Meet The Oliver Family

The Oliver familyThe Oliver Family lives in St. Paul, MN. They joined our community in 2021–Kellen is in third grade and Cameron is in fifth grade.

What do you love about MPA?
We love the community. As a new family, it was important to us to find a school that offered and encouraged a sense of “welcome.” We found this through the enrollment process, when we met “buddies,” met online with several teachers and administrators, and then when school began where (possibly most significantly) we have found that students and teachers say “hello” and smile beneath their masks at drop-off, pick-up, in the halls and on the playground. We have really enjoyed this sense that everyone has a place at MPA and everyone gets seen at MPA.

What initially attracted you to MPA?
In our recent school search brought about by our family’s move from Los Angeles, CA, we were attracted to MPA’s small size and with that, a greater chance for our children to have individualized attention–both academic and emotional. We were inspired by MPA’s commitment to encourage and teach children to be independent thinkers and to honor, respect, and contribute to our diverse community and world. We also appreciate the emphasis on collaboration.

How are your children encouraged to dream big and do right at MPA?
We are new to MPA, so still assessing how the school’s “Dream Big, Do Right” is implemented on a daily or yearly and individual basis. However, already, our young boys have been given choices that guide their learning, from language to music to reading and science projects. This opportunity has encouraged them to take responsibility for their development to some degree and to look inside themselves as well as in their community of students and teachers for answers. We look forward to more of these chances to ask big questions, explore what excites us, and seek new knowledge during our years at MPA.

If your children have attended another school, how has your experience at MPA been different?
Our children have only ever “attended” homeschool. This included weekly tutor groups, where they would meet with about eight other students within two grade levels of theirs and go through some lessons with a volunteer instructor. MPA is different because it is not at home! This is a new challenge for our boys as they are away from the comfort of “home” and outside the reach of help from Mom and Dad. It is their first experience working with peers on a daily basis and being responsible for their materials away from home. The learning is quite similar, interestingly. We had always taken an approach that was about building an understanding of oneself and the world at large, asking questions and finding answers. We have believed in a supportive environment that is about achievement not for achievement’s sake, but for individual growth and preparation to be part of a larger community.

What would you tell another family considering MPA?
I would tell another family that MPA has been a wonderful place for our family to “land” after a cross-country move and 1.5 years in a pandemic. In only two short months, we have been welcomed and both the kids and we, the parents, have learned quite a bit. My favorite thing I have heard thus far is what Jenn Milam shared at the Middle School Orientation–that her job is to provide 1. Safety, 2. Health and 3. Happiness and that 1 and 2 have to be met for 3 to be possible. MPA has held to those goals and more.

In what ways has MPA prepared your child for life in the 21st century? What are the key attributes, skills, and content that you find most valuable?
This is tough to answer after such a short time at MPA, but what comes to mind are two things:

  1. Relationships. MPA seems to focus a lot on classroom and teacher-student and parent-school relationships. These are challenging to navigate in life, but also essential and super rewarding when done well.
  2. Tech – I love that MPA is incorporating tech skills (including boundaries) into the school day. Computers and the internet will likely be around for our children’s lifetimes, so these are vital to their “success.” I appreciate that the tech component is minimal and purposeful.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your MPA experience?
We appreciate everyone working so hard to keep MPA COVID safe and a wonderful place to learn!


Middle School Division News

from Dr. Jenn Milam, Middle School Director

Conferences, Quarter 1, and Partnership

This note marks our progress through the seventh week of school—it’s hard to believe that the weeks are speeding by as they are! We are sharing learnings, successes, and challenges with you via parent conferences, which we hope you find helpful and insightful as you peek into the school-life of your students. Without a doubt, a return to school, routine, high expectations, and full schedules has been an adjustment for all of us—parents, families, teachers, and students alike.

At the end of this news and notes, I will offer some insight into what school leaders and researchers are finding just below the surface of the daily interactions between students and teachers and, in the general milieu of the school days that is reflecting some stress and overwhelm for students and teachers, alike. I will also invite you to attend one of my series of parent coffees where I hope to solidify your partnership with me, the MPA faculty and staff, and your family to help our young people be their healthy, compassionate, and respectful selves in such a way that honors both your family values and those we hold at MPA.

The benefit and advantage of selecting an independent school for your young person’s education is that you choose it based not only on exceptional educational outcomes, but also on shared investments and ways of being in the world. If our young people are going to keep their love for learning, their success in the school setting, a healthy mental-social-academic balance, we will need to all work in partnership. This is my hope for all of them … and for us, as their parents. I hope you’ll join us at a conversation in the coming weeks.

IMPORTANT: COVID Protocols and Symptom Response

Just a reminder that any/all symptoms through our AUXS app and/or via email to covid@moundsparkacademy.org. Please do not email your divisional offices, directors, or teachers of an absence due to symptoms. It is important that all notifications are sent to Jennifer Rogers, our COVID Health and Safety lead, so that you can be supported and informed of possible next steps including, but not limited to, the need to remain home, secure a negative test prior to return, and/or quarantine per CDC guidance.

Parent-Teacher Conferences Continue This Week

• Thursday, October 7, 3:30-8PM
• Friday, October 8, 8AM-4PM (NO CLASSES)

All conferences are being held via ZOOM and each family is offered the opportunity to sign-up for up to five, 10-minute conferences with their student’s teachers. I sent a list of ZOOM links for conferences via email last week, as well as posting on Schoology. If you need assistance, please let us know. Read More


Growing Through Experience

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

On Wednesday, 48 seventh graders excitedly boarded buses for a day at the Minnesota Zoo. From the outside it might look like a typical field trip, but in true MPA fashion, it is a thoughtfully crafted lesson that intentionally weaves together science, student agency, experiential learning, critical thinking, creativity, design thinking, and a dose of joy. There is a lot to unpack in that description, but I’d like to focus on just one aspect, experiential learning.

You have no doubt heard the term, “hands-on, experiential learning” sometime during your time at MPA. We use it often but have rarely explained it and its importance to learning. The concept first appeared in “Nicomachean Ethics” written in 350 BC by Aristotle, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Modern educational theorists such as John Dewey wrote about the importance of learning by doing, but it is David Kolb who developed an experiential learning theory and model. It was upon this body of knowledge that MPA developed our founding pedagogy in 1982.

Kolb defined experiential learning as “The process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” Experiential learning recognizes that students come to school with past experience and knowledge and that the school’s job is to provide a rich learning environment that engages the students at their individual levels. Examples of experiential learning abound at all grade levels at MPA and include hands-on laboratory experiments, projects in the Makerspace, work in outdoor gardens, monarch butterfly way stations, prairie restoration, field trips, performances, and more. Read More


Meet Rae Dillon

Rae Dillon

What position will you be holding at MPA?
Upper School and College Counseling Administrative Assistant

From what school/organization are you coming?
I was the Program and Operations Manager at the MN Elementary School Principals’ Association (MESPA)

Tell us a little bit about your education and past experience.
I was inspired by the strong sense of community and even “family” at MPA! I love the school’s small, intimate feel that cares about students holistically, rather than just data and test scores. I love the welcoming environment and focus on individuality, inclusivity, and the arts!

What’s your big dream?
[Like, if I could do anything?] To help cultivate a world filled with compassion, empathy, and justice for all people and the environment.

What are you (and your family, if you so choose) passionate about?
I am passionate about young people and their futures, the environment, mental health and mindfulness, spending time outdoors, and reading a good trashy mystery novel (my goal is one every month).

What’s a fun fact about you that our community would love to know?
I LOVE gardening, but I am not very good at it. I love that I get better each year, and every autumn, I wipe the slate clean and try again next year. I love to grow (and eat) tomatoes the most.


Coming Home To MPA

Heads Messagefrom Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Love Actually is one of my favorite movies. I love the opening scene of the movie, which takes place in Heathrow Airport in London. As pictures of families greeting friends and loved ones at the arrival gate are shown, the British Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant, provides the following voiceover:

“It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”

It sounds cheesy and idealistic but I do agree that love is all around us if we are willing and able to see it. I often share that the best part of my day is greeting students at the front entrance of the school each morning. It’s somewhat like the opening scene in “Love Actually” but instead of an airport arrivals gate, it’s like the front door of a home. Home. A place of comfort, love and belonging, of family. For so many of us, MPA is much more than a building or a school. We come together around a common set of values and beliefs as well as a passionate commitment to educate the whole child. Read More


Maintaining The MPA Experience

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

It always seems as though the battery on my cell phone is running low. Maybe it’s because I have an older model, or often forget to close apps and plug it in. It is probably the combination of all those factors, although I often blame it on Waze, a crowd-sourced GPS traffic app I use every day that requires a great deal of power to operate.

I think we can all agree that the last 18 months of the pandemic have drained our collective batteries. COVID-19 has been like the Waze app—always open, always draining, hard to close down. Similarly, political discord, social unrest, racial tension, and climate events have also acted like apps that are constantly open and continually draining our reserve. My kids chastise me to close out my apps when I am done using them. (I wish they would do the same with their dirty dishes!) I have decided to follow their advice. Instead of allowing the pandemic to dominate my home screen, it will become just one of many apps on my phone. We must take COVID-19 very seriously, to be sure, but we must also move forward.

That said, our priority is to be on-campus for in-person learning all year. While we are carrying forward many lessons learned during the pandemic, we know how important it is for students to bring their whole selves to school each day. The Minnesota Department of Health (and all available public health guidance) agrees that the benefits of being physically present in school are significant and creating conditions that help safeguard in-person instruction is a priority.

We’ve designed our plan with the MPA mission in mind. Not only are we committed to keeping in-person learning available to students, but we know that preventing on-campus spread may help to reduce the amount of community spread within the Twin Cities. We want to “do right” by doing our part. Layered mitigation remains our shared responsibility: symptom monitoring, prompt reporting of symptoms and exposure, minimizing gatherings and travel, and higher risk activities (particularly for the unvaccinated) in addition to masking, hygiene practices, enhanced ventilation, onsite testing, and the variety of other strategies we have successfully employed during our COVID response.

Thanks to our shared commitment to all of our recommendations and guidelines, we’ve been able to not only have students be in person and learning with their teachers and classmates, but they’re experiencing all that an MPA education has to offer including safe athletics, robust support services, continuity of theatre classes and curriculum, resumed music education, clubs and activities, and a return to many on campus events.

We should celebrate our community’s commitment to vaccinations: 97% of eligible students and 98% of eligible adults have been fully vaccinated. Once vaccines become available for younger ages, which may be much sooner than we thought, we strongly urge parents to seek vaccines for those under 12 as well. When that occurs, we look forward to relaxing a number of protocols that are currently in place.

Read More


It’s Time For MPA’s Fall Preview

Fall PreviewInvite a friend, neighbor, colleague, or family member to join us for MPA’s largest PreK-12 admission event, the MPA Fall Preview! Held virtually on Sunday, November 7 starting at 2 PM, this event will be a structured program that will allow prospective students and parents to get a sense of what makes MPA an exceptional place to learn and grow.

Kindly invite your friends and neighbors to RSVP in advance for this engaging program at moundsparkacademy.org/RSVP. If you have any questions, contact the Office of Admission at 651-748-5577 or admission@moundsparkacademy.org. We can’t wait to meet them!


Middle School Division News

from Dr. Jenn Milam, Middle School Director

Growing More Comfortable MS News
As we find ourselves in Week 5 together, we are learning more about each other and our needs, limits, and boundaries. As I have shared with all of you, it is important that middle schoolers feel safe to push boundaries and test limits (it often feels like it’s their job most days!) and it’s also important for them to realize that their actions, words, and habits impact those around them. We are working, diligently and often, to reinforce what it means to be back in school together, as an entire middle school, grades 5 through 8, and conduct ourselves as the caring, compassionate, and academically motivated students we all aspire to be.

As I make my way to each grade level and aim to set expectations, I would appreciate your partnership in reinforcing some fundamental commitments that we hold at MPA in the Middle School:

  • Every student’s learning is important. And it is not acceptable that one’s student’s behavior hinders their own learning and/or the learning of others.
  • Students should arrive to class on-time, prepared, with all materials required to be a fully present and active participant.
  • Students will respect all other human beings and expect respect in return.
  • Language that is insulting, demeaning, hurtful, and disrespectful is not acceptable at MPA.
  • Physical contact that harms another student, intentional or otherwise, will not be tolerated.
  • Teachers are leaders in the learning environment, and they deserve respect.
  • Poor choices, inappropriate behavior, and not following directions can, and will, result in consequences, including detention, a conversation with parents, and removal from privileges.
  • We are a community, and we all rise by being the best version of ourselves we can be.

I want to acknowledge that, for many of our students, the last 18 months have completely up ended our routines, our work, our learning, and our comfort in being together. It will take some time for us to settle in and come to honor the community expectations we have set forth. I hope you will join me in sharing these expectations with your student and welcome the invitation to partner with me, and your student’s teachers, to help them realize their full potential.

A Reminder: Middle School Dismissal 
I am, so far, grateful for the ease and efficiency with which we are dismissing at 3:00pm in the West Lot. A few reminders to keep us moving and allow all of us to get to our next destination safely, and in a timely way:

  • Please do not stop along the curb near the busses to allow your student to enter the car. I ask that you pull around to the curb close to the building to keep cars from backing-up on Larpenteur and/or in the driveway.
  • I am always, very lovingly, encouraging your students to “hustle” to get into the car and keep things moving. I don’t do this to be hurtful, but rather because I realize that many times folks are on their way to the next thing, and we need to keep the line moving.
  • I also appreciate everyone staying in the car line (unless parking and waiting outside the door, which you are welcome to do!) and not “leap-frogging” or “budging” ahead in the line.

Finally, while I know there can occasionally be issues that hold us up as parents and we get to school a bit late, we are beginning the practice this week of taking all students not picked up by 3:15pm upstairs to either Study Hall or Panther Den. Our dismissal staff and faculty have meetings after school and cannot be downstairs waiting indefinitely. We also cannot leave your Middle School student outside to “wait” for you without an adult. Please make every effort to be on time unless you have previously determined that your student is going to Study Hall, Athletics, or Panther Den.

If you run into an issue and cannot make pick-up time, please call the office before 2:30pm and let us know and we will send your student to Study Hall or Panther Den.

Mrs. Lassonde and the Middle School Office
Mrs. Lassonde is available by email at jlassonde@moundsparkacademy.org and by phone at (651) 748-5565. We need to hear from you if you need an early dismissal or late arrival for an appointment, an absence from classes, or have any other question or concern, please reach out.

Middle School Show–Congratulations To Our Cast And Crew!
We are delighted to begin rehearsals for our Middle School show and congratulate all who were selected as cast and crew members. Please work with your student to know the rehearsal schedule, note it in their planners, prepare and have a plan for pick-up, and communication. Just like sports, students are responsible for arranging transportation, pick-up, and snacks with parents.

If you have questions or need information, please email Ms. Mastel (hmastel@moundsparkacademy.org) or have your student stop by to see her in her classroom.

Parent-Teacher Conferences—Save The Dates
Our PickATime system has been open since last week. If you have not already scheduled conferences and wish to do so, you have until the end of this week. Conference dates are:

  • Thursday, September 30, 3:30-7PM
  • Thursday, October 7, 3:30-8PM
  • Friday, October 8, 8AM-4PM (NO CLASSES)

All conferences are being held via ZOOM and each family is offered the opportunity to sign-up for up to five, 10-minute conferences with their student’s teachers.

If you are not scheduled by the end of this week, you will not be able to schedule conferences for this session. If you need assistance, please reach out to Mrs. Lassonde (jlassonde@moundsparkacademy.org) or call the Middle School Office.

MPA COVID-19 Symptom Response Protocol–Important Reminders
As we continue to navigate the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, we ask for your diligence in working with our COVID-19 symptom response and contact tracing team. At the first sign of symptoms, parents should complete the daily AUXS app symptom screening and/or email covid@moundsparkacademy.org. When a negative COVID-19 test is required for student clearance, results must be provided prior to the student’s return. All symptomatic community members, regardless of vaccination status must remain at home pending those results. Thank you for your partnership. For any questions, please contact Jennifer Rogers at jrogers@moundsparkacademy.org.

Planners: Use Them–Check Them–Be Accountable
Student planners were distributed last week, and we have been working diligently on learning to use them consistently, productively, and in a way that supports self-regulation and success. Please ask your student about their planner, ask them to show you their progress, and remember that their planner is their first line of organizational super-power!

Please Send Snacks
Middle Schoolers are always hungry. ALWAYS! And each day, most teachers take time, either during advisory or Block 3, to offer a snack time. For obvious reasons, we cannot provide snacks for all students (allergies, preference, preparation, etc.) but we welcome you to coordinate with your student a snack they can bring to school to give them just enough to make it to lunch.

On this note, eating breakfast is often hard for Middle Schoolers – they are tired, not awake enough to eat, are using every minute to sleep/snooze before coming to school. Especially if your student is not eating breakfast, their snack is ESSENTIAL!

Excellent ideas for snacks include, but are not limited to:

  • Carrots and hummus
  • String Cheese and crackers
  • Goldfish
  • Yogurt tube and fruit (already cut and prepared)
  • Sliced apple and sunflower butter (no peanuts/tree nut butters)
  • Celery and ranch dip
  • Small half of sandwich

On a related note, if your student is staying after school for a sports practice, they also NEED an after-school snack that they may eat in preparation for an hour and a half of activity. NO ONE likes a “hangry” (pre)teen…it would be wonderful if students came prepared for their day not just academically, but nutritionally, as well.

Water Bottles–A Necessity 
A full day of learning is a full day that requires water – PE, academic classes, arts classes, lots of movement and activity! Students need water bottles, and they need to drink water consistently. Please send a water bottle, that can be kept at school, labeled with your student’s name, with them each day. We do not have cups, disposable water bottles, or any other way for student to remain hydrated!

Parent Coffees Coming Soon
I recognize that not being able to be in the building and on campus can lead to feelings of disconnection – it’s difficult for me, too, to not have you with us. Please look for emails invitations in the coming week for Grade Level Coffee gatherings with me – I look forward to conversation, fellowship, and community building with you!

  • Sept 30 All School Parent-Teacher Conferences, 3:30-7 PM
  • Oct 7 All School Parent-Teacher Conferences, 3:30-8 PM
  • Oct 8 All School Parent-Teacher Conferences, 8 AM-4 PM, NO CLASSES
  • Oct 20-22 Fall Break – NO CLASSES
  • Oct 29 End of Quarter 1 – All Assignments and Assessments Due
  • Nov 1 GRADING DAY – NO CLASSES
  • Nov 2 Quarter 2 Begins


Homecoming Celebration And Spirit Week Reimagined

Homecoming September 27 – October 2
Join us as we reimagine our annual Homecoming festivities in light of COVID-19 health and safety concerns. We are offering division-specific opportunities for students as a part of a weeklong celebration, building spirit for MPA Athletics and our entire community.

Upper School Activities:

  • MPA Student Council Spirit Week Dress Up Days: September 27 – October 1
  • Upper School student only BBQ: October 1, 5-8 PM, Benz Courtyard
  • Upper School student dance: October 2, 8-11 PM, Benz Courtyard
  • Free Homecoming-themed MPA t-shirts for all Upper School students

Middle School Activities:

  • Middle School Game Day: October 1, 10 AM-3 PM, South Lawn (Parent Volunteers needed!)
  • Spirit Week Dress Up Days September 27-October 1
  • Free Homecoming-themed MPA t-shirts for all Middle School students

Lower School Activities:

  • Pajama Day for all Lower School Students: September 27
  • Spirit Wear Day with Homecoming T-shirt and non-uniform bottom: October 1
  • Homecoming Spirit Photo Booth and Special Appearances by the MPA Panther: September 27-October 1
  • Homecoming Panther Coloring Sheets available for students
  • Free Homecoming-themed MPA t-shirts for all Lower School students

MPA Athletics Schedule Saturday, October 2
Please note: Only athlete household members may attend in person. Join in the fun and cheer on our Panthers by streaming games live! Learn more at https://www.moundsparkacademy.org/athletics/

  • Varsity Girls Soccer vs New Life Academy 11 AM (available for streaming)
  • Varsity Boys Soccer New Life Academy 1 PM (available for streaming)
  • Varsity Volleyball 9 AM-2 PM (continuous streaming viewing)
  • JV Boys Soccer New Life Academy 11 AM (not available for streaming)
  • Varsity Girls Tennis vs Como Park and Cretin Derham Hall (not available for streaming)

Homecoming Parent Gathering 
Parents, would you like to share your MPA Spirit and support our student athletes? Join the MPA Parents Association for an all-parent coffee and community building meet-up on Friday, October 1 from 7:45 to 10 AM. You’ll find us under the big white tent in the west parking lot, rain or shine. Meet other MPA parents, help to decorate the outdoor fields, and write messages of encouragement for our athletes. Go Panthers!


The Responsibility of Bold Innovation

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

I have to admit I am a big fan of dystopia books, film, and television. Favorite books include “The Stand” by Stephen King and “Swan Song” by Robert McCammon, movies such as “The Day After Tomorrow” and “I Am Legend”, and television shows like “The Leftovers” and “The Walking Dead.” It’s not that I like gloom and doom or enjoy blood and gore. Rather, I see dystopian literature, films, and television as windows into the human condition, what humans are capable of in the face of horrific conditions, great suffering, or terrible injustice, and the triumph of the human spirit.

Living through the last several weeks, let alone the last 18 months, has been all too much like a dystopian novel. Wildfires in the west, hurricanes in the south, the drought here in Minnesota combined with the lingering effects of the pandemic, all present a series of challenges that are testing the fabric of our society. Like characters in a dystopian movie, we are learning a great deal about ourselves, what we value, and what we are willing to do to endure.

Imagine my surprise last week when dystopia seemed to invade my professional life when I came across the article “Schooling in the ‘Fifth Season’” by Justin Reich in the latest edition of one of my favorite education journals, Educational Leadership. What caught my attention was a quote from a study conducted by the United States Change Research Program, “Humans are re-engineering the geo-chemistry of the planet to be inhospitable to our current civilization. As average temperatures rise and extreme weather events become more common, there will be more fires, more floods, more freezes, more novel disease events, and accompanying migration, civil unrest, and conflict.” (Reidmiller, et al., 2018) While I’m not sure I agree with this assessment, I believe that conducting school no just like we did 18 months ago would be a mistake. Educational systems must be inherently structured to pivot and change and to become more agile and proactively responsive. Read More