Minnehaha Academy Blog

Sled Dog Rides for Preschoolers [Photos & Video]

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Feb 7, 2020

The snow was fast as Minnehaha Academy's 3-year-old preschool students and their parents zipped along the beautiful West River Parkway via sled dog!

These special visitors came on Alaska Day. Alaska Day celebrates what students have learned about the state of Alaska over the last month. 

 

Our young learners have spent the month learning about the Alaska's various animals and fish, modes of transportation, its geography, and other interesting facts. 

Before they took the ride, preschoolers learned that the dogs are working dogs and that they love to run! When the dogs had their harnesses on, they couldn't wait to do what they do best...speed along on the fast snow.

See photo gallery.

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Topics: Lower School, Preschool

A Spectacular Revival: The Minnehaha Fundraiser

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Jan 25, 2020

The Spectacular Revival was a spirit-filled evening of fun and fundraising for Minnehaha Academy. 

Thanks to all who attended, donated items, and gave their time to make the evening a wonderful event. 

People stepped under the tent for revival-style music and festivities.

Following a delicious picnic-style dinner, Brother Blake and David Hoffner performed an entertaining skit written by Nathan Stromberg. Attendees spoke up and gave testimonies on how Minnehaha has blessed their children and families.

Then Auctioneer Dan led a live auction of fantastic items donated by our community.

Following the live auction, Rev. Dr. Harris led the group in a gospel song.

A great time was had by all. 

 

Topics: Middle School, Upper School, Lower School

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.

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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."

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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

The Great Gingerbread House Project

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Dec 5, 2019

IMG_82522-1Fourth grade students recently were assigned a challenge - use the skills they had learned in math and group work to meet a real need in the local community. Students were asked by the Becketwood Holiday Decorations Committee to provide decorations for the cooperative living community.

The students began with a brainstorming and research session. They participated in a gallery walk of pictures of Christmas decorations where students noticed and wondered what they had in common. Students shared their ideas and collectively decided to design and build gingerbread houses for the Decorations Committee.

IMG_8255-1The Great Gingerbread House Project began!

The students' work integrated many math standards. Students made drafts and final copies of everything needed to design the gingerbread houses: floor plans, calculations of the area and perimeter, and front and side views of their houses.

Then, they built the houses out of traditional gingerbread materials - graham crackers, marshmallows, frosting, and lots of different types of candy!

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The students installed their houses on December 4th, and met several people who live at Becketwood. Students talked to them and explained the entire process.

Congratulations, students, on work well done!

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Topics: Lower School

Preschoolers Deep Dive Into Ocean Unit [Photos]

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Nov 22, 2019

"It's time for science!" exclaimed one preschooler excitedly as teacher Ms. Van Gordon lifted up an octopus in front of the young children.

The preschoolers had spent a month learning scientific facts about ocean creatures, singing songs about the sea, and reading stories about fish.

Beach Day was a celebration of all they had learned. 

They created shell necklaces, made a fish print on a shirt using a real fish, and then got to get hands on with an octopus. 

  • "Where is the beak?"
  • "What is inside of its head?"
  • "How do the suction cups on its tentacles actually feel?"
  • "Did you know octopus can get into tiny spaces because they don't have any bones?"
  • "I know that an octopus is really smart."

The astute observations and questions from these students made clear all that they had learned about the mollusk. 

The day was a joyful celebration of the excitement that learning new things can inspire.

Topics: Lower School, Preschool

Lower School Book Parade: Celebrating Stories!

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Nov 8, 2019

The annual Lower School Book Parade is so much fun! Each student and teacher dressed as a character from a favorite book, and the creativity with the costumes was wonderful to see. The parade started at the Lower School, went down to Becketwood Cooperative, through the halls of the senior housing, and back to Minnehaha Academy.

 

 

Topics: Lower School

Lower and Middle School Homecoming Pep Fest [Photos]

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Sep 29, 2019

Homecoming Pep Fest at the Lower and Middle School was so much fun! The Homecoming Court led the students in fun games and friendly competitions. Photo Gallery.

Topics: Middle School, Upper School, Lower School

Sticky Faith at Minnehaha Academy

Posted by Amy Barnard on Jun 25, 2019

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When then-junior Ava Perez Erickson’s faith hit “its lowest point,” she could have given up. She could have accepted that up to this point she had been a “circumstantial Christian,” that is, a Christian simply because the dice were rolled and she ended up in a Christian family attending a Christian school and surrounded by Christian ideals.

“I saw a world filled with multiple religions, each claiming to be the way,” she says, looking back on this season. “I watched people consciously attack their neighbors and fill the world with suffering...I no longer had complete trust or confidence in God; in fact, I was no longer sure if I had ever felt his presence.”

Ava’s questions nibbled away at her childhood faith, eventually leaving behind what felt like a shaky framework of ideals that couldn’t hold the weight of her doubt.

Ava's struggle mirrors that of many across the nation.

Roughly 50% of church-going, graduating seniors walk out of their school doors that last time and away from their faith journeys.

Some wrestle with similar questions to the ones Ava faced. Others struggle with the tension between faith and science. Some don’t see faith as relevant to their busy lives.

But this statistic leaves us with a question: What about the other 50%? Why did some face the questions and realities of an imperfect world and somehow continue the faith walk?

Sticky Faith

A few years back Fuller Seminary researcher, Kara Powell, came to Minnehaha Academy to discuss what she and research partner Chap Clark call “Sticky Faith,” that is, faith that sticks with individuals through the challenges and changes of life.

Drs. Powell and Clark point out that while parents hold the most important role in their child’s faith development, the wider community must also come alongside students’ growth—and struggles—in order to nurture a vibrant faith that actually grows instead of shrivels in the face of questions. 

While each student must take ownership for their own faith journey, we as a community have a responsibility to provide scaffolding for that journey. Following are just a few of the areas of "Sticky Faith" that MA integrates into our community.

Understand the Core

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Sticky Faith starts with understanding the core of what it means to walk with Christ, as opposed to simply affirming certain beliefs.

Powell and Clark say that young people (and their elders) often equate faith with “spiritual disciplines, ‘good works,’ and living as an example of Christianity that would please God.”

You might reread that last line and wonder, is that really so off?

But this lifestyle of external faith—dos and don’ts, if you will—doesn’t sustain Sticky Faith; at the end of the day, it misses the point of our faith.

From their earliest years at Minnehaha, students engage with the Bible. The awesome parts, the beautiful parts, the confusing parts, and the disturbing ones.

“We’re with the Israelites right now, and things aren’t going well,” laughs first grade teacher Britt Guild. ‘’They keep making mistakes and worshipping idols.” But this, she points out, is an opportunity to ask, what is God trying to tell us?

And what is he saying? What is the point of faith, if not to be a good person and do things that please God?

“At the heart of Sticky Faith is a faith that trusts in God and that understands that obedience is a response to that trust, in everything,” explain Powell and Clark.

When, during advisory or a class discussion, students engage in difficult discussions about race, family culture, or differing beliefs, this is an opportunity to trust. We call them to speak with respect and to listen well not because “it’s what nice people do,” but because we know that God calls us to act in love. We trust that when we relate in ways that honor God and his principles he will bring greater good in those conversations than we could make happen on our own.

Wrestle Openly With Doubt

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Doubt, explains Powell, "is most toxic when it goes unexpressed."

For Ava, doubt had been building slowly but deeply. Unspoken doubt tends to overwhelm our vision, keeping us stuck in the questions. This is the place so many leave their faith.

“When asked about my faith, I said what I was supposed to say rather than truthfully admitting my anger towards a God who did not pay attention to me, despite my constant pleas for direction and assurance [in my faith],” Ava admits.

There is, however, great hope in the face of doubt.

Research shows that when their community allows students to express and openly struggle with their doubt, those students are actually more likely to develop a rich, deeply rooted spiritual life that flourishes

We want students to know that hard questions and difficult discussions are honored and even welcomed here.

This spring during advisory time, Middle School students explored Lee Strobel’s work The Case for Christ. While Strobel’s book is a journalistic look at the evidence for Christ from the fields of science, philosophy, and history, faculty didn’t push students to ignore any lingering doubts.

Instead, they offered time to be open about and wrestle honestly with their uncertainty. For some, Strobel’s work offered many helpful answers. For others, new questions arose which allowed for deeper discussion.

At the Upper School, Dr. Jeffrey Crafton’s Senior Capstone gives students an opportunity to discuss and even challenge the foundational beliefs of Christianity. From the existence of God to the problem of evil, Dr. Crafton gives an overview of the topic and then opens the floor for discussion.

“The thing I loved most about his class is that not everyone had to have the same viewpoint,” says 2015 grad Alexander Ramos. “That stirred up so much conversation, and that was completely okay.”

Dr. Crafton explains that the class “is designed to help students make the transition from ‘this is what I’ve been told to believe’ to ‘these are decisions I’m making for myself about what I believe.’”

This, says ‘01 grad Stephanie Williams O’Brien, helped prepare her when she faced her own crisis of faith just a few years after graduation. “I felt equipped to wrestle through it because of my experience at MA and the ways that Dr. Crafton would push us to ask these questions and not just settle for lame answers.”

Take Part in the 5:1 Ratio

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On that fateful day in January, when Ava felt the crushing weight of her many questions, she climbed the steps to Mr. Hoffner’s room. “Mr. Hoffner," she said, "I need your help."

By seeking out David Hoffner, her New Testament teacher, Ava was actually taking one of the most important steps for those who develop a faith that sticks: connecting with older mentors.

Powell’s work suggests that students flourish when they have at least five adult, non-parent mentors who can provide a listening ear as well as engage in faith and life discussions.

Faculty members, like Middle School math teacher Andrew Beach, look for open doors to share pieces of their own faith journeys with students, both the victories and the disappointments. Because of this openness, students are more likely to feel safe sharing their questions and struggles, as well as asking for prayer.

“I am truly impressed," Beach says, when noting his students' willingness to be vulnerable about these things, "because they seem to have a trust of our advisory class. And then to hear the responses of the students! I think that’s been the neatest part—to hear the students respond respectfully and then to come alongside and encourage, especially when someone is struggling with something that's deeper.”

At Peace with the Process

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Sticky Faith develops when we help students recognize that the faith walk is a process. You don’t suddenly “arrive” one day, with every question answered.

That day Mr. Hoffner didn’t pluck all of the stones from Ava’s path to make it question-free. He didn’t offer her the three-step plan to demolish doubt or an apologetic to help her feel God’s presence again.

Instead he entered into the place of doubt alongside her, allowing her to process her questions and acknowledging that there were some things he couldn’t answer.

“Mr. Hoffner told me that questions allow us to delve deeper into faith because they require us to search out answers through prayer or reading the Bible,” Ava shares. He also warned her that she wouldn’t find answers to every single question: if we understood all things completely, faith—that is, trust—would be unnecessary.

“My questions have taught me to never stop seeking answers,” Ava shared in her graduation Baccalaureate speech. “By seeking answers we grow in faith.” The very process forces us to come face to face with the God who is, as opposed to the incomplete and weak images of God passed down by culture or influenced by our own biases.

Today Ava studies Biomedical Sciences at Liberty University. Instead of being afraid of the questions that her studies might stir up, she has learned to lean into them and ask, what is God trying to tell us?

Instead of crushing her faith, Ava's season of doubt, combined with a community willing to give her space to process, birthed a deeper trust and a more integrated faith walk.

 

Topics: Middle School, Upper School, Lower School, Academics, Cultivating Potential

Faith & Learning: Community Cafe

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on May 14, 2019

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Over the past month, a group of fifth graders have been immersed in the world of entrepreneurship, learning first-hand what it takes to start a business from the ground up.

With the goal of creating a Lower & Middle School Community Cafe and the help of Ms. Schmitz, they worked hard to make their vision a reality using the skills they have developed in math, marketing, design, and research. 

This approach to learning embraces deeper learning practices found in our framework for Faith & Learning. Our exceptional academics begin with the development of meaningful skills and knowledge. Students then cultivate potential through formative learning experiences using their knowledge and skills to produce beautiful work that address a real problem in the real world for real people. 

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They brainstormed what it would take to make the coffee shop a reality.

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A coffee expert came and taught the students about roasting coffee beans and marketing.

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A meeting was scheduled with Ms. Balmer and the students hosted a coffee tasting.

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Students finished their business plan and created an operating budget.

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Students created marketing materials and logo, including a promotional video.

IMG_6644A food service professional talked with student volunteers about health and safety regulations when serving food and drinks.

IMG_0965Students helped clean the space in the Library where the Community Cafe was located.

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Students opened the Community Cafe to a line of students - selling before and after school treats.

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Topics: Lower School

Minnehaha Lower School Students Shine at the Science Olympiad

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Apr 25, 2019

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Congratulations to Minnehaha Academy's Science Olympiad team! Placing sixth overall, these young scientists competed against other schools from around the state in 22 science competitions at the 2019 Science Olympiad.

Participation in the Science Olympiad team provides an opportunity for students and families to explore the worlds of STEM in a unique way together.

Signature events like Mystery Powders, Gummie Bear Long Jump, Straw Towers, Metric Mastery, and Don't Bug Me bring core science concepts to life using every day materials.

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Science Awards Earned

Minnehaha's Science Olympiad team placed sixth overall in the State Tournament - a huge accomplishment! Individual students also received medals, including:

  • Two first place medals
  • One second place medal
  • Two third place medals
  • Three fourth place medals
Congratulations to these science olympiads!
 
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Learn how your child can shine at Minnehaha Academy - request Admission information today.

Topics: STEM, Lower School

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