Minnehaha Academy Blog

Upper School at Minnehaha [Video]

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Nov 6, 2019
Do you want to know what it is like to be a student at Minnehaha's Upper School? Follow along with these students and find out! 

Topics: Upper School, 3100 Campus

Upper School Campus [Photos]

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Nov 5, 2019

If you haven't had a chance to tour our rebuilt Upper School at Minnehaha Academy, check out this photo gallery of the campus. Then, be sure to schedule your visit in person!

If you are considering sending your child to Minnehaha, schedule a personal tour with our Admission Team. 

If you are an alum, we'd love to give you a tour as well! Contact Nicole Sheldon at sheldonnicole@minnehahaacademy.net to schedule your visit.

Topics: Upper School, 3100 Campus

Barbara Chapman '83

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Nov 5, 2019

Barbara Chapman

Barb Chapman was a part of the first ever class of math majors at Northwestern College.  While researching potential careers for a class project, she got excited about actuarial science, which is a discipline that assesses financial risks in the insurance and finance fields using mathematical and statistical methods.  As an introvert, she imagined her ideal job in a room by herself with no phone. 

Soon after, Northwestern hosted a mission emphasis week with representatives from different ministries from around the world.   She approached the Wycliffe table, which was staffed by the parents of a student she knew.  She asked them “What would you do with a math major?”  Their eyes just shot open and they said, “You can learn a new language.”   She said, “No, I tried to learn French and couldn’t speak it.  Then I went to France and got incredibly homesick. No...I can’t do it.”  This couple took her under their wing and invited her to some of the Wycliffe presentations which really tugged on her heart.  

Discerning Vocation

This couple from Wycliffe--time and time again--would call her and invite her to things missions related.   She and God went head to head and she felt like God was saying “I want you to go.”  She argued with God, “I can’t learn the language” and He said, “I want you to go.”  She said, “I get homesick overseas” and He said, “I want you to go.”   Despite all her arguments, she still felt a passion inside of her that this was important!  She finally said “I will go!  I’ll go for a year on a short-term mission and see what comes.”   

In that era, short-term mission trips meant going to the Philippines and Japan as an English teacher.  She decided to go to Japan. Her first short-term project was teaching English in a local church in very rural Japan.  She lived alone. Her first day by herself she collapsed and just bawled.  The next day she got up, washed her face, and taught her first English class.  As soon as she was dropped off at home, she turned away from the car and started crying again. This went on for a week.  She was sleeping but not eating.  She didn’t have a phone in her house, so she went to one of her student’s homes and asked to use her phone, and called her parents collect.   

Encouragement in the Word

The first thing Barb said to her dad was, “I don’t know if I can make it.”  He said, “They don’t want a miserable missionary” and she rebutted, “I signed a one-year contract.”  Her dad told her that she was thinking as a child and it would be better for everyone if she would come home.   She said “OK.  I’ll see how tomorrow is.”  

The next day was Saturday, which went fine. The next day, Sunday, she went to church and had fun.  She thought, “If this is too hard, I’ll just get on a flight Monday—my day off.”   As each day passed, she felt a little bit better.  The verse God kept giving her was Matthew 19:29: And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.  She would read the verse and pray, “You promised.  Because I left everything I know for Your sake, not mine.  I was going to be happy sitting in a cubicle somewhere.”  Every new day brought healing.  After a month, a volunteer Japanese teacher from the church asked her how long she had studied Japanese.  Barb said, “I couldn’t count beyond 10 before I came here.”  The teacher said, “I’ve never had a short-term missionary come and be able to speak as well as you.”  Barb shares, “God gave me a gift with the language, and He gave me a crisis point in my homesickness. He brought me through, and He healed me through it. He used my dad and the reassurance that I could go home to remind me that “I can provide for you, I will take care of you.”

At the end of her first year in Japan, she still had Matthew 10:29 running through her brain.  But she was encouraged that she could do it.  When she looked around and remembered how many families she could run to if she was in trouble, how many people she could call if she needed a ride, and how many families would include her in their holidays, she could not count them all.  God showed His faithfulness through that verse; He had given her new friends and family, and He would provide for her.  

Vocation Affirmed

During that year, He confirmed first that he wanted her in career missions. Then He confirmed that Japan was not just a one-year thing.  She also met her soon to be husband Jeff--who was also a short termer that same year.  Barb and her family have been on the mission field now for over 20 years.

At Minnehaha, just like in Japan, encouragement kept her going.  She remembers having struggles with French and a teacher who kept encouraging her she could do it—no matter how poor she did. She was not sporty at all in 7th grade.  The coach at the time encouraged her to “just keep going. “ In volleyball, she was a terrible player, but she loved being a cheerleader on the bench.  Her coach always said, “Don’t give up, just keep going, you don’t have to be the best, you don’t have to achieve what others achieve.”

To Fellow Alums

What would Barbara say to other alumni?  “While I was growing up, I often felt like I didn’t have anything important to say—that I couldn’t say anything to anyone that they didn’t already know.  In Japan, I felt like I had something important to say that people had not heard!  I can’t reach everyone, and you have been placed where you can reach people that I would never be able to reach. If you know Christ, you have something important to say to the people around you.”


Topics: Alumni Stories

Andy Birdsong '05

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Nov 5, 2019


Andy’s whole story is about standing on the shoulders of giants.  Many people along the way gave him opportunity and invested in him, and now his goal is to pass that on to others. 

A Firm Foundation

Andy grew up in a Christian home and it was important in his family to both understand and live out your faith. Both of his parents instilled in him values that have set the path for his life. It was extremely impactful for him to have these values reinforced at school.  “The ability to both question your faith and define your faith during formative years in a safe and supportive environment is something I will never forget about Minnehaha Academy.” 

Some of the most impactful moments he had at MA were convocation and chapel.  He loved the worship and music, and can still remember speakers and themes that helped him to think about his faith. “MA took secular education and made it impactful for Christianity. That was one of the things I respected most as I think about my time there.” 

Better Caught, Than Taught

Andy valued the experience of seeing his teachers live out their values day to day in a way that was caring, compassionate, kind, and resolute in their own beliefs without infringing on a student’s own personal space. “I ‘caught’ living out values in a way that impacts others. If someone wants to talk about faith and Christianity, I’m in.  But I can’t walk into a room and say right away, ‘Yo--Jesus saves!’  I learned and was taught a way of living out my values that can impact culture that is real and relevant while also being set apart. That is what I hope is the call upon my life, and I hope my son ‘catches’ that from me.” 

Soft Skill: Coachability

All of his teachers and coaches made some sort of impact on his life and poured themselves into him, most notably Lance Johnson.  He was the Dean of Students and became the Boys’ Basketball coach Andy’s senior year. Lance hired Andy as an Assistant Coach right after he graduated from high school and they coached together for three years.  This was very formative for how Andy looked at the game of basketball, team building, and the importance of culture. Peter Hamburge ‘99, who served as an assistant, had a great impact on him as well.

After Minnehaha, Andy went to Bethel University. It was another environment where he was watching and learning values lived out in a way that were real and relevant.  After college, Andy went to Florida State University where he earned a Master’s of Sports Administration and Business. While there, he was also the Men’s Basketball Graduate Assistant. Andy got that role without first meeting the head coach, Leonard Hamilton, but when he finally did, Mr. Hamilton became like a father to him. “If there ever was Mount Rushmore of African American coaches that broke through the college game, his face would be on it.  He has been impacting college basketball for 45 plus years.” 

Relationships, Mentorship & Opportunity

After Andy finished at Florida State, he aspired to work in the NBA but no one was hiring, so he moved back to Minnesota. While he was home, he got a phone call from the San Antonio Spurs about an internship.  Andy had been handing out his resume at the Sweet Sixteen basketball games in San Antonio where FSU was playing. After his first few rounds of interviews, he called Coach Hamilton and told him he was interviewing. Coach Hamilton started laughing, “Andy, why didn’t you tell me?”  Andy said “I wanted to do it by myself. I didn’t want to bother you.”  And Coach laughed and said “I mentored R.C. Buford 20 years ago!”   Andy went on to get the Basketball Operations Internship with the Spurs. R.C. told Andy that the reason he got the opportunity was because he took Coach Hamilton’s word.  Andy was with the Spurs for a year, spending a lot of personal time with R.C. and his family. They grew a bond that was “unshakable.”   

He then got a job in Atlanta with the Hawks.  “I got thrown into an ocean and could either sink or swim.”  He became the Basketball Operations Assistant, then the Director of Basketball Operations for a few years, later returning to San Antonio to serve as the Director of Pro Player Personnel and General Manager of the minor league team.  This past May, he was offered the position of the Assistant General Manager for the Brooklyn Nets. He and Sean Marks, their GM, were interns together in San Antonio and sat next to each other every day for a year.Sean became like an older brother to him.  

His story, at the end of the day, is all about personal relationships and living out your values.   Anyone can scout, anyone can run an organization, anyone can impact a bottom line.  “The heart in which you do it and the intensity and fervency that you attack daily relationship and daily work--that is what matters.  The job itself is the ultimate blend of interpersonal relationships and asset management.  If I can be solid in both of those things--which is a very delicate balance--I feel like we can have success in the profession.  At the end of the day, I am a sum of many parts, and I don’t take that lightly. I represent all that have poured into me throughout my life.” 

Every step of Andy’s journey has been about people investing in him, and him investing in others. God places people in our lives, and God gave Andy opportunity after opportunity for intentional relationship building.  Andy says, “You just need to keep your eyes open and your heart open to see what happens.  Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Don’t do it to make money, to gain power or influence, just do it because it is the right thing to do.  If we could all do that, we would be in a much better place than we sometimes find ourselves.”  

To The Students

What would Andy say to current students at MA? “We’re called as Christians to both be excellent and to be set apart.  Success is found not just in the championship games, but in the slow burn of daily life and who you are doing it with.  If you put all your efforts into one thing--like winning the championship--when you win the championship you realize that you’ll just want to move on to the next thing!  If you can’t find true success in the people around you, then I would challenge you that you are chasing the wrong thing.”

We look forward to welcoming Andy home to Minnehaha Academy on November 7thwhere he will share his story with the leadership class, speak in Chapel, and talk with students at lunch.

Topics: 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

2019-Jonathan Thomas copy

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

Cheryl Marker '95

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Oct 11, 2019

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Cheryl Marker started figure skating when she was two years old. In 8th grade at Minnehaha Academy, she needed to train during the day, so she left school early, eventually transitioning to attending only half-days. She started national competitions when she was 13 years old, and when she was in high school, started competing internationally; traveling to Germany, France, Canada, and Slovakia. “MA made that all possible,” she says. 

Making it Work

Cheryl was a single skater until age 13, when she became a pairs skater, and skated with a partner.  Most teachers were extremely accommodating of the fact that she would miss a half day of school, and also be gone for a week or two at a time--several times a year--for various competitions.  They would help her figure out homework, exams, and joint-class projects. Some teachers would get their lesson plans done weeks early so she could get everything needed for class done before she left.   

Radical Support

Rich Enderton, Cheryl’s math teacher, went over and above to help her succeed.  Cheryl was in Advanced Placement math and Mr. Enderton didn’t teach all of the classes she needed to take: he typically didn’t teach trigonometry or geometry, but he took it upon himself to teach her all of them during that time, sometimes as a tutor on the weekends.  “I had Mr. Enderton as a math teacher for six years. He did wonders for me; he worked with me at my pace and helped me excel at math.  My first year of calculus in college, I was still seeing things he had shown me. He gave me a huge foundation in math that I can’t even begin to thank him for.”  Cheryl earned her undergrad degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Minnesota, which required significant math skill.   While she was in college, she went back to Minnehaha and thanked Mr. Enderton in person.  “I want to thank MA and all the supportive teachers for allowing me to continue with my passion of Figure Skating while still in school.”

Cheryl continued her competitive figure skating career into her college years, but stopped competing after the ‘97 nationals.  To continue with figure skating, she would have had to move away from Minnesota, which affected her education.  She had to decide between the two, and she chose her education.  “It was a very hard decision to make,” Cheryl says. 

Life Beyond the Rink

Cheryl went on to grad school and got a PhD in pharmacology (the study of drugs) and a minor in neuroscience. After graduate school, she went into industry working for contract research organizations. She now works as a research manager in a lab at the University of Minnesota focusing on developing antibodies to opioids.  Her career veers toward toxicology, which is basically “…pushing past what is good for you.  Too much of a good thing is not always good,” she says. Additionally, the lab she is managing is hoping to bring the opioid antibodies into clinical use.

Cheryl is also an official and mentor in figure skating. Figure skating gave her focus and the knowledge that not everything is going to be easy and ‘right’ the first time. Skating taught her to pick herself up and keep going.  As an official and a mentor, she coaches parents and skaters through disappointments, like when they are devastated that they aren’t going to go to the Olympics.  “I encourage them that the important thing is that their kids are learning life lessons and developing friendships that they can take with them.” 

To The Students

"MA felt like a family. People were there for me and did so much for me.  MA was always there to support me and helped to make my dreams happen--as much as they could.  Take the incredible education for everything it can be.” 


Topics: Alumni Stories

David Anderson '67

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Oct 11, 2019


David Anderson has been a member of Minnehaha Academy’s Board of Trustees since 2008 and its Chair since 2012—including on Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017, the day of the explosion.  Normally, the Board of Trustees meets five times a year. The year after the explosion, it met 15-20 times, starting on Saturday, August 5th.  David states the Board was willing to meet whenever needed, because there were so many critically important issues to decide concerning the future of the School.  The Board includes people with different and wide-ranging expertise and every member brought their individual experience and wisdom to the discussion.  “Everyone on the Board pulled together in a remarkable way. I don’t recall any decision that was not unanimous even though there were many difficult things to think about and to act on,” David says.

There were several questions that the Board needed to consider and decide, including: 

Should we move the entire School to a new location?

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, the Trustees decided that all options should be considered and that they should not rush headlong into rebuilding in the same spot “just because.” They realized that MA did not have all of the amenities a college prep school ideally would have, partly because the School does not own sufficient acreage. The Board explored moving the entire School and considered available buildings and vacant parcels of land. The Trustees concluded there was not enough time under the circumstances: holding school in a temporary location for more than a couple of years would present a potential existential crisis.  Because of this time crunch only then currently available buildings and parcels could be considered.  None of them fulfilled the Board’s requirements.  In addition, it was not feasible to raise the necessary funds for such a project in the time available.

The Board also retained experts in real estate and construction for consultation.  They advised that the demographic trend of migration to the core city would continue, making the current location advantageous. The Board, of course, felt the pull of the School’s history and was acutely aware that MA occupies some of the most beautiful acreage in the Twin Cities.  So in the end, the Board decided to rebuild on the West River Parkway property.  

Why not rebuild the same blueprint of the previous school?  

David says, “The biggest factor was that the school was antiquated for 21st century learning.” Education is now delivered vastly differently than it was in 1913 when the School was built, or even 30 years ago.  Classrooms were tiny and portions of the old building were mismatched. The Board wanted to build a leading edge 21st century facility instead of copying what was a century old.  After the explosion, no part of the original school existed and the only parts of the second renovation still standing were the chapel and the gymnasium.  “It didn’t make sense to rebuild an outmoded facility.”  David says. “This new building is intentionally larger than the old one, it will accommodate a better learning environment, and fit a larger student body.” 

Why raise more money if we are getting an insurance settlement? 

 “The measure of damages under the insurance policy is to rebuild the same thing that you lost,” David says. In other words, the amount of recovery was not sufficient to build a larger modern building, but only to recreate a replica of the original building. In addition, part of the insurance proceeds was earmarked for non-building expenses.  “A fair portion of the settlement related to expenses associated with the immediate recovery from the explosion:  the transition to the Mendota campus, the fitting out of the Mendota campus, the additional transportation costs that related to being at a place eight miles from MA, and all of the extras that went into getting a temporary replacement facility up and running. That, or course, meant those dollars were not available to fund the new permanent facility,” David says. 

God's Timing

God uniquely positions people “for such a time as this.” He placed certain people in leadership on August 2nd.  David was uniquely positioned as the Chair of the Board, an alumnus, and a long-term supporter of MA to lead the Board and our MA community forward through a very difficult time. He saw MA through the second of its hardest seasons in over 100 years.  “During the Great Depression, enrollment declined to 35 students, which was another tough time,” David says.  

To Fellow Alums

“We have reached an important halfway point in the first phase of the campaign, but we are still working to fulfill the mission. There is more to build. There is enrollment to enlarge. There is financial stability to achieve.  There is Kingdom impact to enhance. This is not the end of the journey. It is an important waypoint, but there is much more to do.”

Topics: Alumni Stories

Student-Led Book Fair Marketing

Posted by Amy Barnard on Oct 10, 2019

A special thanks to the parents , teachers, and former parents whose artistic skills made this year's trip to Oz all the more special!

In order to connect the classroom more tightly to real-world scenarios, the Middle School called on eighth graders to take a lead role in marketing this year’s book fair.

Through the project, the students learned to examine and evaluate marketing materials, think through diverse audiences, pitch a concept, receive critique, and make adjustments based on feedback.

Product Conception

Taking the cue from methods used in current marketing practices, library assistant Susan Besser and art instructor Steve Taminga introduced the needs of the customer (the Lower and Middle School Library) to the marketing team (eighth grade art students).

They explained that the library was partnering with Scholastic to be the publisher’s “brick and mortar” store for the week October 7th, and they needed help advertising the event through promotional posters.

The instructors and students discussed the differences between their two primary audiences (Lower and Middle School students) and examined sample marketing materials, thinking through things that have and haven’t worked well in the past.

Taking Critique


From here the students were sent off to prepare pencil sketches of their proposals, which were then presented to Ms. Besser and Mr. Taminga for critique before making further revisions.

Once they had an approved design concept, students worked on their final project which they presented to the class as a whole, opening up the floor for “cool” and “warm” comments.

“We had students from the audience share what worked or what they thought could use improvement,” says Ms. Besser, explaining that being able to give gentle but constructive feedback (as well as being able to receive that feedback) is an important element of the unit.

Finally, faculty displayed the promotional posters along the main hall of the school as a way to draw students’ attention to the upcoming event.

One Step Further


In addition to posters created in the fine arts room, students who were part of Ms. Wildes’ 8th Grade Technology class designed promotional advertisements on Canva using the skills they’ve been learning this semester. Ms. Besser spoke to the students, presenting them with a similar challenge that she presented to the arts students, and then Ms. Wildes set them free to begin designing.

This opportunity to use their newly developing marketing skills in a real-life situation deepened students’ understanding of their craft as well as nudged them into new layers of receiving critique and finding ways to improve their work based on constructive feedback.

Topics: Middle School, Academics, Fine Arts, Cultivating Potential, Exceptional Academics

Building Dedication: A Service of Remembrance and Hope

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Oct 8, 2019


On September 29, 2019, the Minnehaha Community - alumni, current families, current and former faculty and staff, and current and former Trustees - gathered for a service of remembrance and hope at the Building Dedication. Together, we remembered the tragic events of August 2, 2017, and God's faithfulness through the days, months, and years that followed as we rebuilt the Upper School.

Holding the tension of tragedy and hope can be a challenge at times. We mourn the loss of two dear friends and colleagues, but also look to God’s faithfulness and His promise to His people in Isaiah 43:19:

See, I am doing a new thing!

    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness

    and streams in the wasteland.

This promise has been imprinted on many of our hearts and is what we look to as we dedicate the rebuilt Upper School to God for His glory. Composer Daniel Kallman of Northfield, MN, wrote a beautiful composition to mark this new chapter in our school’s history. The piece was performed at the Building Dedication by the Minnehaha Academy Singers, Orchestra, and Symphonic Wind Ensemble. This commissioned piece is based on Isaiah 43:19, Lamentations 3:22-24, and Hebrews 10:23.

Our community appreciated the special remarks by President Rev. Dr. Donna Harris, NWC Superintendent Rev. Mark Stromberg (‘74), former faculty member Rev. Paul Swanson (‘51), Chair of the Board of Trustees David Anderson (‘67), and Chair of the Together We Rise Campaign Marc and Alicia Belton.

Together We Rise Video and Program

Watch the video that was created for the service to mark the events that happened from the explosion on August 2, 2017, to the opening of the new building. 

View the Building Dedication Program.

Thank You

Thanks to all who worked to make the Building Dedication Service a beautiful and meaningful event. Thanks to all who attended the service and to those who have offered their support over the past two years as Together We Rise!


Topics: 3100 Campus

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