Meet Boys Basketball Coaches Rich Harris, Nate Bander, and Matt Bander

Meet Boys Varsity Basketball Coach Rich Harris

Rich Harris in front of MPA BannerWhat was your playing career like?
I played four years in high school in Oklahoma and was the starting point guard my senior year. I then played point guard at Southwestern College, an NAIA school in Winfield, Kansas, graduating in 1996.

What coaching experience do you bring to MPA?
After finishing my college career, I stayed on for one year as a student assistant. Since, I have coached a variety of different levels of basketball and many schools. Some highlights include coaching the freshman boys team at Southeast High School in Wichita, coaching JV boys and then Varsity boys at the American School of Doha in Qatar (we went undefeated in 2011), assistant coaching girls Varsity and then boys Varsity at American School in London, coaching Middle School and High School boys at the International Schools Groups in Saudi Arabia (we went 21-4 record and won the conference championship during the 2018-19 season), and coaching girls JV here at MPA. The girls at MPA taught me compassion and commitment and I will never forget that.

What is it about MPA that makes it a great place to coach?
The kids! MPA has such wonderful students who want to succeed. Also, the faculty and staff has been very supportive. Read More

Meet Cassie Atkinson ’23

Cassie Atkinson joined the Mounds Park Academy community in December 2019.

Cassie Atkinson '23 Standing and SmilingWhat do you love about MPA?
MPA allows me to be who I am and doesn’t judge me for it. MPA isn’t in the business of choosing what they like best about me or molding me to “society’s expectations.” They encourage me to do what I like best and help me with whatever I may need to be successful.

How are you encouraged to dream big and do right at MPA?
Just having a judgement-free zone helps me dream big and do right. MPA wants to help me, not shape me into what they think I am meant to be. When I shared that I loved art and being creative, I was introduced and shown many opportunities on campus including classes, plays, studios, events, and galleries.

Why do you believe your teachers teach the way they do?
Mounds Park Academy teachers want the best for me. They don’t give up on me and always are looking out for me. Their challenges only help me to grow, rather than trying to knock me down. Read More

Meet Simone LaBonté ’06

Simone LaBonté HeadshotSimone LaBonté ’06 is in her sixth year as the Director of Person Centered Practices at New Directions Inc. Under her leadership, New Directions Inc. partnered with local organization Woodbury Thrives to construct a community garden at a New Directions Inc. residential home in Woodbury, creating a resource for the home’s residents and the greater community.

Tell us more about your community garden project and your work with New Directions. How did the garden come to be?

I work for New Directions Inc., a small company that helps people with developmental disabilities lead fulfilling lives. People with disabilities are often isolated or segregated from their neighbors. The community garden is one of the ways New Directions is trying to change that and create connections with the local community.

Three of the men that New Directions serves and I partnered with Woodbury Thrives, a community building organization, and applied for a Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) grant through Washington County. They ultimately funded the first year of a community garden project in the pre-Covid era (spring of 2019). The garden was hosted by the three guys–it was built and planted in their yard. We invited neighbors to a community get-together by going door to door to introduce ourselves and our idea. We also hung flyers and handwritten notes on people’s doorknobs. Read More

Meet Justin Choi ’23

Justin Choi in front of skyscrapersJustin Choi ’23 and his family relocated to MPA from Hong Kong. He began at MPA in ninth grade in the fall of 2019.

What do you love about MPA?
I love the support I have received from absolutely everyone here.

How are you encouraged to dream big and do right at MPA?
I have a choice and a voice in what I do. There’s a large variety of electives, sports and clubs and I have chosen to get involved in a lot.

Why do you believe your teachers teach the way they do?
Teachers teach in this way because they want me to succeed. They are helping me to find something that I truly love doing. Read More

Meet RuoHan (Kitty) Li ’21 and Xinyuan (Ella) Li ’24

Ella Li seated at her desk working on her computerBetween visa issues, parent concerns, and travel challenges, COVID-19 has presented many obstacles for MPA’s international students. In fact, two students from China, 12th grader RuoHan (Kitty) Li and 9th grader Xinyuan (Ella) Li (no relation) have had to stay at home this semester and attend virtually from thousands of miles away. In a testament to their commitment to remaining a part of the community, Kitty and Ella have rearranged their schedules to accommodate the time differences. Hear how they are making this tremendous sacrifice in order to continue their educations at MPA.

What does your daily schedule look like? What time are MPA’s classes for you? Has your sleep and meal schedule changed?

Kitty: Right now, my daily schedule is class from 9:00pm to 2:30am since I do not have 6th block this quarter. However, next quarter, I will have class from 9:00pm to 4:00am since I have Physics. I have been sleeping from 3am to 12pm recently. My meal schedule has not changed too much, but I have reduced it from three meals to two meals since I have not been eating a lot for breakfast. Read More

Meet the Short Herring Family

Harper and Carter Short in the science roomDr. Courtney Herring, pediatrician and member of MPA’s COVID-19 Community Advisory Group, and her children, Carter (grade 6) and Harper (grade 5) share how their experience is going so far this fall at MPA.

How is MPA making sure you’re safe at school?

Harper: MPA has been and always will be my favorite school. They have spent a lot of time on making sure everyone is six feet apart, wearing a mask, and sanitizing their hands. MPA has kept me educated and safe.

How is MPA incorporating the important tasks of building community and maintaining joy while still ensuring the safety of all constituents?

Dr. Herring: The task of re-opening any school during a population health crisis is daunting. The administration and staff at MPA worked tirelessly to build-in safety provisions with logistical planning required to allow our children to return to the classroom. Whereas safety is first, social development and academic delivery should not be demoted to second-level importance. MPA understood these principles and picked up the gauntlet in a way that makes all of us should proud to be part of our “Dream Big. Do Right.” family. By not losing focus, our students have been re-engaged and families supported while relationships continue to be built through in-person and virtual platforms.

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Meet Alumni and Current Parents Victoria Simmonds ’01 and Sam Brown ’94! 

Alumna Victoria Simmonds with her 2 ChildrenOne of the greatest things about MPA approaching its 40th birthday is the number of alumni choosing MPA for their own children. Nate Bander ’09 spoke with two alums, who each brought their families to MPA in the fall of 2020, on why they chose to come home. Meet Victoria Simmonds ’01, and Sam Brown ’94!

What are you currently doing, professionally and/or personally and how did you get there? Are there some career moves or other key experiences or relationships that have inspired you?

Victoria Simmonds ’01: I was immersed in the world of real estate as a child. My mother was a residential broker, and my father was a commercial developer. After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a liberal arts degree, I knew pretty quickly that my future career would involve real estate in some form. Fast forward to now and I am an agent with Edina Realty. I am thankful, every day, to have found a career that I love, and I’m honored by each client who trusts me to help them navigate one of the most important transactions of their lives. The relationships that develop along the way are icing on the cake. Read More

Finding A Home: The Roseth Family’s Journey To MPA

Ava, Andrew, Ari, and Annika Roseth in front of the oceanHow did your family discover MPA? Maybe you saw a billboard or heard an ad on Minnesota Public Radio. Perhaps you read an article about an MPA athletic team, or searched on Google. But for almost 80% of families, finding MPA meant connecting with someone already within our community like a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, or a family member.

For the Roseth family—parents Aaron and Anna, sixth grader Ari, fifth grader Andrew, and third grader Annika—who started in the fall of 2020, discovering MPA began with a bumper sticker on a teammate’s minivan at football practice. That teammate was Dylan Rengstorf, whose sister Emma, attended MPA. Ari and Dylan became fast friends and so did their families.

Shortly before meeting the Roseth family, Jason and Joana Rengstorf had chosen MPA after looking for a school where Emma could thrive in an inclusive place that provided a safe environment for her to excel as a student. When they found MPA, they knew it was the right fit. Read More

Meet Alex Appleton ’23

Alex works with LS studentHow many years have you been a student at MPA?
I came to MPA in the fall of 2019 as a ninth grader.

What do you love about MPA?
I love the diversity and the classes. The teachers are so kind and supportive and truly want you to grow toward your goals and will help guide you there. I love the community and that as a tenth grader, I have the chance to be with Lower School kids or work with Middle Schoolers as they make their way toward the Upper School.

How are you encouraged to dream big and do right at MPA?
My math teachers encouraged me to pursue my goal of jumping ahead into accelerated math. And this past summer, I finally achieved that. What started as a big dream developed into a possible goal that is now a reality. This would not have been possible if it weren’t for the support of the teachers at MPA who encouraged me to reach this goal. Not only do I now feel more confident to reach my own goals, but I am encouraged to do right by helping others reach their goals as well. Read More

Meet the Cowen Family

Cowen FamilyWhat did your journey look like from Chicago to MPA?
We moved to Minnesota from Chicago in 2019 for an exciting career opportunity and to explore a new state, having raised our family in the city for 12 years and then moving to the suburbs.

As a new family to the area, what made you choose MPA over the abundance of other educational options in the Twin Cities?
MPA spoke to us and to our children instantly. Having attended both private/independent and public schools previously; we appreciate the combination of academic rigor and whole child approach. Our children are well rounded with many interests and we wanted to continue to instill in them a joy of learning, an appreciation for the arts, and varied sports and recreational options while also challenging them academically. MPA was immediately our first choice (among many outstanding options) and we could not be more pleased with how much our children love it!

What would you tell another family relocating to the Twin Cities?
Do your homework, know what you want nearby and how you plan to live—and then call us! The Twin Cities are varied and there are many wonderful areas to live in. It took time and patience and we even had to commute for work for nearly a year, but in the end it worked out—especially finding MPA and seeing how much joy the school and community has brought to our family.
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