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Amy Barnard

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Nathan Stromberg's '96 Art Celebrates History of Upper School

Posted by Amy Barnard on Jan 23, 2020


Upper School Art Instructor Nathan Stromberg '96 recently revealed his original piece that remembers and celebrates the history of Minnehaha Academy and the century-old building we lost in the explosion. Roughly 425 hours (almost half a year of after-school work) went into this project that was hung in the school this January.


Stromberg, who himself graduated from MA and began teaching here in 2002, chose to exclusively use archival materials in this collage, and if you look closely you'll see the images of many MA alumni and faculty from over the years.

Many images of faculty members are intentionally placed near the rooms in the school they would have taught.

Below we are including close ups of each panel, but we encourage you to consider stopping by and checking out the work for yourself, as you'll be able to even more details up close.

Beneath each panel we've included explanations from Mr. Stromberg relating to his work.

(TIP: To watch a special student-produced video interview with Mr. Stromberg please check out this link: http://www.redhawksonline.com/2020/01/21/strombergs-masterpiece/.)


"In my collage work, I tend to work fairly intuitively and I’m always on the lookout for humorous images and bits of pop culture to hide in there, but I knew this work had to be different. Everything about it had to be thought out meticulously because it would be heavily scrutinized and looked at for a very long time. The solution was to exclusively use archival school material. Thankfully, we have a lot of it, and our archivist was fine with me destroying/re-using old yearbooks/pamphlets/promotional materials as far back as the beginning of our school, 1913, so long as I left at least 5-6 good copies."


"Much of that material was black and white, so I dyed many of the fragments with acrylic ink for the bottom layers and used the full color images for the top. Tens of thousands of fragments, 5 months and approximately 425 hours of work later, here’s the result."


The entire history of the school is here in word and image—pictures of students and faculty members who spent decades here—memories that are shared by so many people."

2020-Stromberg-Old-School-Art-6 "I sincerely hope it is a point of connection for our school and particularly our alumni, and I hope it brings people joy for a good long while."


"For all those who’ve lost a point of physical connection or the place where you made your high school or career memories, this is especially for you."


All quotes from the artist, Nathan Stromberg.

We are so grateful to both Mr. Stromberg and the donors who made this work possible.


To see a special student-produced video interview with Mr. Stromberg please check out this link:




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Topics: Upper School, Alumni Stories, Fine Arts, Faculty Stories

Discover a New Story: Building Empathy Through Cultural Field Experience

Posted by Amy Barnard on Jan 16, 2020

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Packing donated clothes for the children's home.

Last spring’s Cultural Field Experience (CFE) trip to Roatan wasn’t Abbi Slininger’s first cross cultural venture. At seventeen years old she’s already made her way to Costa Rica, Europe, and Bora Bora with her family.

In spite of this, Abbi's trip to Roatan impacted her in ways these previous excursions didn't.

"I realized that I want to live my life so that I give back...It will make me a better person and impact others if I’m not just thinking about myself," Abbi explains.

Abbi joined ten other students along with Principal Jason Wenschlag and science teacher Nancy Cripe in Roatan, a little island off Honduras, to volunteer at a children’s home this past spring.

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Abbi teaching a student at the home she spent a lot of one on one time with how to make friendship bracelets.

The group helped children in the home with homework, assisted in setting up the new tilapia farm (a source of both food and income for the home), taught crafts, painted walls, and joined a local church in their outreach to some of the poorest families on the island.

While there, the students also heard the children share the various and often difficult journeys that brought them to the home.

"I was surprised that some of them were willing to share, and that they still wanted people in their lives [after what they had experienced]," Abbi shares.

She says getting to know the children and the time she spent meeting people during the church outreach made her aware in a new way of the needs of others, as well as the very different stories that make up the tapestry of our world.

CFE Water Quality Stand in copy

Testing water quality in preparation for the small tilapia farm that alum Randy Bevis '87 prepared for the home. MA students brought additional materials and taught the older children at the home how to test water to keep the farm healthy.

These are exactly the glimmers of understanding that CFE Director Jessa Anderson hopes to see increase in the coming years at MA.

"We want something deeper than traditional service learning for CFE," she says. "We want students to be developing empathy, building relationships, and learning to be better global citizens."

This is a tall order. In a world where "service learning trips" face increasing scrutiny, at times seen as little more than badges to stick on a college application, or (hardly better) as a chance to feel good about doing something nice, Ms. Anderson wants more for MA students.

"It’s not just going and serving in a place and leaving," she explains.

Instead, she wants students to learn about the places and people they serve in ways that deepen their respect and empathy, as well as help them feel connected to people who may be very different than themselves.

For Anderson, this isn’t simply a matter of theory or nice ideas she learned in a seminar on social justice. As a small child, her family moved to an economically depressed neighborhood to be part of a church plant and serve the community. In a later season of life, she heard people’s stories in Northern Ireland and South Africa while serving on a peace-building and reconciliation ministry team.

These encounters changed how Anderson sees the world and sees individuals.

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Paint rollers drying after MA students helped with bathroom renovation. 

The question facing her today is this: How do you help an entire school prepare for CFE in a way that might facilitate these mindset shifts?

This year Anderson is preparing empathy-building activities for students to use during team meetings and then take on the road and into their CFE encounters.

In keeping with the year's theme—"Discover a New Story"—teams will discuss the value of learning each other's stories and discuss how to ask good questions while avoiding those that might not be so helpful. From there, a pack of conversation starters will help them draw out their teammates' stories.

Once students arrive at their CFE sites team leaders will encourage them to use these new skills to learn from the people they meet.

Whether playing bingo at a veteran's home, repairing a house in rural Kentucky, or working with an environmental conservation group in Guatemala, Anderson hopes that hearing the stories of others will bring a greater sense of connection to the wider world.

For 2019 CFE participant Langting Deng, helping immigrants improve their English at the International Institute opened up just that type of connection.

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MA students at the International Institute helping immigrants with their English.

Langting shares that she stepped into the experience with no small amount of hesitancy: herself an international student, she wasn’t sure how much she had to offer these adult language learners from Ethiopia, Chile, and other nations that seemed so far removed from her life back in China or her days at Minnehaha Academy.

But sitting alongside them at simple folding tables in the Institute's classrooms, Langting was surprised to find that her own experience as a second language learner gave her common ground with these adults. That common ground then opened doors for deeper revelations.

"I realized that there are a lot of people in the world who are similar to me; each person has their own struggles and each person is working very hard, even harder than I am sometimes."

"When we have the opportunity to go out and see people in different settings it stretches us and it broadens our view," says Anderson.

"It’s really easy to live in a bubble where you’re comfortable...When we actually see and experience [different settings] we learn to respect those realities and to empathize with people’s stories."

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Nicholas and student at the home building a model airplane.

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Topics: Upper School, Cultural Field Experience, Caring Community

Selfless in a Selfie World

Posted by Amy Barnard on Jan 7, 2020

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It’s mid-September. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Mr. Sauer’s third floor classroom you can see the first flickers of fall color speckling the green canopy below. Class is over, and senior Peter Shaffer grabs his books, ready to move on to the next class.

"Shaffer," Mr. Sauer stops him. "I have something for you."

Kris Sauer, English teacher and assistant cross country coach, slips a white envelope into Peter’s hands. "I don’t know what’s in it," he says.

Peter looks at the envelope, confused. It’s a letter from former cross country and track teammate, Chris Schold, written four years earlier and filed away in Mr. Sauer’s cabinet for safe keeping. Today Chris studies economics at St. Olaf and is preparing for his upcoming position at Optum, but during these four years the letter made a trek from the rubble of the old building, to Mendota, and finally to Mr. Sauer’s new classroom.

"What is this about?" Peter wonders.


Peter Shaffer just before qualifying for State.

Later that evening, when Peter opens the letter at home, he understands. Mr. Sauer often gives his students the opportunity to write a letter to their future selves. Four years after they graduate, he mails those letters back to the students so they can see and remember the wishes they had for themselves on the cusp of leaving MA.

Chris Schold, however, chose not to write to himself, but to write to Peter, who was just in eighth grade at the time.

Now a senior, Peter opens the letter to find words of encouragement and an exhortation to continue forward in excellence. "I was surprised at how much he noticed about me in seventh and eighth grade, and that he thought to write to me about it," Peter shares, adding that he felt humbled to be on the receiving end of such a gesture.

For his part, Chris considered just doing the assignment and writing to himself, but, "I started to think about how this assignment could actually be used to bring greater good to the team."

Letter from Chris to Peter copy

Peter's positive attitude and willingness to "stick with it" when things got tough impressed Chris throughout their time in cross country. "I wanted to let him know that he was a great student and athlete and it was a pleasure to get to know him. It seemed like a good way to finish out the year and make an impact on someone else."

Chris’s decision exemplifies a key value that staff and faculty at MA hope to nurture throughout the community: Considering the needs and feelings of others, and how you can be part of making someone else's life better.

In a world where popular media and culture often glorify self promotion, faculty continually challenge students to consider how their actions and choices impact not only themselves but also those around them.

Class Constitution

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Each teacher has his or her own way of offering this challenge throughout the school year. If you step into fifth grade teacher Nichole De Haven’s class early in the year, you might catch her working on the Class Constitution with her students.

"How do you want others to treat you this year?" she asks her students. "What are your hopes for the ways others do or don't interact with you?"

The students brainstorm a list together that goes up on the whiteboard.

"Do you notice anything interesting about this list?" Ms. De Haven asks the group.

Inevitably students start to recognize that their peers hold similar hopes and values (kindness, truth telling, etc.) as themselves. This revelation plants seeds of empathy and nudges students to consider how their words or actions may impact their peers.

Fifth grader Katie Jane shares this realization: "It’s important to hear other people’s ideas and what they have to say. I don’t want someone to ignore me when I’m talking, so I should respect them when they are talking."

As they work through these values, the students develop a Class Constitution—a series of agreements they make for how they want to treat each other.

"It’s really helpful to have their wording, not just mine," says De Haven, noting that the process gives the students a sense of ownership. The class then agrees as a community to "uphold the Constitution" that they’ve created.

Random Acts of Kindness

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Middle School Counselor Sarah Rothstein also works hard to reinforce the community values on campus. Herself a transplant to Minnehaha with experience in two public school districts, she shares that she’s witnessed firsthand the uniqueness of the Minnehaha culture.

"I’ve never worked in a school where for the most part kids tell you the truth, and when they make a mistake and they own it," she says.

Rothstein is quick to clarify that Middle School students at MA aren’t perfect, and they definitely aren’t immune to the many quirky friendship dramas and behavior issues adolescents are famous for, but, she says, "As a whole the kids here really want to do the right thing. Although they make mistakes, they own them; although they have friendship troubles, they want to work them out."

Wanting to reinforce the good she already saw happening as well as broaden students’ ideas about serving and loving others, Ms. Rothstein instituted the Random Acts of Kindness board. Each year she writes out cards that recommend ways to serve others or help others feel safe and included in school. Over the course of a number of weeks, students chose cards from the board and then report back on what they did.

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Some examples include:

  • "I let someone go in front of me in line."
  • "I told someone that I was thankful for her because she always makes me laugh."
  • "I helped babysit for my neighbors."

Serving Others With Our Bodies

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Even in the more unexpected places, like physical education class, instructors work with students on developing an awareness of others.

On a blustery Wednesday morning in October, fourth graders from Jordan Fitch’s phy-ed class toted rakes as big as themselves into a yard just a few blocks from the school. After a brief prayer for their time together and the family who owned the home, the students got to work pushing leaves into piles and then bagging them up.

In all, students served six neighborhood families through raking this fall.

"I’ve been trying to teach our PE students that our bodies aren’t just here to serve our needs alone, but that we are called to serve God and serve others with this gift that we’ve been given," shares Mr. Fitch.

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Students praying for the people whose yards they would be raking that day.

Before raking he shared this scripture to help set the tone:

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." (Mathew 25:35-36)

While Fitch loves sports and loves the growth that comes from learning to be part of a team or to push oneself physically, underneath everything he wants students to connect their faith with all aspects of life.

"I would love students to see everything they do in PE as an opportunity to serve God and to honor Him," he says, reaffirming that a primary way we serve God is to serve others. "Raking was a unique experience to do that."

Full Circle

While these examples are just a few of the many ways faculty encourage students towards an awareness of and empathy for those around them, they typify an undergirding mindset seen in classrooms across campus.

Upper School Spanish instructor Anne Calvin notes, "Ultimately it’s about being the body of Christ. We call out the good in our students but we also name the things that are undesirable such as, 'that doesn’t have any place here.' The desire is to have an environment that is Christ-like, where the Holy Spirit is present. It’s not just a poster on the wall, but it’s rooted in something much deeper and more profound in how we view one another, that we do bear the image of God."


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Topics: Middle School, Upper School, Lower School, Caring Community

Yearbook Staff Awarded by International Journalism Honor Society

Posted by Amy Barnard on Dec 17, 2019

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Quill and Scroll, an international high school journalism society with nearly 100 years of history honored four Minnehaha Academy students as well as the yearbook staff as a whole last week for their work.

The staff received Quill and Scroll's Blue and Gold award in the area of Comprehensive Visuals for the selection of photos they entered in the contest.

The following students received individual awards:

Lily McClelland, Junior: First place overall in the clubs/organizations photo division, below.

11 Clubs service interns Lily McClelland
McClelland's photo of Sammi '19 and Annika '19 collecting blankets for a charity drive. 
Anna Noble, Junior: Second place, feature photo, below.
12 Feature photo swingset Anna Noble
Noble's photo of Linnea Askegaard '21 and Abby Hobrough '21 playing with children during last year's Cultural Field Experience.
Josh St. Andrew, Sophomore: Second place, student life photo, below.
10 Student Life diploma Josh
St. Andrew's photo of Olivia '19 receiving her diploma from her father, Lower School instructor Jeff Bosshardt.
Stella Berlin, Sophomore: Third place, academic photo, below.
9 Academic photo Line drawing Stella
Berlin's photo of Bekah Hoyle '22 in art class.
Congrats on a job well done, yearbook staff!
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Topics: Awards, Academics, Exceptional Academics

Ruth Berg and John Carlson Honored During Window Installation

Posted by Amy Barnard on Dec 16, 2019

Last week Empirehouse installed the stained glass windows in honor of Ruth and John, as well as a central piece that reflects our Christian mission. The three windows float above the six panels that were that were moved from the former prayer chapel.

We invite you to watch this video of the installation and take a moment to remember these two beloved colleagues.

Topics: 3100 Campus

Mary Meyers '61: An Unexpected Opportunity to Give

Posted by Amy Barnard on Dec 12, 2019


Mary (Tildahl) Meyers ‘61 had always wanted to give something significant to Minnehaha Academy. It never quite seemed that life arranged itself in a way to make that possible, however.

When her children, Christy (Meyers) Waldon ‘87 and Todd Meyers ‘88 were in the throes of college, Mary came into an inheritance from her mother. She and her husband, Dan, agreed to put the money towards their children’s education, but with the understanding that at some point in the future if they were able to come up with another large sum of money it would be a sort of “replacement” for the inheritance money, for Mary to use or give as she wished.

Fast forward roughly two decades and Dan sold his financial planning business.

Just as the money came through, the Meyers family received a call from fellow alum Dan Parten.

“He shared how we as a class of 1961 were coming together to give with this goal of—perhaps—being able to name a classroom,” Mary shares. Both Mary and her husband felt drawn to this vision and Mary decided that this was where she wanted to give.

Each time Mary shares this story, she becomes visibly emotional.

“This now was my opportunity to give,” she says. For the first time in years, it felt as though she could give away something substantial. And she knew exactly where she wanted to give it.

“It was the first thing in my mind,” she comments, when asked why she chose to give to MA. In retrospect she observes that there really was no other option, as far as she was concerned. She had a rich experience at the school with deep relationships and teachers like Ann (Franklin) Kauls who drew things out of her she didn’t know were there.

“I remember thinking...that she must see something in me that I don’t see in myself.”

After graduation, Mary continued to meet yearly with a handful of friends from MA, at times flying across the country for the get-togethers. Once her own children came along, she and her husband sent them to MA as well.

And now it was Mary’s chance to give back. She set aside a significant portion of the money and contacted MA, letting the school know she’d like it to go towards a classroom, the goal set by her graduating class.

I received the blessing of being able to give. I never had that before…to have the joy, to know what that joy was, of giving, was a blessing. It’s worth whatever money you have [and are] able to share. It’s a gift to be able to give.”

Topics: Alumni Stories, 3100 Campus

Courtney (Anderson) DaCosta '99 Comes Full Circle

Posted by Amy Barnard on Nov 26, 2019


Even a stint working for the US government in the intelligence community and a law degree from Georgetown couldn't keep alum Courtney (Anderson) DaCosta ‘99 away from Minnesota. For DaCosta, coming home meant both coming back to the Twin Cities and also coming home to Minnehaha Academy.

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“I feel like most Minnesota girls end up finding a way to bring their significant others back to Minnesota,” she says, laughing.

Today, Courtney is senior legal counsel for employment and benefits at 3M, a global industrial, healthcare, and consumer products company headquartered in St. Paul whose household brands include Post-it®, Scotch®, and Command®.   

Courtney didn’t grow up knowing that she wanted to enter the world of employment and benefits law, or that she would one day return so fully to her roots.

A Minnehaha Academy lifer, DaCosta thoroughly enjoyed her math and science classes and planned to find a career that would incorporate this foundation. During her sophomore year at Dartmouth College, though, she found herself gravitating towards the social sciences and a degree in government. While in college, she interned with a US Senator in Washington, DC, and worked on a major political campaign.

“I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do right after college; I had a thought that I might want to go to law school,” she says, “but I wasn’t quite ready to commit to that yet.”


DaCosta with her parents during her volleyball years at Dartmouth.


She moved to DC, the hub of all things political and public service, to pursue an opportunity to work as an intelligence analyst with the federal government. It seemed like the right fit for the time: She could be in DC, where her then-boyfriend (now husband), Jason, also worked, as well as explore options for the future.

While DaCosta enjoyed her job as an analyst, the pull of home still played at the back of her mind.

“Ultimately it was important to me to have the ability to move back to the Twin Cities, and that likely would not have been a realistic option on my then-current career path,” she explains.

DaCosta finished her two years in the intelligence community and then plunged into a law degree at Georgetown, graduating with her JD in 2008. When it came time to determine the next step, she and Jason decided to relocate to the Twin Cities.  Courtney completed a clerkship with a federal appellate judge before joining Minneapolis-based global law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP as an associate, while Jason opened the Twin Cities office of technology company Alarm.com, Inc.  After about four years with Dorsey, in 2013, Courtney joined 3M, where she has served in a variety of roles, both as an employment and benefits attorney and a business attorney. 

“When I think back through my education—high school, college, law school—it’s been more important in terms of my career to be able to think critically about problems and solutions and to know where to go to find information, than it has been to learn facts, and I think that was a strength of MA.”

DaCosta remembers working in English class under Dr. Barbara Olson, learning to research and to write clear, concise, and convincing pieces, a foundation that serves her well even to this day.

She also says that MA instilled in her the importance of being a good citizen of the world and of maintaining relationships with people in one’s life; for her, this has played out in pro bono work with nonprofits serving children and families in need as well as regularly reconnecting with her high school friends.

Based on her own positive experience, it might seem obvious that DaCosta’s return to Minnesota would include enrolling any future children at Minnehaha Academy. Adding to that is her family history: As you enter the front offices at the Lower and Middle School, a plaque honoring Courtney’s grandmother, Arlene Anderson, hangs to the right of the door. 


Arlene Anderson, from the announcement celebrating her 39 years at MA.

Anderson worked at Minnehaha Academy from 1945 to 1984, first as a History and English teacher, and later as the Dean of Students, Dean of Instruction, and then Middle School Principal. Later, she served on the Board of Trustees and eventually as board chair.

She was so connected to the school, and was very proud of it and very committed to it,” DaCosta says. Consistent with her deep connection to the school, Anderson’s memorial service was held at the Upper School.

DaCosta’s father, Arlene’s son—David Anderson ’67—is also an MA alum and currently serves as Chair of the Board of Trustees.

In spite of all of this, before committing to enroll their oldest child, Flynn, in the preschool program last year, the DaCostas met with current parents, members of the school leadership team, and others connected to the school.

“I had a really great experience at the school, but I wanted to make sure that the school as it exists now was a place I felt comfortable having our kids attend, and that my husband felt that it was the right school for our family as well.”

A year later, with Flynn in Kindergarten and little sister Claire looking ahead to preschool next year, the family’s choice to commit to the MA community still feels right, says DaCosta, noting that she could tell that Flynn’s teachers at the Lower School have really loved him and that he has loved them back. Equally special, she says, is knowing that her son is in the place that both her grandmother and father have loved and to which they have committed so much of their time and energy.


Flynn's first day of PreK last year.

“I think sometimes, when I take Flynn to school, [that my grandmother] never got a chance to meet her grandkids; but I know that she would have adored them and that she would have been especially proud that they are at the school.”

While DaCosta had already made the return to Minnesota and stayed close to her MA friends, in a way it was as Flynn started his journey at MA this past year that she truly came full circle.

“I’m looking forward to my kids being able to experience MA in many ways similar to how I did,” she says, “but also, [it will be] in a beautiful new place that my family has had a role in making happen...that makes me feel closely connected to the school as well.”


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Topics: Alumni Stories, Academics

Matt Pryor '11 on Coming Home to Basketball & Minnehaha Academy

Posted by Amy Barnard on Nov 6, 2019

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It’s not often that someone sees a sports injury as God’s providence in their life, but when Matt Pryor (‘11) tore his UCL while pitching during his baseball career at Bethel University, he came to deem the event as just that.

   “I threw a slider, I felt it pop, and it was one of those moments where I knew right away: I just blew my arm out,” Matt says. It was only his second year at Bethel, and he saw the door closing on his baseball career.

   Pryor went on to have the unfortunate but well-known Tommy John surgery. Unfortunate because it means taking a tendon from another part of the body and using it to repair a damaged UCL. Well known, because it addresses one of the more common injuries among athletes who play throwing sports, made famous by the first pitcher to ever have the surgery, MLB All-Star pitcher Tommy John.

   While some UCL injuries allow players to eventually return to the mound, this was not the case for Matt.

   “That was really tough, because my identity was so wrapped up in being an athlete,” Pryor says. “It was definitely a soul-searching time of my life.”

   He turned his attention to obtaining a degree in physical education, but even still he found himself wrestling with God and his own heart over his future.

   “Once I stopped trying to open up all of the doors myself, once I finally started asking [God] to lead me down the path that he had set up for me…[and] I started following what I felt was his will, I found that a lot of those doors that were being shut in my face opened up to me.”

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The 2A Quarter Finals, which the Minnehaha girls won against St. Peter with a score of 56-37.

Coming Home

A pickup game of basketball led to a job offer coaching JV Girls’ basketball at Concordia Academy. That role paved the way for him to step into the varsity coaching role, even as his job in physical education set him up to be the Athletic Director at St. Thomas More.

   Then, in March of last year, Matt answered the phone to discover MA Athletic Director and former Girls' Basketball coach Josh Thurow on the other end.

   “He literally said, ‘It’s time to come home.’ And here I found myself.”

   The rest, as they say, is history. After a shaky start, Matt and assistant coach Scott Scholl led the Redhawk girls straight into the State championships where they took home the title for 2019.

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Also from the 2A Quarter Finals. The girls took the 2A Semi-Finals against Albany with a score of 70-67 and ultimately took the State Championship in a game against Caledonia with a score of 72-63.

Stepping Up to the Role

When Thurow invited Pryor to “come home,” this was no flip turn of phrase. Matt had spent 13 years at MA, playing baseball, basketball, and studying. As a student he felt known and cared for by both his peers and teachers, and he welcomed the possibility of re-entering the MA community.

   Part of coming home was also stepping back under the wing and mentorship of Thurow. “He was my teacher, he was my coach; he really invested in me as a player.... So from the moment I started coaching I would go to him, seeking advice; he would always make time for me to talk basketball, give coaching advice, give life advice, whatever it might have been.”

   That’s not to say Pryor immediately felt comfortable in his new role.

   “Josh’s record as a coach speaks for itself, so there were definitely some nerves coming in and trying to fill his shoes,” the young coach admits, laughing. “At the same time though, I was so incredibly excited.”

   Matt knew he was stepping into a space rich in talent; he had previously coached against and lost to Thurow and the Redhawks Girls’ team in previous years.

   “Knowing that we were coming into the season and had a chance to compete for the State Championship, the competitor in me, I mean, that just gets me going...To be able to take over a team that has as much talent as we had, that was incredibly exciting,” he says.

   And while he acknowledges that winning a State Championship right off the bat definitely set the bar high, the nerves he feels about the coming year are less fear and more “nervous excitement” about going out and defending their championship.

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A Matter of Identity

So, is Matt Pryor disappointed that he isn’t in the baseball world today? Not really.

   What you might not know is that basketball was actually Pryor’s first love.

   “I loved everything about it. I loved the intensity, I loved the fact that the fans are right there on top of you court-side and you can hear everything that they’re saying…[but] I was a better baseball player.”

   And so, in a roundabout way, as Matt surrendered control over his path to God’s leading, he found himself back in the world of basketball, in a very different role but also with a very different perspective on life as a whole:

   “I’m so glad [the injury] did happen, because you quickly begin to realize what’s important. Once you get your priorities straight, it's kind of amazing how everything else falls into place.”

   And herein lies the challenge: To continue forward from that foundation of trust, constantly remembering that all else is shifting sand.

  “When you wrap yourself up in an identity with something that can be taken away like that,” Matt says, “that’s not a solid base.” A good reminder for us all.


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Topics: Upper School, Athletics, Alumni Stories

Camino Adventures: Q&A

Posted by Amy Barnard on Oct 25, 2019


On June 4th, Minnehaha faculty Nancy Cripe, Diane Hallberg, Wendy McDonald, and Mary Quello embarked on a 14-day pilgrimage on the historic 200-mile Camino Primitivo trail in Northern Spain. The trail dates back to the 9th century, part of the Camino de Santiago trail network.

Much more than a summer challenge, the teachers stated: "Our deep hope for our students through our Camino Primitivo hike (and through our school community’s determination to rebuild in the face of tragedy and unimaginable loss) is to 'teach our children to love challenges.' We desire that our students and our school community will learn to embrace difficulty as a doorway to growth. We desire to help our students flourish as they invest effort in gaining skills and strategies that create a love for learning and a resilient spirit."

Q. Have you ever done any serious hiking before?

DH: Never. That makes me the poster child for people considering doing this in the future but wondering if they can do it. It was hard, but there is a saying that "The Camino provides." All of us found that to be absolutely true.

MQ: Nothing like this. Two summers ago, I did a 4-day hike on Mont Blanc. It was difficult hiking, but only 4 days.

WM: I’ve done a fair amount of day hiking in State and National Parks, but only the 5-10 mile type hikes and not with a 20 pound pack.

NC: I’ve been on two other Caminos (Italy in 2015 and Spain in 2017), so I knew the rigor and demands of a 200-mile pilgrimage hike.

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Sharing an evening meal with other hikers at one of the first hostels along the way.

Q. What were your initial thoughts when you considered the trip?

WM: I was looking forward to deepening relationships with other MA teachers, excited to experience the Camino culture, the Spanish countryside, and fellow pilgrims, and motivated to meet the physical challenges of such a long hike. BUT I was nervous about being able to hike so far day-after-day.

DH: From the start, I jumped in full force on this trip, which in retrospect seems like a complete leap of faith. I had known about the Camino for a long time and always dreamed of doing it.  Honestly, I don't know if I really ever thought about being nervous about it; my desire to complete the Camino eclipsed that in a "I don't know exactly how I'm going to do this, but I'm going to do it anyway" sort of way.

NC: I’ve had the opportunity to go on two other Caminos and was eager to share the experience with other Minnehaha faculty. I was eager and hopeful that others would be interested.

2019-Camino-Hiking down the hill copyEmbarking on what is often called the "leg wrecker," the most difficult section of the Camino de Santiago.

Q. How did you prepare for the hike?

DH: I took 25 pounds of my heaviest text books, loaded them up in my backpack and hit the road--with any of my friends that were willing to join me. You know that odd-looking person hiking along the River Road with poles and a full backpack? That was me.

MQ: I did my best to get out walking in my hiking boots as much as possible.  Eventually I also went hiking around town with my backpack on filled with hand weights and books. When I had time, I would walk to do my errands rather than drive. I also did a lot of reading online about the hike.  As a group we met and watched "The Way," and "I'll Push You," two movies about the Camino. I also prayed a lot, especially for my feet to survive the hike.  My prayers were answered!

NC: We prepared physically with several months of training, both individually and together—walking, running, hiking, and gym workouts. We spent a great deal of time developing and writing our Camino goals and applications to our teaching.

2019-Camino-blisters copyPatching up blisters before bed.

Q. What did you hope to learn or take back from the hike?

NC: As teachers we’re becoming concerned that some of our students shy away from challenges because they believe they might not succeed. They might fail. We want to help our students learn to love a challenge, to see failure as a gateway to growth—very Carol Dweck “growth mindset." So we thought we should have some skin in the game and do something hard ourselves. We also desired these weeks on Camino to be a time to heal, reflect, laugh, pray, give thanks, and rejuvenate after two demanding, difficult years.

DH: There are difficult yet important lessons that come from humility and failure. I can honestly say that all of us were humbled many times on the path. We had to ask for help, problem-solve, show empathy for one another, consider different opinions and compromise.  As adults, these are things that we often think we have mastered­—until we have to really do them. It is my deep hope that the perspectives that we gained through our struggles will continue to give us inspiration and empathy as we return to our classrooms this fall.

MQ: [In addition to our goals related to our students], hiking the Camino de Santiago was set as a physical challenge for myself as I get ready to celebrate one of the bigger birthdays—something to help keep me "young."  In addition to the physical push, I was looking forward to the time for reflection and time for building relationships with the Minnehaha group going, and the people we would meet along the way.

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Upper School Band instructor Diane Hallberg placing a small shard of brick from the school explosion on top of a monument where other travelers had laid rocks that represented burdens they had been carrying.

Q. Did you learn anything unexpected through the process?

WM: The stress of the downhills caught up with one of my knees a little more than halfway through the trip and I couldn’t hike for a few days. This caused me to have some very uncomfortable time with God where I had to confront my utter dislike of not being the best, or even competent, at a task, not wanting to do something if I couldn’t do it perfectly, and not wanting to need anyone’s help. My fellow hikers intervened and convinced me I couldn’t quit because, in a nutshell, “Together We Rise.” I managed to finish the Camino by taking a few short cuts on some days and with lots of help and encouragement from my friends.

NC: I learned that everyone has a story, and in the hustle-bustle of everyday living I need to create and guard time to listen intently to the stories of others—and to share my own.

DH: I realized that I have continued to carry a lot of grief and stress from the past two years that it is now time to let go of. One of the most poignant moments for me was laying a small shard of brick from the 1913 Upper School building on top of a monument right before we reached our final destination. My backpack literally felt lighter after I set that tiny piece of brick down. While I will never forget what it felt like to walk out of that building the day it exploded and the lessons we have all learned, I also realize that a part of trusting in God's faithfulness is letting go of things that are weighing you down.

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Sharing chocolate with other hikers passing by.

Q. Any funny memories or surprising revelations from the trip?

MQ: One of my favorite memories is when we had just finished hiking up a long and steep hill, we just sat at the top and rested, waiting and catching our breath. One of us (probably Diane) pulled out a chocolate bar to share. We had some leftover and so we were offering chocolate squares to the other hikers once they made it to the top.

DH: Too many to recount! The six of us began the trip as acquaintances and ended as life-long friends.

WM: Mary Quello, of course, spoke Spanish to many of the people we encountered each day and I knew going into the trip how much easier that would make our logistics. But I didn’t anticipate how much richer a cultural and spiritual experience the trip was for all of us because of her abilities. Through her we were able to engage people at a much deeper level. They opened up to us much more and the hospitality we received was extraordinary. It was a great reminder of how valuable second language skills are!

NC: We named our pilgrimage hike the “Together We Rise Camino,” but after several hard days of climbing Spanish mountains we renamed it the “Together We Rise…and Rise…and Rise Camino”!

2019-Camino-Coffee hospitality IMG_0273 copyAlong the way the group stopped at the home of a local man who lived on the path. Each day, he sets out coffee for the travelers and at times takes his own coffee breaks to chat with the passersby.

Q. Is there anything else you would like us to know about the trip?

MQ: I am so thankful that I had this amazing opportunity.  I really appreciate all the support we received. Thank you for the support from the group on the trip and the support from those back home, the financial support from the grant, the prayers, notes, and the followers on Instagram cheering us on to the finish, thank you!

DH: One of the really powerful things about the Camino is that it is different from a "hike." Everyone who you are walking with has chosen to make this pilgrimage for a particular reason, which creates a sort of instant fellowship between you and the other strangers who you encounter on the path.  People are willing to share stories, open their hearts and show amazing acts of generosity to people they have never met before.  What a beautiful way to experience the community of love and fellowship that God desires us to engage in!

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The team arrives in Santiago de Compostela.



Topics: Faculty Stories

Giving Back: Alumni Make the Classroom

Posted by Amy Barnard on Oct 17, 2019


Jai Hanson (’03) didn’t come to speak at Minnehaha Academy last year because he was looking for advice from teenagers.

He came because, like so many who make this campus what it is, he wanted to give back to the place that launched him into the world.

“I really enjoyed my time at Minnehaha,” he says. “I loved the staff, and I still have friendships with people I knew in seventh grade...once you’re part of the MA community you’re part of it for life.”

So when Director of Diversity Paulita Todhunter asked Hanson to come speak with some students who were expressing fear and anxiety regarding recent incidents between police and individuals of color, he said “Absolutely.”

At the time, Hanson had more than a decade of experience in law enforcement under his belt and was finishing his Master of Public Safety Administration. He also had a growing passion to see improvement in the relationship between the law enforcement community and youth.

“I think it was helpful for students to meet a police officer who was familiar with their story of being a Minnehaha student and a person of color, and what it's like to be in both of those worlds,” says Ms. Todhunter. “He also gave them insight into the world of a police officer, which isn't always as black and white as it may seem.”

Bringing Back Expertise

Over the years, alumni like Hanson have stepped up to speak in classes, invite students into their businesses, and even mentor students and recent grads. As a community, we’ve found that having alumni who come back to share their expertise with students fosters deeper learning, provides opportunities for exploration, and often can be the catalyst that casts vision for future direction.

“Speakers bringing in ‘real world’ related experiences help strengthen and solidify the material for my students,” shares Julie Johnson, psychology and business instructor.

Johnson points to David Kvasnik (‘96) and wife Deena. The couple have been guest presenters to her Intro to Business class a number of times. Deena and David started their business, Deena's Gourmet, and grew it from a small family venture to a large business in a matter of years, ultimately selling it to Old Home. Their talks have given students real world examples and the opportunity to ask questions.

Fostering Deeper Learning


(L) Alum Diana Wallin speaks to Upper School students about brain science and (R) uses special goggles to teach Lower School students about the brain's adaptability.

Another campus visitor who leaves a mark every time she comes is Diana Wallin (‘03). While working on her Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Minnesota, Diana lived just over the river from Minnehaha Academy. During this time, she visited the Upper and Lower Schools multiple times with her “Brain Awareness” presentation, even bringing real brains (both human and animal) for students to study.

During one visit, Diana and fellow doctoral candidate Amanda Barks helped first graders develop their own scientific study:

Students stood in the hallway and tossed bean bags into a small cup. Then they put on special goggles that impaired their vision and tossed the bean bags again. All of the bean bags ended up to the right of the cup. They then took off the goggles and threw the bean bags again—this time they ended to the left of the cup. The students excitedly reviewed their “findings” to discover how the brain compensates for impaired vision.

Diana used this experience, along with a real human brain and spinal cord, to explain the concept of plasticity in the brain, as well as to teach students about brain health.

Even teacher Britt Guild was surprised at how much the students took away from the experience:

“Some students immediately made an intellectual connection between nerves and electricity while some connected emotionally to the experience after realizing the brain was from a real person. It was thrilling to see how no matter how complex we think an idea is, a young mind can surpass our expectations and understand so much more."

This opportunity to spark discovery in young minds is something Wallin herself finds rewarding:

“We always say you can’t do what you don’t see, or what you don’t know about.” She hopes that some students will discover a love for brain science and research, and that young women will see her work and recognize that there is a place for them in the world of science.

Offering Opportunities

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Mason Mitchell (far left) and Michael Everett (far right) back when Mason first started volunteering and Michael was still a student.

Alumni involvement also means more opportunities to explore beyond the classroom.

For a number of years Mason Mitchell (’09) and Michael Everett (’14) have blocked off numerous afternoons and Saturdays each fall to support MA’s debate students.

Mitchell is a circulation supervisor at the University of St. Thomas library, and as a veteran debater himself with degrees in philosophy, theology, and business, Mitchell is a prime choice to advise a debate team. A JD candidate at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Everett is also highly qualified to teach students the finer points of debating.

As a young college student roughly a decade ago, Mitchell both missed his debate experience at MA and saw a genuine need: Minnehaha faculty Nathan Johnson was the only coach for a growing number of students.

“One of the best things that Minnehaha has to offer is that students aren’t just treated like kids,” observes Mitchell. He points out that students get to interact with teachers on a very personal level in small classes and that this experience pushes them to excellence and maturity. Seeing the growing size of the debate team, Mitchell wanted to come alongside Mr. Johnson to help give students that personalized growth experience.

Mitchell shares that debate offers a very specific growing experience that meant a lot to him as a student, and now he enjoys walking current students through that process.

“Debate forces you to not just work on your research skills, not just work on presentation skills, but to put it all together in one package and be more spontaneous and engaging.” He points out that even students who start out as reserved or “wall flowers” grow through the process until four years later some of those same students are the ones jumping at the chance to get up in front of the whole school to give a presentation.

Thanks to Mitchell, Everett, and others who have stepped in pro bono over the years, Minnehaha Academy offers debaters the chance to grow exponentially over the course of their Upper School career.

Casting Vision

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One essential ingredient for growth is vision for where you are going. For Jonathan Thomas (‘11), speaking at MA was a chance to cast the same vision his mother set for him so many years ago: love Jesus and pursue education.

Thomas transferred to Minnehaha Academy as a seventh grader, a move instigated by his mother and one he was not happy about.

“I thought I was fine at the school I attended,” he says, “however my mother saw that I was going down a bad path with friends who didn’t have my best interests at heart.” His mother wanted to see Thomas in “a Christian environment that would foster healthy spiritual and intellectual development.” Thomas wasn’t particularly interested in either.

Fast forward nearly 15 years and Thomas is working towards a master’s degree in strategic leadership and has a side gig as a traveling preacher. He looks back on his time at MA as one of the most positive experiences in his life, and he wants current students to make the most of the opportunity they’ve been given.

Thomas, whose mother passed away while he was still at MA, exhorted students to trust God through trials and the sometimes bumpy transition to adulthood, as well as encouraged them to pursue higher education.

Because we never know what seed will be planted in a student’s heart—to nurture their spiritual walk, become an entrepreneur, face a challenge that feels bigger than themselves—we continue to invite alumni to share their stories with Minnehaha students.

Providing Opportunities for “Big Discussions”

All of this brings us back to Jai Hanson’s experience sharing at MA. In addition to sharing about his own journey as a police officer, Hanson wanted to open the floor for any lingering questions so students could process some of the “whys” behind law enforcement decisions. He also asked students what they wanted and needed from those in law enforcement.

To understand the dynamics of this discussion, it’s helpful to know that teachers work with Minnehaha students from a young age to develop the skills for having difficult conversations respectfully. This was an opportunity to put those skills into action, both for Hanson and the students.

What could have been a tense time actually resulted in a meaningful discussion that left an impact on both the students and Hanson himself.

“My intention was to go there to answer questions and help students,” says Hanson, “but I left with students’ perspectives that I brought back to my police department. The students really gave me more insight than I probably gave them. I took a lot away from that and I’m thankful for that.”

Ultimately, we’ve found that having an alumni community that reconnects with our students is a win-win: the students benefit from the experience and insight of alumni, and like Hanson often share that they took away something from the experience:

“It’s easy to get into your profession and just do your normal thing. When you talk to students it reminds you why you’re doing what you’re doing and why you got into your career.” For the students Hanson met with, it was a chance to both better understand all sides of a difficult story, as well as to have their voice heard in a meaningful way.

Topics: Alumni Stories, Academics, Cultivating Potential, Exceptional Academics

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