It’s In Our DNA

middle school girls working together in classby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Last week, a new lunch group was launched in the Middle School. Seventh and eighth grade girls were invited to participate in a “Girl Power Friendship Group” over the course of eight weeks. During lunch, Middle School girls are coming together to learn about how to navigate difficult emotions, confidently communicate with others, and build strong friendships. The new group, under the guidance of Ashley Cooper, Middle and Upper School counselor, and Aria Fiat, Ph.D. candidate from the University of Minnesota, is a proactive way to address the social, emotional, and mental health challenges that appear developmentally in adolescent girls.

Just last week in my head’s message, I reiterated a vision of MPA that reframes the understanding of “whole-child for whole-life.” Such an education is collaborative, experiential, and interdisciplinary, which values the assessments of broader aims—those skills, dispositions, and mindsets most necessary to live, learn, and thrive in today’s 21st century globalized society. A crucial aspect of which is the social, emotional, and mental health of our students. Read More

A Sense Of Direction For MPA

Graphic with globe, heart, pennant

by Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” ― Yogi Berra

Last week I wrote about new year’s resolutions and the basic human drive for continuous improvement and growth. Having a goal in mind and a sense of direction helps us make small decisions and choices along the way to accomplish what we have set forward. As Alice found out from the Cheshire Cat, without an end in mind any road will suffice. Equally as profound, Yogi Berra reminds us that without an idea of where we are going, we will end up someplace else.

As we mark the mid-way point of the school year, it has been my custom to provide an update on Momentum 2020, our school’s long-range strategic plan. Approved by the Board of Trustees in January of 2015, Momentum 2020 is the result of nearly a year of research, conversation, visioning, and strategic thinking that involved hundreds of students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents of alumni. Together, we’ve made incredible progress over the past four years.

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Realizing Our Resolutions

by Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Happy new year! I hope you enjoyed a wonderful winter break spending time with family and loved ones. I appreciated a few days off plus several days of quiet, uninterrupted time in the office. The building can be eerily quiet when school is not in session and I miss the time with students and the laughter and smiles in the hallways.  

I watched a lot of football over the break and was inundated with commercials promoting weight loss programs and fitness centers, all capitalizing on the new year and the resolutions many make. I made my own resolution to run more, after spending the last year recovering from a serious injury. It also wouldn’t hurt for me to lose a few pounds or so! A quick poll taken of our students today resulted in the following resolutions:

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The Relationship Between Movement And The Brain

Middle school students at recess

by Renee Wright, Lower School Director

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

“It is time to warm up our bodies and brains and get ready for a new week of learning.” These words are spoken every Monday morning at the start of the Lower School Meeting, right before students and teachers participate in the “BrainDance.” Developed by Anne Green Gilbert, an educator and author who founded the Creative Dance Center in Seattle, the BrainDance is a series of exercises and developmental movement patterns that prepare students for learning, promote appropriate behaviors, and develop social skills. This is just one way that MPA teachers promote movement to enhance learning.

What does research tell us about the relationship between movement and the brain? Prior to 1995, researchers believed that the health benefits of exercise were limited to the body. Recent research has shown, however, that regular physical activity and movement benefit more than just the body—they actually augment brain function. Movement supplies brain cells with oxygen, promotes the production of new brain cells, and aids in creating new synapses. In experiments at the University of Illinois, rats that exercised had a greater number of neuron connections than non-exercising rats (Greenough & Anderson, 1991). Movement triggers the release of a brain-derived neurotrophic factor known as BDNF (Kesslak, Patrick, So, Cotman, & Gomez-Pinilla, 1998). This natural substance enhances cognition by boosting a neuron’s ability to communicate with other neurons. Movement also increases energy, reduces stress, and calms the mind and body. Research shows that exercise may stimulate the production of brain chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine, which energize and elevate mood (Chaouloff, 1989). In addition, studies link movement to better memory and reduced likelihood of depression (Kempermann, 2002). Other research studies reveal that exercise improves classroom behavior, academic performance, and social skills (Dwyer, Sallis, Blizzard, Lazarus, & Dean, 2001). As a result of multiple research studies, schools now understand that students learn better, behave better, and are socially more successful when they have physical activity and movement breaks throughout the school day.

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Curiosity Continued

upper school science labby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

I have often heard that people like to read my weekly messages. That is always welcome news as it can be time consuming and sometimes stressful in the midst of my other duties and demands on my time. However, I truly enjoy the opportunity to reflect on a particular topic relevant to education or taking place in the world and connect it with what is happening at MPA. At times, I am struck by something that happens in a classroom or event that gives rise to a deep appreciation for our exceptional teachers and the unique educational experience provided at MPA.

It is particularly rewarding when something I write resonates with the community. My message two weeks ago, “Cultivating A Curious Mindset,” did just that. Since then, I have had a number of conversations with parents who connected what I wrote with their experiences in the workplace. In a moment of serendipity, Dr. Mike Mercer, Lower School parent of Henry and Charlie, shared that on the day I wrote about curiosity, he covered the same topic with his medical students. He shared with me a very powerful article entitled “Curiosity” written a number of years ago by Faith T. Fitzgerald, M.D. from the UC Davis Medical Center. Read More

Spanning Geographical And Experiential Divides

Us history classroomby Mark Segal, Upper School Director

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

Hidden in a corner near the Hart Commons is a classroom that few who are not part of the Upper School are aware of. The location of the room was intentionally selected as it is quiet, out of the way, and allows for small group collaboration for the students who use it as their classroom. Together, students in the room are studying many things including:

  • Architecture from the ancient Egyptians into the 21st century through the philosophic idea that western civilizations have been the primary “drivers of architecture through the ages;”
  • Modern Standard Arabic where they are learning to read and write the Arabic alphabet and developing a proficiency in the language; and
  • The ethics of making decisions by focusing on medical practice, medical research and development, and health care case studies.

The aforementioned students are enrolled in interactive, synchronous courses though the Malone Schools Online Network (MSON) that bring students together with dedicated high school or college faculty from across the United States. Five years ago, Mounds Park Academy joined this wonderful collaborative of independent schools, which offers their students the opportunity to take a variety of courses beyond what normally would be available to them through the most up-to-date video conferencing technology. Building Utopia, Arabic II, and Medical Bioethics are just a few of the more than 30 courses offered through MSON. Read More

Cultivating A Curious Mindset

Lower school French class making maps of France for geography unitby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

I recently came across an article 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. It makes sense because so many schools are driven by standardized testing and measure performance solely on test-based standards. Rest assured that is not the case at MPA, and in fact, is quite the opposite.

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

Witness The Impact

by Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

If you have logged into Facebook or checked your email today, you are well aware that today is Give to the Max Day. Across the state of Minnesota, this day is a celebration of the power of philanthropy to change lives. For MPA, today marks a celebration of our generous donors who are so very dedicated to our students and who believe in making an impact on our school community.

The mission of Mounds Park Academy is vibrant and powerful, delivered by talented and caring teachers, and is having a tremendous impact on the lives of our students each day. Impact means to have a strong effect on someone or something. You share in that impact by the value you place on learning, the investment you are making in the education of your children, and your commitment and support of Mounds Park Academy. Read More

We Dared To Dream

preK student in the makerspaceby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

The chair of our recent ISACS accreditation visiting team asked a founding faculty member a simple question: “Is the Mounds Park that exists today the school you envisioned all those years ago during its formation?”

“In many ways it is,” she answered, “But in many more ways, it exceeds what we dared to dream back then.” That single statement represents the hoped-for outcome of the last 18-month process and is at the heart of the report the visiting team wrote. As Head of School, and as a parent, I was overjoyed.

Mounds Park Academy is a proud member of the Independent Schools Association of Central States (ISACS). The purpose of ISACS is to promote the development of strong learning communities characterized by high achievements, social responsibility, and independence of governance, programs, and policies. This goal is achieved through a rigorous accreditation process, targeted professional development programs, and focused support services. In preparation for re-accreditation, we’ve spent the last 18 months reflecting on our mission and program and writing a very comprehensive, 147-page self-study report. Read More

Learning From Assessment

middle school group in classby Jenn Milam, Ph.D., Middle School Director

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

As we approach the ACT Aspire testing in the Middle School, I am reminded that even just the word “assessment” or “test” can bring on feelings of stress, anxiety, or dread. And certainly, there are few conversations that garner more opinions or positions than that of assessment and testing in education. I wanted to take a moment to share with you what I hope is a more robust and thoughtful rendering of assessment and its implications for learning and teaching. More, I want to share with you, fellow parents, some thoughts on how you can be supportive of your students as they move through their educational journey with assessment. Read More