemic cocoons for an evening of fun, strengthen friendships, make new friends, and celebrate our school community. While the MPA Spring Auction, “Let’s Dream,” is the only fundraising event of the school year, it is so much more. Whether you are a new or returning family, you will enjoy the laid-back atmosphere held this year in a stunning setting. A’Bulae is a truly unique venue set atop a building in Lowertown St. Paul with sweeping vistas and a rooftop terrace.

“Let’s Dream” is a wonderful celebration that raises over $200,000, directly benefiting our teachers and students. It is a chance for parents, alumni, grandparents, parents of alumni, and employees to celebrate all we’ve accomplished. Our volunteer planning committee, Karen Chan, Rebekah Cook, Sarah Cotter, Lucia Gray, Amy Kotch, Tara Lafferty, Jennifer Macdonald, Amy Minear, Renee Roach, Mindy Ruane, Kelley Still, Leslie Todero, and Lisa Vale, have been hard at work planning a wonderful evening. Hundreds of community members and area businesses have joined together to create our fantastic 170+ item silent auction. There are also a limited number of golden tickets that are still available that provide the opportunity to pick any one of the fabulous live auction items. Read More


Rigor With Purpose

CircuitLabI enjoyed the opportunity last Friday to visit with fifth-graders about their SEEK (Science, Experiments, Explorations, and Knowledge) Projects. A tradition for more than 20 years, Middle School Science Teacher Courtney Nagle describes SEEK as “the scientific method on steroids!”

As I wandered around the Family Commons, I was impressed by the variety of scientific experiments students chose and was struck by their curiosity. In particular, I was delighted with their ability to critique their project, talk about what they would do differently next time, and how what they learned could be applied in other contexts. The SEEK Project is an excellent example of what we at MPA call “rigor with purpose.”

Rigor is different from difficulty. Traditional applications of rigor most often entail more and harder assignments that are “pushed down” from the teacher and “piled on” to the student. In reality, such an understanding of rigor requires little more than lower-level thinking skills such as factual recall and procedural regurgitation rather than greater cognitive complexity. At MPA, rigor with purpose is meaningful learning that goes deeper to challenge students’ thinking in new and exciting ways. Read More