Minnehaha Academy Blog

Yearbook Staff Awarded by International Journalism Honor Society

Posted by Amy Barnard on Dec 17, 2019

2019-Quill-and-Scroll-Awardees copy

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!
Send me information about Minnehaha Academy!




Topics: Awards, Academics, Exceptional Academics

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

debate photo copy

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

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

Alexander Ramos '15 on Learning to Challenge Himself

Posted by Amy Barnard on Sep 5, 2019

2019-Alex-Ramos-For Print 1 copy

Purdue graduate Alexander Ramos '15 has come a long way since he tore his ACL while playing soccer during sophomore year. At that point in his academic career, his grades were dropping and school couldn’t seem to hold his interest.

“The ones who don’t care about the readings, the assignments—that was me,” Ramos says.

The Uber of Ride Sharing

This comment seems somewhat incredible when you consider both his degree and how he spent his free time at Purdue these past few years: Shrugging their shoulders at opportunities for parties and sporting events, Ramos and two classmates spent Friday nights dreaming, planning, and experimenting until they launched a startup called UniShare, all while maintaining solid grades.

“[UniShare is] a campus business with multiple arms to help college students save money, save time, and even make a little extra cash on the side,” Ramos explains.

While the company started with a laundry service based on the Uber model—students needing extra cash get paid to do laundry for those needing extra time—UniShare hit its sweet spot when Alex’s co-founder, Zurum Okereke, got frustrated trying to coordinate a ride back home to the East Coast; the friends saw a problem and knew there had to be a solution.

The students developed an investor presentation that procured $20,000 in seed money to create a ride sharing app, UniRide. University students can arrange rides, order snack boxes and even enable tracking for parents to check traveler progress without constantly texting or calling (a function appreciated by parents and students alike).

So what happened to move Ramos towards this point?

Someone challenged his view of himself. And then he took advantage of opportunities that had always been there.

A Perspective Shift Changes His Trajectory

“I had never thought of myself as someone who could achieve excellence,” Ramos shares. But when classmate Olivia West tore her ACL just a few weeks after Ramos, the two ended up in physical therapy at MA together. Over many afternoons regaining knee function, West challenged Ramos to put some effort into his intellectual growth.

“Why don’t I see what happens if I try?” Ramos asked himself.

He signed up for AP classes, including the daunting AP Physics. He worked to pull his GPA up. He participated in class. He started considering universities and degrees that had never been on his radar.

Ramos says that up to this point he had seen "the smart kids," the ones that participate, the ones that always found their way to the stage during awards assemblies, as somehow "other" than himself. They seemed to him like specific type of cookie-cutter individual, and he didn't fit that shape.

As West challenged him, though, he began to see the broad range of personalities, backgrounds, and individuals who were accomplishing big academic goals, and their perceived flatness rounded out into a diversity he realized he could be part of. 

"I didn’t feel like I could be part of that hard studying group until suddenly I felt like they were just like me," he says,"and then two years later I was in AP physics."

How to Think

He also took seriously a lesson woven through his MA courses, from physics to Senior Capstone: “MA taught me to think a little longer,” Ramos says. He learned to question his first responses to information or situations and look for other possibilities, to not just "think twice, but three times and then again" before developing a conclusion. He started watching for connections between seemingly unrelated things to explore their possible impact on outcomes—both skills that played heavily into his degree and his work on UniShare.

From here Ramos plans to take a year off to work and then head into business school in preparation for future entrepreneurial endeavors. When looking at where he is today, he gives a solid nod to the challenge of a friend and a community that helped him think just a little longer and little harder about the world around him.

“I think [that mindset] is one of the greatest things MA could have given me.”

Place of Influence: Purdue University

Role: Co-founder of start-up UniShare

Degree: B.S., Material Science and Engineering

Biggest MA Takeaway: Recognizing that he had potential if he would just put in the effort in. Learning to see things from multiple view points.

Advice to Current Students: Move in some direction. Just don’t be still. It doesn’t matter if you move with the current or against it because you will come to a better place when you just do it.


Topics: Alumni Stories, Exceptional Academics

Prestigious Colleges Honor Five MA Juniors

Posted by Amy Barnard on Jun 27, 2019

2019-FALL-BOOK-AWARDS-For-SocialFive prestigious colleges honored Minnehaha Academy students with book awards, presented at the end of the school year.

These awards recognize students who demonstrate academic excellence, commitment to their community, leadership, and character.

The students each received a book connected in some way to the school honoring them, chosen by alumni of that school.

This year's book award recipients are:

Grace Anderson—Wellesley College Book Award

This award recognizes a student who demonstrates intelligence, determination, motivation, and achievement, is a visible member of her school and communities, and is an academic leader. 

Clara Stein—Yale University Book Award

This award honors a student who demonstrates outstanding personal character and intellectual promise. 

Patrick Cullinan—George Washington University Book Award

This award pays tribute to a student who embodies the George Washington drive and spirit, specifically with his academic excellence, leadership outside of the classroom, diversity of thought, and ability to put knowledge into action. 

Andrew Karpenko—Harvard University Book Award

This award honors an outstanding student who displays excellence in scholarship and high character, combined with achievement in other fields. 

Danyelle Robinson—Gordon College Book Award

This award recognizes a student who exhibits excellent academic achievement, strong leadership potential, and commitment to Christ-honoring service for the common good. 

Congratulations, students!

Topics: Awards, Upper School, Exceptional Academics

Do Something: Design Thinking Connects AP English Skills to the Real World

Posted by Amy Barnard on May 30, 2019

2019-Spring-Clara Stein with post-its-1

Meeting with legislators at the State Capitol. Interviewing the Director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. Creating an interactive art event on the banks of the Mississippi.

Sound like your average AP English course? If not, that’s probably because Stephanie Sommer wasn’t your AP English instructor. AP English is all about literary non-fiction: understanding the crafts of writing and argumentation. But Ms. Sommer wanted the class to be about more than building abstract skills.

“To me it is about teaching the students that you build those skills so you can do something with them,” Ms. Sommer explains.

She also wants students to understand the realities faced by all parties in a conflict, instead of simply focusing on their side of the issue.

“Because this is a Christian school the other part [in research and argumentation] that is really important is empathy."

2019-Spring-Debating Clara 1

Students debate Clara's vaccine awareness project.

To achieve these goals while also making certain students are well prepared for the AP exam, Ms. Sommer built something completely new into the curriculum: a year-long, intensive design thinking project.

The project is based on Stanford's Design Thinking Process, a model used across a multitude of disciplines, from medical research to creating playground equipment.

Students choose a topic that interests them enough to spend a whole year working on it. Throughout the year, they walk through the steps of design thinking to ultimately create an actionable solution that they can implement for their final project.


Carolyn invites passersby to paint the trash they saw or might expect to see on the Mississippi, engaging them in considering the impact of small decisions.

Sommer explains that the first step of research involves digging deep to understand a problem and to build empathy around the people that are involved in the problem.

This step alone often brings new revelations for the students:

“I had never thought about the different perspectives of everyone whose lives were affected,” admits senior Evan Brown Ton.

Last year, Brown Ton examined mining issues in the Boundary Waters, a place he had come to love over a series of vacations.

But Brown Ton realized that his personal bias against mining impacted his ability to understand why many locals supported the initiative. Better understanding their perspective helped him consider solutions that might meet the economic needs of the local community as well as address environmental concerns.

For junior Patrick Cullinan it was Sommer's encouragement to take risks that brought an unexpected result:

"I discovered that it's really not too hard to get a meeting with [legislators], especially if you're sixteen years old," he says. Cullinan has already met with a state senator and representative as part of his research regarding gerrymandering (political redistricting) in Minnesota, and has plans to meet with as many as he can in the coming months.

2019-SPring-Evan Brown Ton for blog

Evan with his website.

Once students complete the initial research and brainstorming sessions, they engage in group debates on each others' subjects.

Here they get to explore the pros and cons in real time, after which classmates vote on which side offered the most effective arguments.

"[Last year] they did really well on the argument part of the AP exam," Ms. Sommer says. Students reported back that they felt the debates had been instrumental in preparing them for this section of the exam.

At this point, students design a prototype: What can they do to practically respond to the issue they feel concerned about?

Far from theory, students must execute their prototype and then report back on its results, discussing what they learned and what they would do differently in the future.

"It’s a lot of work," Ms. Sommer acknowledges.

"This is what work life is like. I give you deadlines and tell you what you need to get done but there aren’t a lot of constraints."


Jackson explains how he reached out to sporting goods stores in search of a partner to improve awareness of invasive species.

Students gain an incredible wealth of tools through this process: learning to research deeply, becoming smart risk takers, organizing a long-range project and carrying it through to completion, accepting and responding to criticism, and developing practical solutions to real-world problems.

And that, Ms. Sommer says, is the ultimate goal. "I’m a very big proponent of preparing kids with skills not just for college but for life."

Some other topics students researched and developed responses to include:

  • Critical Thinking and Experiential Learning
  • Latino Achievement Gap
  • Children of the Incarcerated
  • Opioid Addiction
  • Title IX in High School Athletics
  • Gender Inequality in Stage Directing
  • Gerrymandering
  • Implicit Racial Bias in Education
  • Food Waste
  • Child Trafficking in Minnesota
  • Immigration Stigma

Curious to see some actual project solutions designed by students? Check these out:

Andrew: Created a website that shares information on how people can help prevent drowning.

Trent: Created a t-shirt to raise awareness about childhood trauma. Sales of the shirt go to the non-profit Child Savers organization. 

Topics: Upper School, Academics, Exceptional Academics

Katerina Misa '17: Getting Out of Her Comfort Zone

Posted by Amy Barnard on Apr 18, 2019

2019-Katerina Misa landscape-1

 She was the shy girl who insisted she hated writing, but kept coming back to the Talon and Reid Westrem’s journalism class year after year. Today, as a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University, she manages the Twitter account for Dr. Steve Hanke, one of the world’s leading experts on troubled currencies.

With over 100,000 followers to keep informed and plans to increase that following, Katerina Misa manages ten others who work on the account. She also keeps an eye on the global economic news cycle and connects with journalists she thinks might be interested in what Dr. Hanke has to say. (Did we mention that she's only a sophomore?)

You could say that this experience almost didn’t happen: Dr. Hanke met and ultimately hired Katerina thanks to skills gained during her years with Mr. Westrem, in classes she found too writing-heavy for her taste.

“I think that every year except for my senior year I tried to quit,” she admits. But then a counselor would point out how well she was doing and encourage her to stick it out, and she eventually found her niche in design and leadership roles.

A year later, at JHU, Katerina faced a new challenge. She had already worked on multiple marketing projects for established brands, but she wanted to strengthen her economics muscles. She set her heart on working for economist Steve Hanke, who was right there on campus. But how could Katerina, a sophomore with few connections, catch the ear of one of the world’s leading economists?

“Networking is always a bit out of my comfort zone,” Katerina says, “I’m more on the introverted side.” But she decided to push through her inhibitions and cold-called a number of people in Dr. Hanke's network, asking about his office culture and what the man himself was like, developing connections even as she was doing her own fact-finding.

“[Journalism is] what helped me…I know how to interview someone when I’m just talking to them." she says.

Ultimately, Katerina's efforts paid off: she landed an interview with Dr. Hanke, who noticed that some of Katerina’s Talon work had been recognized by the prestigious Quill & Scroll. Combined with her history of leadership and marketing, she stood out as a unique potential addition to his economically-schooled team.

Hanke created a new role for Katerina, putting her over the ten students already working on his Twitter account, as well as in charge of building his visibility in the media world.

“Bringing it back to journalism,” Katerina says, laughing at the irony of it all, “I guess it was my most beneficial class.”

2019 - Steve Hanke Twitter for blog 

Place of Influence:
Johns Hopkins University


Chief of Communications for professor, economist, author and currency expert Dr. Steve Hanke.

Economics, Major

Marketing & Communications, Minor
Entrepreneurship & Management, Minor

Biggest MA Takeaway:
The value of community. Persistence: MA offers a lot to prepare you for college, but you need to be willing to take the opportunities offered and then stick with them to see the long-term benefits.

Advice to Current Students:
Connect with your teachers and advisors. Go up to them after class and talk to them. Also ask them to help you understand how you can best allocate your little time at Minnehaha.

Topics: Alumni Stories, Cultivating Potential, Exceptional Academics

Academics, Athletics, and the Arts: Junior Andrew Gives His Perspective

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Mar 27, 2019

2019-Andrew-Karpenko-Minnehaha-Academy-Minneapolis-Minnesota-6 copyWhat is it like to be an academic, an athlete, and an artist at Minnehaha? We talked to one Minnehaha student about what it is like to pursue a variety of interests at MA.

AP Courses, Fine Arts, and Championship-Level Athletics

Junior Andrew certainly has a full schedule. He currently takes four Advanced Placement courses - Latin, English, biology, and calculus II. You'll also find him playing oboe with the symphony orchestra and playing the trombone in pep and jazz band. He's also a championship swimmer. This season he broke the all-time Class A state record in both the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard breastroke.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 3.36.16 PM

(Photo by Annika from 2018 State Swim Tournament.)

Andrew has attended Minnehaha Academy since second grade, and says it's the community and the teachers that have made a difference for him.

"One thing that has been constant at Minnehaha is the community. Despite anything the community goes through, we go through it together. We support each other. If anyone is in need of anything, people are there to help. It's a really close knit group."

Balance and Supportive Teachers

So how can a student succeed in academics, the arts, and athletics? Andrew says that for him sometimes there are a few late nights, but it mostly takes time management.

"As long as you put in the work, everything else is going to fall into place," said Andrew. "Teachers are willing to work with you. If I have a swim meet one day and I can’t get an assignment done on time, teachers will let me turn it in the next day. Teachers are very accommodating."


Feeling at Home with Minnehaha Students

When asked what advice he'd give others who were thinking of transferring to Minnehaha, he talked about how welcoming the other students are - and how they collaborate, rather than compete.

"If you’re worried about a small school - don’t be," said Andrew. "While the school can be a little small, the ability to know everyone in your grade by name and personality is much more of a blessing than a curse. You may feel that you'll stick out more in a small school, but everyone is going to have your back and there’s no reason to worry about being left out or left alone because everyone will support you and make you feel at home."

"The students here work together a lot. You can always ask someone for help with homework or studying. The environment is supportive, really safe, and I personally haven’t experienced anything with bullying or fighting or drama between students."

A Faith-Focused School, Without Being Pushy

At Minnehaha, Andrew appreciates the faith-driven learning. "It is comforting that the teachers will help you with your faith journey, and whatever step that may be [for each student]. You can go to a math teacher, you don’t have to just go to a bible teacher with questions."

"One thing that I have liked is that not every student here is a strong Christian or even would regard themselves as a Christian at all. The school, while faith focused, isn't pushy about anything. I've found teachers to be extremely respectful about different viewpoints, whether that is about religion or politics."

"Being in an environment that is both a welcoming Christian environment and is also open to a variety of different viewpoints is a great space to be in."

Senior Year at the Re-Imagined Upper School

Andrew's class is the only class that spent their freshman year at the Upper School before the explosion, had two years of school at the Mendota Campus, and then will be returning to the re-imagined Upper School for their senior year. 

"I’m excited about the new campus. It looks amazing just from a physical standpoint. It will be nice to get some breathing room and be able to find quiet places during a free period or flex, small meeting spaces where you can hang out with friends. It is going to be a fun learning environment and conducive to collaborative and stimulating learning."

"I know for my class especially, the senior class, we will be the only class to be in all three campuses, so that sense of coming home is going to be really strong. It will be fun to pick the new senior hang out spots. My classmates are going to have a fun time coming back, even though some spaces will look a lot different."

Topics: Upper School, Athletics, Fine Arts, Cultivating Potential, Exceptional Academics

Good News About Who Our Students Are Becoming, Pt. 2

Posted by Amy Barnard on Jan 21, 2019


2019 - Good News Blog Photo 6

In this two-part series we look at how students at the Middle School are learning to find the "I can" in the midst of challenges they face, choosing to make this sometimes awkward yet very special season of life their time to shine.

In Part 1 we saw how students at Minnehaha Academy are learning to develop the mindsets "I can do hard things" and "I can take responsibility for my success". Today we want to look at two more mindsets that are foundational to who our students are becoming as they make their way through the incredibly important Middle School years. 


I Can Try New Things

If you walk into Katie Humason’s 7th grade digestion unit this winter you’ll see something slightly alarming: students sifting through lumps of digestive waste.

The waste in question is the product of the working digestive systems that Ms. Humason’s students create each winter. And while some students may initially feel squeamish about the idea, this is continually one of the favorite projects at the Middle School.

"It really helps them to visualize and understand how a digestive system works,” Ms. Humason explains.

"They plan it and then they build it. They decide what materials they use; they have to have all of the major organs...they put real food through it and we collect the waste at the end and it’s evaluated. Only in Middle School, right?"


2019 - Good News Blog Photo 5-1

From Ms. Humason's highly exploratory life science classes to Emily Firkus's robotics and autoCad units, where students code working tools and learn to use the same software modern-day engineers design with, trying new things is built into the DNA of how the Middle School operates.

Beyond the classroom, Middle School students can choose from nearly 30 extracurricular opportunities. Many take part in multiple activities, with a dizzying array of combinations that you might not expect to see together, from soccer to Diversity Club, football to GeoBee.

"[Middle School] kids are still open; they haven’t yet self-identified so narrowly," explains Principal Balmer.

By developing this habit of trying new things students are more likely to discover their own special niche earlier in life, as well as approach unexpected changes in their career journey with a willingness to adapt.


I Can Face A Challenge

It's been said that people often approach challenges with one of two mental refrains: I can, or I can't.

We don't expect our students to succeed in every challenge they meet, but we do want to see them face these challenges with tenacity and creativity

Whether it's saying "I can explore more ways to connect with reading" or "I can try new things and find creative responses when my plans fall through," we want our students to find the "I can" in the challenges they face.

2019 - Good News Blog Photo 4

This is the good news about who our students are becoming: developing a "can do" identity empowers students to step into the fullness of their God-given potential and reflect His glory, shining amidst the challenging, the mundane, and the extraordinary moments of life.

If you're curious about what sort of things this mindset can lead to, we encourage you to explore the blog posts tagged "alumni stories", where we share stories of where Minnehaha Academy graduates making their mark on the world.

Join Minnehaha Academy! Learn how your child can shine at Minnehaha Academy - request Admission information today!

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

Good News About Who Our Students Are Becoming, Pt. 1

Posted by Amy Barnard on Jan 14, 2019

Science teacher Katie Humason helps a student troubleshoot his work

In this two-part series we look at how students at the Middle School are learning to find the "I can" in the midst of challenges they face, choosing to make this sometimes awkward yet very special season of life their time to shine.

Last year English teacher Chantal Ulferts worked with a student who just couldn’t seem to connect with books.

Reading wasn’t a joy, and the boy was close to writing himself off as a non-reader.

Recognizing the importance of finding stories with characters you can relate to, Ulferts invited the student to join her on a search for books with characters who looked and sounded like him: male, young, African-American.

As the student explored authors like Walter Dean Myers and Jason Reynolds he was drawn into new worlds, and reading captured his imagination in a fresh way.

“He wrote down the fact that he now feels like he is good reader,” Ms. Ulferts shares.

This story is important on many levels: Representation in literature. The tight connection between reading for joy and academic success. Identity.

It’s the third one we want to look at today.

A Key Season for Identity

Who Am I Becoming?

Between the ages of 11 and 14 students go through an explosion of brain growth paralleled only by the growth during infanthood.

This growth impacts a number of critical areas of development, from belief systems and problem-solving skills to perception of identity.

The key moment between Ms. Ulferts and her student connected to multiple aspects of his identity: Am I a reader? Am I someone who keeps trying until I find success? Do people like me do big things?

One key area of identity we are working to nurture in our students is a mindset that responds to questions like these with the answer: “I am someone who can.”

Following we will look a just a few examples of how our students are learning to stretch their "I can" muscles.

2019 - Good News Photo 2-1


I Can Do Hard Things

Sometimes we don’t realize just how much we can accomplish until we step into the unknown.

Each winter band instructor Brandon Delbow turns his class and the spring band concert over to his students.

Dividing the students into groups, he instructs them to find their own music, figure out how to make it work for their group's instrumentation, rehearse, and prepare an introduction. They then perform that music during an event patterned after an art crawl, where the audience moves from space to space to experience the performance of each group.

“Every year students are editing something they've been given to better fit their group,” Delbow says. Some students compose their own music or write new parts to match their instruments.

“During this unit, I purposefully don't tell them what to do, but ask them questions...then they think of ways to do it on their own.”

Requiring this deeper level of ownership over the process changes how students understand their music as well as their own potential.

“When they come back to full ensemble after the small ensemble unit they sound a grade older because they've had to think, learn, and perform with greater understanding,” Delbow says.

By encouraging students to push the edges of their perceived abilities and giving greater independence, faculty members prepare them for the day when there won’t be a parent or kindly teacher at their side guiding them. Students develop a mindset that looks at challenging tasks and says, I can do that.


I Can Take Responsibility for My Success

The steps needed in order to do hard things can feel mundane and boring. Both in class and during advisory teachers work to help students understand the responsibility they have for their own success.

This is a challenge instructor Michelle Vitt takes seriously.

Every year her students bring home national honors on their French and Latin exams, but she sees "life skills" equally important as academic skills.

During advisory, for example, she spends a lot of time discussing organization and helping her students connect their habits with their success in class.

“I realized that trying to impose my organization on others was not the way to do it,” Vitt says. “Unless they bought into it, it wasn’t going to last.”

Instead, she explains her expectations (i.e., that you come to school with your iPad charged), and asks the students what methods to meet these expectations have worked for them.

When crowdsourcing solutions the students generally hear a method that resonates with them, take greater ownership for their choices, and that ownership leads to increased follow-through.

2019 Good News Photo 3

“We equip them [the students] and expect them to become increasingly independent and responsible for their work, their time management, and their decisions,” says Principal Karen Balmer.

The result? Students realize that they can take a greater measure of responsibility over the many little choices that foster day-to-day success.

Watch next week for Part 2 of this article.

Join Minnehaha Academy! Learn how your child can shine at Minnehaha Academy - request Admission information today!

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

Subscribe to Email Updates