Welcoming Back Smiling Faces

In Story
From Jennifer Rogers, Director of Development and Community Engagement

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.

If you’re like me, over the past few weeks, you may have been reflecting on how different our spring breaks were two years ago compared to this year. Two years ago, my two kiddos and I were enjoying a memorable trip to New York City, gearing up to take in Broadway shows and the many sites. Halfway through the trip, major sports teams, businesses, public spaces, and what felt like the entire country began to shut down due to this new virus that was sweeping across the world. One day we were walking through the bustling Times Square, and the next day I was worried about our ability to get a flight back home.

Two years in, so many things in our lives continue to be different, but I am so happy to see many areas returning to our new normal. Seeing many of your students’ smiling faces as we made the move to masks being optional, having parents back in our hallways, and being together to build community have been wonderful steps forward. Read More

Understanding MPA Athletics

Danfrom Dan Haase, Athletic Director

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 innerworkings of your school.

At Mounds Park Academy, we believe athletics compliments the total academic experience and development of the student. Students learn a great deal from their participation in interscholastic athletics. Concepts such as teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership, self-confidence, self-esteem, and developing a healthy body are all vital components of our Upper School athletic programs.

Athletics at MPA strive to provide an opportunity to all students to discover their interests, improve their skills, and have fun enjoying the activity with their friends. To accomplish this, MPA practices a no-cut policy in all athletic programs. A no-cut athletic policy allows inclusion to all interested students who would like to become a member of a team. Teams are established based on the interests and registrations of each of our programs.

MPA is proud to offer 23 Upper School athletic offerings for students in grades 9-12 and is a member of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL). The MSHSL provides uniform and equitable rules for students in extracurricular activities, and they promote, manage, and administer athletic programs for students at members schools on a Subsection, Section and State level.

MPA is also a member of the Independent Metro Athletic Conference (IMAC). The IMAC consists of six mission-driven independent college preparatory schools. The IMAC conference was formed in 2014 based upon an agreement with the Blake School, Breck School, Minnehaha Academy, Providence Academy, and St. Paul Academy. The conference was formed in the interest of keeping an appropriate perspective on the role of athletics in secondary education. Read More

Cultivating Scientists For The World

Head's Message from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

While walking the indoor track in the Lansing Sports Center last Friday, I took note of a large wooden structure assembled on Court Four. I had a hunch that it was a model constructed by our students on the FIRST Robotics team. If you are not familiar with FIRST Robotics, it is an international organization that combines “the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology.” I’ve been to several competitions, and I have to agree. According to FIRST Robotics, “teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team ‘brand,’ hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors. It’s as close to real-world engineering as a student can get.”

FIRST Robotics is a terrific example of inquiry and problem-based activities that align with our MPA science philosophy of fostering creative, inquisitive, and critical thinkers. The science department is firmly rooted in the idea of the “citizen scientist,” a term that encompasses scientific research, concepts, and principles and public engagement in order to expand the reach, relevance, and impact of science to the whole of society in service of the common good. It is true that a number of MPA graduates go on to become doctors and scientists. It is also true that when they chose other fields of studies or careers, MPA graduates carry with them the knowledge and experience of how science impacts our world.

What is unique about the MPA science philosophy and curriculum is the emphasis on engaging students in the application of scientific method, principles, and research to real-world problems and nurturing important competencies and skills. Taking an inquiry-based approach, students working individually or collaboratively come to understand how content is useful and can be applied to everyday problems, both large and small. The following are only a few examples of our distinctive approach in action. Read More

Take An MPA Art Crawl

Lower School Art Tourfrom Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

I am thrilled to see parents in the halls of MPA once more—we’ve missed you! With Omicron infections on a downward trend and our high vaccination rates, we have been able to open the school once again for parents. On my way back to my office after morning door duty on Monday, I happened upon three parents who had been enjoying time walking through the halls. In particular, they mentioned to me how impressed they were with the beautiful art our students have created that is on display throughout the building. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t stop to admire and enjoy it as it is one of the things I love most about MPA.

I was recently reading through the open-ended responses from the parent satisfaction survey administered in December and one comment caught my attention. In it, a parent questioned the requirement of art and theater in Middle School. I certainly respect the perspective of parents and realize that every child will not always enjoy the arts. I also know the importance of the arts in our mission and the long-lasting impact it has on students. An incredible amount of research has been conducted over the last decade on how music positively affects the brain and cognitive development.

For instance, one study found, “Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts education can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork.” Another study by a 15-year literature review done by the NEA found, “A growing body of evidence suggests that at virtually every stage of life, the arts can foster openness to novelty, encourage connections to people, places, things, and concepts, and promote the ability to take multiple perspectives, among other positive outcomes.” Read More

Maintaining Vigilance

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

“This is going to be bad. Really bad,” I said to myself as I listened to a podcast on my drive home from school late one night two years ago. It was in early January that a colleague of mine who works with international students first told me about an outbreak of new flu virus occurring in China, but the details were sketchy. I was desperate to learn more and somehow came across a podcast that went into great detail about the seriousness of the new strain—and I was deeply concerned. And scared, if I am honest. There was a lot I did not know two years ago but I knew the strength of our community.

It is hard to believe it has now been two years and yet it seems like just yesterday. I could only imagine then the implications of the pandemic and its effect on all our lives. It has taken an academic, social, and emotional toll on our community and yet we have persevered and deepened our resiliency. I am proud of our students and grateful for the trust and partnership of parents. Read More

The Future Of Education

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

As I walked to my post at the front entrance of the school Tuesday morning, the sound of jazz being played on the piano drew me into the band room where I happened upon the zero-hour jazz band class. The exceptional talent of the students and the beauty of the music they were creating together was a moment of pure joy for me as well as a moment of gratitude to work in a school that truly values music education.

Without denigrating the mastery of musical skill and ability, many of the students were unaware of other learning was taking place in the band room. While I am most certainly not a musician, I do know that that the unique interplay of harmony, rhythmic invention, scale, extended chords, and syncopation all speak to the complexity of jazz. In addition to musical ability, jazz also requires and fosters a number of valuable lifelong skills, including creativity, improvisation, collaboration, interdependency, problem-solving, risk-taking, humility, ideation, integrating and synthesizing information quickly, critical thinking, and navigating complexity.

For several years I taught a master’s level class at the University of St. Thomas on the foundations of American education. As a history buff, I loved studying the evolution of education in the United States and the various reforms instituted over the years. Rather than static, the idea of school has always been in continual state of change. Educational reform has been the norm for education in response to the needs of students and society. However, our current system, created in response to the industrial revolution, is much the same as it was in the early 1900s.

I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the future of education, particularly now as we begin to emerge from the pandemic and begin the shift from the information age to what author Daniel Pink calls the conceptual age. While the industrial age focused on results and the information age focused on data, facts, and technology, the conceptual age will depend on high touch skills like empathy and high concept skills such as the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, combining different or unconnected ideas together. With information readily accessible and computers able to analyze it, our future depends on the ability to harness curiosity and creativity to create novel solutions to pressing challenges in our world. As educational reformer John Dewey said, “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

I have long championed the unique approach to learning at MPA, our distinct way of bringing together hands-on experiential learning with developing the whole child. Reflected in our motto “Dream Big. Do Right.” we understand that education has the potential to be transformative, not simply transactional. Transactional learning is centered in the curriculum, textbooks, and testing. Transformative learning is more than delivering information. It is creating opportunities for students to be the architects of their own learning and fostering skills like empathy, critical thinking, and creativity and applying them to solve complex problems.

Transformative learning requires the educational system to change. It requires not only what we teach to change but also how we teach. It calls for a move away from seat time and credits, traditional grades and assessments, and distinct classrooms and discrete subjects. Rigor that is most often defined as more work that is harder is redefined as meaningful and that matters. Curriculum and content are important and so are the competencies and skills acquired through collaborative and project-based learning.

The World Economic Forum identified the top ten skills within four overarching competencies of problem-solving, self-management, working with people, and technology use and development.

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Complex problem solving
  4. Critical thinking and analysis
  5. Creativity, originality, and initiative
  6. Leadership and social influence
  7. Technology is, monitoring, and control
  8. Resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility
  9. Reasoning, problem-solving, and ideation

The future of education is not the same thing as preparing students for jobs in the future. And yet I believe that skills like those identified by the World Economic Forum can also bring purpose and meaning. The interdependency of self and others and the re-centering of our humanity gives me great hope.

The first priority of 2024ward, our new strategic plan, is to empower students to live, learn, and thrive in our increasingly complex and globalized society. What does it mean to “live?” For noted psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it is “to live in fullness, without waste of time and potential, expressing one’s uniqueness, yet participating intimately in the complexity of the cosmos.” In this sense, living, learning, and thriving is not only at the heart of the future of education or of jobs but of life itself.

Please join me in the conversation here!

  • What is your example of transformational learning from your school experience?
  • What do you think is the future of education?
  • What are the most important skills and attributes will be needed in the future?
  • What can schools be doing to prepare our students for the world ahead of them?

Strengthening Our Sustainability

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

This is the fourth of a four-part series of Head’s Messages that dives deep into MPA’s new strategic plan, 2024ward. Today we will outline this priority: Enhance institutional capacity by continuing to strengthen financial sustainability. The first article may be found here. The second article may be found here. The third article may be found here. An overview of 2024ward may be found here.

Whenever I am back “home” in Lansing, Michigan, I always take time to drive by my childhood home. When we moved in, it was the first house in a new suburb created from what was previously open fields of a dairy farm. I vividly remember planting several saplings with my dad and impatiently asking him when they would grow to become shade trees to protect my bedroom window from the glaring summer sun. Almost 50 years later, I marvel at their size and find joy knowing they provide shade and comfort to the current family that occupies the house.

In much the same way, our founding families made decisions and took certain actions that benefit our students today. The most obvious example is the generosity of donors over the years that have contributed to our endowment, which stands at $7,104,004 million. While relatively modest for a school our size, the draw on the endowment helps to directly fund programs and services for current students. Read More

A Culture Of Respect, Equity, And Belonging

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

This is the third of a four-part series of Head’s Messages that dives deep into MPA’s new strategic plan, 2024ward. Today we will outline this priority: Ensure an equitable and inclusive community. The second article may be found here. An overview of 2024ward may be found here.

It is not by accident that my article this week highlights the second priority of our new strategic plan. “The time is right to do what is right,” said Martin Luther King Jr. in a speech at Oberlin College on October 22, 1964. In the midst of a particularly violent year and in anticipation of the election, Dr. King noted that while behavior cannot be legislated, it is none the less crucial to protect dignity and lives of African Americans. Fifty-seven years later, our society continues to grapple with not just individual acts of racism but institutional and structural racism that deprives Black, Indigenous, and people of color from realizing the fullness of their humanity.

Since the founding of MPA in 1982, our school has been committed to embracing diversity, seeking equity, and continually striving to be profoundly inclusive. It has been a national leader among independent schools, well ahead of its time, in areas such as sexual orientation and gender identity. As a community, we have focused on fostering a safe and inclusive space for all, aspiring to be cognizant of gender identity and equality, religious understanding, socio-economic diversity, multicultural awareness, and racial diversity of students and staff. Equity, justice, and inclusion are embedded in our mission statement and are key in preparing our students to learn, live, and thrive in an increasingly diverse world.

While I am proud of our historical commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at MPA, I also acknowledge the pain and trauma some of our students of color endured at MPA over the last forty years and continue to experience now. To say that MPA is a safe, inclusive community is authentic and it is also inspirational and aspirational. We are in the middle of great societal change and along with change comes periods of uncertainty, disruption, and discomfort. Nonetheless, we as a community must re-commit ourselves to actions and values that demonstrate a culture of respect, equity, and belonging.

In the fall of 2020, I formed an Antiracism Action Group to engage the MPA community in reflection, advocacy, and action to dismantle racism in our school and in the larger community. Composed of students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, and trustees, the Antiracism Action Group met throughout the year and recommended a series of concrete steps to be taken to address institutional and individual bias and racism in our school. The recommendations were accepted by the Board of Trustees last year and serve as the foundation of this pillar of our strategic plan.

The work of implementing this priority is the responsibility of all members of our community. 2024ward calls for a balance of both immediate, short-term actions with longer-term strategies. To drive this important work and to hold us all accountable, the MPA Board of Trustees established a board level Equity and Belonging committee. The Equity and Belonging Committee will engage the larger MPA community to create a multi-year comprehensive action plan with quantitative metrics. Goals include expanding diversity throughout the MPA community including in our leadership, governance, faculty, staff, and student body and enhancing the capacity of faculty and staff to address instances of individual and institutional racism.

Work has already begun in several areas. For instance, the administration has been reviewing and improving our hiring process so that we are better able to attract high quality teachers and staff of color. Planning is currently underway for a comprehensive curriculum review to take place next year that includes ensuring that both content and delivery are centered on equity. In a new initiative this year, all employees are meeting monthly in small groups to build belonging, foster trust, and cultivate empathy so that authentic, meaningful, and ongoing diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice work can be done to strengthen the MPA culture and community.

Mother Teresa once said that, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” As one independent school trustee said, “I’m talking about the kind of ‘when you feel pain, I hurt; when you feel joy, I smile’ belonging, going beyond the ‘let’s ensure that everybody participates in the trip to Italy’ kind of belonging that society might be more apt to take on within schools. It’s a “if I hurt you, I hurt everyone, including myself” kind of belonging. The work of diversity, equity, and belonging at MPA is a recognition that all of our fates are intertwined, and we can never be whole if we are unable to see and honor the humanity of others.

Great Schools Depend On Great Teachers & Staff

from Bill Hudson, Head of School

This is the second of a four-part series of Head’s Messages that dives deep into MPA’s new strategic plan, 2024ward. Today we will outline this priority: Affirm and inspire our exceptional and dedicated faculty and staff through competitive compensation. The first article may be found here. An overview of 2024ward may be found here.

“It’s like baking a lasagna and baking a cake at the same time in the same kitchen, but you can only use one bowl,” responded one teacher when asked in a national survey to describe what teaching has been like during the pandemic. Teachers have demonstrated and modeled incredible resiliency as they pivoted to remote learning, to hybrid learning, and back to in person learning (and back to remote, unfortunately) along with a number of health and safety measures layered upon what typically happens in a classroom. Together with those in the medical field, public health, and first responders, teachers have been real heroes over the last two years.

Nowhere was this more evident to me than observing master teacher Mari Espeland one day in the fall of 2020. Mari was teaching music to two first grade classrooms simultaneously, one via Zoom, without singing. I marveled at the ease in which she transitioned between three distinct learning activities within 30 minutes. However, as a teacher myself, I know that what appeared to be effortless required a great deal of planning, a deep knowledge of music education, a thorough understanding the developmental needs of young learners, and many years of experience. Despite the limitations brought on by the pandemic, the students in Mari’s class were engaged, joyful, and learning about rhythm. Read More

Innovating Our Future

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Happy new year! I hope that you and your family had an enjoyable break, spending quality time with friends and loved ones.

It was journalist and author William Vaughan who said, “An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” I suppose I am neither as I was in bed by 10:30 PM on New Year’s Eve. However, I do consider myself an optimist and while as a family we experienced tremendous loss in 2021, I do recognize the many good things that happened. As head of school of Mounds Park Academy, I am grateful that we were safely in-person and on campus for the majority of the year. The dedication and hard work of our amazing faculty and staff, a strong partnership with parents, and the resiliency of our students are certainly to be celebrated.

A new year brings new beginnings. A new year holds promise and opportunity. As a school, we begin the year with a new strategic plan, 2024ward. The new plan builds upon our former plan, Momentum 2020, and captures the energy to embrace the future with opportunity and enthusiasm. Strategic planning is one of the most important responsibilities of the MPA Board of Trustees.

Planning began in early 2019 by a constituent represented task force commissioned by the Board but was halted by the pandemic in the spring of 2020. Instead, the focus of the Board of Trustees and administration shifted from long-range strategic planning to the development a comprehensive scenario analysis and effort to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Given the demand on the school’s fiscal and human resources necessary to successfully navigate the ongoing pandemic, the board and head of school agreed to embark on an alternative, abbreviated approach. Read More