Friday, May 4, 2012

National Japan Bowl: Student Journals

These Edina students placed first in Level II of the Upper Midwest High School Japanese Language and Culture Competition (aka “J-Quiz”) in March. They travelled to Washington, D.C. to participate at the National Japan Bowl in April 2012, where they placed 10th of the 20 teams who competed in Level II. To Erick, Daniel and their teacher, Satoh Sensei: 
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper


Erik: I woke up early to go to the crowded airport. On the way
 there, I realized that I forgot something at home.  Well, thanks to mom 
for running back to the house and getting it!  The good thing about 
the whole thing was that it was a reminder to remember stuff. 

Daniel: We arrived at the center about an hour before anyone else, and that gave us time to relax, get some food, throw the frisbee around, and study for the upcoming challenge. The opening ceremony featured a classical Japanese play. It had the authentic Japanese feel, and although it wasn't for everyone (I didn't like it that much), it was good to see.

Eric: The cultural performance was
 really fun to watch, but I couldn't understand it until it was
explained to me by Satoh Sensei, our great teacher. The performance
that really stood out to me was the Taiko performance.  It was one of 
the most amazing things that I had ever seen!!!!! During that performance, I realized how badly I actually
 want to go to Japan, which is a great, great amount, may I add. 

Daniel: Taiko drumming, for those who don't know, is a Japanese "art," so to speak, much like our marching band. The performers not only play their respective drums, but move around, dance, and shout as well. It really was an awesome performance.

Eric: I was sad when that performance was over, because that meant it was time for the first half of the 100 questions to begin, which was nerve-wracking and exciting. There were
 several questions that we as a team got, and a few that we simply had
 no idea what the right answer was. It makes me wish that I had studied
 even more than we did, and makes me want to study even harder for
 next year!

Daniel: This night we met our roommates and fellow competitors from Wisconsin. They were really nice and welcoming, and although they were fourth year students (we're on our second year), they weren't condescending at all! (Well, at least they were in the acceptable range).


Daniel: Friday was almost entirely devoted to the competition. We woke up early and headed almost straight to our conversation round, stopping only to get breakfast. The conversation round was what I personally was dreading; I can write and read Japanese exceedingly well, but when it comes to speaking it, I freeze up.

Erick:  We were second in line when we got there.  This was the round that I was most worried about. After the first group came out, a little of that worry went away.  They said that the instructors/interviewers were really nice.  That was kind of a huge load off my back.  Our conversation went pretty well. There were some things we knew, some things we didn’t, but all in all I thought it was all right.  Again, this makes me want to study even more than before.

Daniel: It was during this time that I was able to talk with some other teams from my level. This, in my opinion, was the highlight of the day. I talked with the team from Cupertino, California, and was really impressed with their dedication to the language and the competition. They really inspired me to keep at it and work hard toward my goal of becoming fluent in Japanese. Following the second round, we went back to the auditorium to see some more performances. A Japanese sitar-looking instrument player named Sho Asano gave us a quick performance, playing both traditional Japanese songs and modern American rock songs. Not only was he an amazing musician, he was also a great person. He met with us afterward for a quick picture and conversation, and although I couldn't say much to him (see my comment about my speaking skills), he was a really cool guy. Following him in the lineup was the creator of the puzzle game Sudoku.

Erick: After all the preliminaries were over, I found myself relaxing a little because I had the feeling that we hadn't made it into the top three. Oh well, there is nothing bad with that.  In fact, it may be a good thing, because I have always wanted to be good at Japanese, but now I might want it so bad that I might actually do something more about it than just do all my homework and do well on all tests and quizzes. 

Daniel: The  top three teams from each level were announced and put  head-to-head to see who would win. The grand prize for third and fourth year students is a trip to see Japan.  I used to think you could never hear your own heart beat, but I could hear it loud and clear right then. As the quick pounding of my heart reverberated through my body, the President of the Japan-America Society slowly read off the clipboard the names of the winning teams. Third place went to the students I had met earlier in the day, and my suspicions that we did worse than them were confirmed when second and first place were read off. We sat through all three levels of final rounds, and I have to say, the students that got to them deserved it. I was impressed at how well they knew the language, and in a way it was a reality check for me. I saw that I had a lot of room to improve, and it encouraged me to try harder.  Although we didn't make it to finals, I'm not in the least bit discouraged. We're here in DC at the National Japan Bowl, and that is something not a lot of people can say. We were right on par with the other competitors, and if anything, it was an encouragement.

Erick: That night I had an opportunity to give a letter I had written to a group of teenage Taiko drummers.  They were from one of the areas that was majorly affected by the March 11 earthquake.  I am glad I got to write a letter to them, and I hope they write back.  The only regret I have about the letter is that I didn't give it to them with two hands, to show that it is important.  But oh well, I can't do anything about it now, except remember for next time.  Anyway, after the whole thing was over we went to a restaurant in China Town. The food was really filling and extremely delicious!!!  I wanted to eat more but I just couldn't.  Then we went to bed to get some rest for the next day...


Erick: This day was our tourism day.  We got up, went to eat breakfast, and went to the Mall. 

Daniel: We visited Sakuramatsuri, or the Sakura festival on the Mall. Sakuramatsuri is the largest Japanese festival in the U.S, and you could definitely tell. The taiko drum group from the opening
ceremony was performing there, as well as many other Japanese performers. We got to eat some authentic Japanese food (I recommend the sushi), and see and buy some Japanese art and merchandise. Erick and I went to a Ninja show, a sword fighting performance, and a J-POP dance-off type thing. It was an experience that can't really be described all that well, but suffice to say being immersed in Japanese culture greatly fueled my desire to visit Japan.  It also provided a nice, relaxing end to an otherwise stressful and event-filled week. (Not to say it wasn't a fun competition, but two intensive days of it does tend to wear you down.)

I took more pictures on my phone that I ever had in a single day.  In addition to the Sakura festival, we  saw the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the World War II War Memorial, and, of course, the Washington Monument.  We saw the teenage Taiko drummers that I gave my letter to again. They were amazing and really fun to watch!!!  After dinner we went to sleep to end our really fun and great learning experience in Washington, DC.

Daniel Halmrast and Erick Huft
Edina High School Students

Thursday, April 26, 2012

School House Rock, Live! Jr. Rocks South View!

Unpack Your Adjectives! You'll need them to describe this powerful, collaborative effort. 
Kudos to all!
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

Where else can you get your groove on and learn basic grammar and number smarts? On the stage at Dragseth Auditorium in South View Middle School, of course! Students at South View Middle School have been rehearsing School House Rock, Live! Jr. since February, under the direction of Greg Joelson and the musical direction of James Hawthorne.

Based on the popular educational animated shorts aired during Saturday morning programming in the 70’s and 80’s, the show features familiar tunes such as Unpack your Adjectives, Just a Bill, and a rousing finale of Conjunction Junction.  Some of the students were raised on video versions of the songs promoted by their baby boomer parents; others were unfamiliar with these nostalgic jingles when rehearsals began. Everyone is rocking now, though, as the kids have worked hard to master the harmonies and combine dance and action to bring these cartoons to life.

The show follows anxious rookie teacher Tom, played by ninth grade theater-newcomer Declan D., as he prepares for his first day in the classroom. Wondering how he will introduce himself to his third grade class, Tom’s alter egos, portrayed by veteran eighth and ninth grade performers Luci C., Sophie L., Cameron M., Jack S., and Helen W., emerge to reassure him that he has what it takes to tackle the task of educating a room full of 8-year-olds, thanks to the songs and messages of School House Rock. The fun and music begin!

Less of a traditional, plot–based musical, and more of an ensemble production, School House Rock, Live! Jr. has been a change of pace for the theater program at South View. The challenge: originally written for a cast of 6, director Greg Joelson had to adapt the show for a huge group of young teens. His solution: With musical director James Hawthorne, every interested student was included as they created smaller solo, dance and choral ensembles to rehearse the songs and learn the movements, and combined them all over the last four weeks on the stage.  Motivating such a large group of middle school aged kids to sing and dance, and at the same time, is not a task for the faint-hearted! There are few “stars” in this show; instead, the entire cast remains on the stage throughout the production, singing and dancing in each number.

Accommodating 60+ student players on the stage at the same time fell to Edina orchestra teacher Matt Pearson, as set designer for the show. His solution: stack ‘em high! He created, with the help of a dedicated smaller crew of parents and students with drills in hand, a three-tiered set of platforms and stairs to feature the cast. Professional artist and set designer Marjorie Fedyszyn lent her expertise to prop design and production, rendering larger-than-life foam sculptures, including everyone’s favorite, Interplanet Janet, with her small group of dedicated student artists. Rounding out the production team, veteran motion picture costumer Jane Williams designed a costume scheme based on the hues of television screen test patterns, adding the final spark of color to this production.

M. Claps-Gratzek
Please join us! School House Rock, Live! Jr. will appear at the Dragseth Auditorium in South View Middle School at 7 pm on Thursday, April 26 and Friday, April 27; and at 2 pm on Saturday, April 28. Tickets are available in the theater lobby one hour prior to each performance, or may be purchased in advance at the South View main lobby, April 25-27, 10:30 am-1 pm. Inquiries may be directed to M. Claps-Gratzek at

Friday, April 20, 2012

South View French Exchange Program

Great teachers make global collaborations like this happen every day in Edina Public Schools, preparing our students to thrive in a rapidly changing, culturally diverse, global society! Check out our Google Map to learn more.
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

Leaving one's own, native country for any length of time is shocking for any age. 13 middle school students from near Versailles, France experienced some of this culture shock when they were greeted by their South View Middle School host students and families at the airport in February.  This was the beginning of a ten-day home stay with Edina host families for the French students, who came here to practice English, experience an American middle school, and live with an American family.  This was the second annual February host program between South View Middle School and Vistas in Education (VIE).  Vistas has arranged travel and home stays for students in France and the US since 1976.

I began working with VIE 5 years ago, when I started teaching in Edina. I wanted to get kids interested in hosting a French student during the summer. Two years ago, VIE, looking for a strong French program in the metro area, approached me about piloting a host program during the school year.  I jumped at the idea.  The size of the French program at South View has doubled in the last five years, so I knew I could find families who would welcome these French students as a breath of French air during the month of February! Parents and families in our community are so generous with their support for our schools. 

How amazing for these French kids to not only experience an American family, but also an American school. It's so different!  We have lockers in our hallways in the US!  Kids wear sweatpants…to school…regularly!  There are desk arrangements other than straight rows?!?!  We can eat pizza in the school cafeteria?  Students travel from room to room, rather than the teachers?  And school finishes at 2:40 – almost 2 hours earlier than in many French schools! These may seem small differences, but they speak volumes about our cultures. 

I imagine that the French and American students will reflect on these differences in the future and begin asking why.  And that reflection about our cultures is what brings us closer together and allows us to learn from one another.  The journey can continue when some of our students have the opportunity to step off the plane in France and feel their own culture shock and begin to reflect and learn. 

Betony Osborne
French Teacher, South View Middle School

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Peter Pan Flies at Valley View Middle School Theatre April 12-14

Creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, cultural competence and more: Activities like this production of Peter Pan allow our students to put all of  these crucial 21st century skills into practice. Thank you to the incredible team of community supporters who help our students soar!  
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

Amid ropes, railings, and ship’s wheel, a skirmish of Pirates and Lost Boys fill the stage of the EPAC theater. The Lost Boys struggle to save Wendy, John and Michael, held captive by pirates. Captain Hook steps menacingly towards Peter and just as Hook reaches out, Peter leaps from the ship --and flies through air! Peter Pan is flying! It’s all part of Valley View Middle School’s production of Peter Pan (School Version). The cast and crew has grown to over 170 students participating in the Spring Musical performance. 

Peter “flies” with the help of a little stage magic. Strapped into what looks like a skydiver’s harness and cables, he is “flown” using the weight of the ground crew for launch. Peter Pan and the main leads are double cast. Ben Weisman and Luke Eidsvold take turns facing Hook (Alex Kaufman and Daniel Sandberg) with the dramatic leap. The effect is thrilling and eye-catching.

Just as suddenly as the chaos begins, the cast falls silent and listens intently to Director Elizabeth Chaigne.  She energetically demonstrates a slide and snap of the feet, and discusses the psychology behind Hook’s actions. She turns to stage left. “Lean into the girl,” she instructs the pirates surrounding Wendy (Andreley Bjelland and Tori Adams), which they do threateningly. When Elizabeth Chaigne speaks, students stop  and listen. Students don’t seem to mind the public critiques and suggestions for their performance. Co-director Beth Solberg says, “Time is short. They get it fast.” Students learn to listen to directions and to listen to each other. They manage the spaces around them as they sing and dance on stage to the live musical accompaniment of Cathy Zajec and the choreography of Jolene Konkel. The stage whirls in organized chaos.

As the scenes are rehearsed, the stage crews supply sound effects, wrangle mikes and spot scenes with light. The crews are shown how to operate the equipment by professional sound and lighting designers, but manage the work themselves. New students are taught to run equipment and given responsibilities;  many return yearly to build on the skills they have learned. Crew students say the most important thing they learn is working as a team.

Many parents find themselves offering their skills and services to the theater department—and it shows. Beth Solberg grew up in a theater family, and became involved with theater at Valley View when her kids became thespians—one now a senior in the Edina High School Theater department. As well as co-director duties, she lends her skills to the design of the sets and the builds. Parent and student volunteers keep up the momentum. Deb Conover uses her background in costume design; Regina Neville contributes with her background in Theater Management. Peter Schmit and his daughter work every set build together. The set build area is a busy place. Volunteers paint scenery, build frames, and transform crushed paper and chicken wire into rocks, trees, and Peter Pan’s secret Neverland hide-out.

It’s a community effort. The results of months of preparation and hard work can be seen this week in four performances at the Edina Performing Arts Center, 6754 Valley View Road (across the parking lot from the Valley View Middle School.). Peter Pan show times are Thursday April 12, Friday April 13, and Saturday April 14 at 7pm. There is also a matinee performance on April 14 at 1:00pm. 

Ticket information can be found at or tickets may be purchased at the door. 

Let Tinkerbell and her dancers throw a little pixie dust and transport you to the magic of Neverland and Peter Pan!

Elizabeth Franklin

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lighting the Way in Haiti

Edina students make a difference on a global scale. Thank you to the teachers and parents who make service learning experiences like this one an important, integrated component of learning in Edina Public Schools.   
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

The distance between Normandale French Immersion Elementary and Lougou, Haiti is much shorter than you’d think. Cassie Avignon, Normandale's Science Paraprofessional, hails from Haiti. Along with teacher Sophie Toner, she has expanded Normandale third graders' world by sharing the challenges of children in Lougou, a rural village of approximately 1500 people. The situation there is not a direct result of the earthquake of 2010, but has always been isolated and difficult. Slowly, the community is building itself up. The community established a school in 2006, and now has two pre-k classes, a kindergarten, first grade and second grade. The plan is to add a class every year up to sixth grade and beyond.

Last fall, the Normandale third graders learned about Haiti and thought about the challenges and how they could help. Normandale students decided to plan their own Vide-grenier (garage sale) for this winter to raise funds to buy supplies for the school. They decided to purchase hand-crank flashlights for the students, so they can practice reading at night even without electricity. They also decided to make shadow-books for the students to read with their flashlights.

Over the last several months, the Normandale students carefully planned this event, which took place on February 15 in the  gym. With their families donating used toys, books, and games, the children practiced all the roles needed for the sale to happen successfully. They made posters in French, learned essential phrases for shopping, selling, making purchases, and giving change correctly.  Role playing was done before the big day so each student could handle their 30 minute cashier shift, sans probleme. In addition to using their math skills, the process of collecting items, sorting, pricing, and organizing the merchandise used practical life skills. Naturellement, this was all done en francais

Because Ms. Avignon is the liaison between these two communities, this service learning project has been very personal. She can show the detailed needs of the children in Haiti, and the Edina students have taken ownership of the project from the beginning. In total, the garage sale far exceeded expectations, raising $1,388.35. Students are now meeting to discuss how they will use the additional funds to benefit students in Lougou. Ideas include purchasing raincoats for students, who often walk two hours to get to school, and either arrive at school sopping wet or don't come to school at all on rainy days. They may also be able to purchase furniture for a new classroom for older students, and they look forward to developing a long-lasting relationship with this French-speaking community.

This accomplishment of planning an event start to finish with a charitable outcome gets kudos from all involved. Even though some books and toys may have just found different homes in Edina, items were in fact re-cycled. This is an extra benefit of American kids learning to part with some of their stuff so their French speaking peers many miles away can have the stuff they truly need. C’est tres bien!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Hive

The Hive at Valley View and the Cyber Cafe at South View offer our middle school students opportunities to practice the transition from home to school and out into the wider community in safe, welcoming environments. Kudos to the staff, parents and students who make these experiences positive!
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

“Mom, I need my Hive money!” was the early morning refrain at our house many days this winter. With lunch at 10:30 a.m. and play rehearsal sometimes lasting as late as 6:45 p.m., our sixth grader would not have survived without The Hive, the snack cafe at Valley View Middle School. 

The Hive operates to give kids staying after school a chance to grab something to eat before heading to an activity or after-school program or walking home. Approximately 30 parent volunteers take turns staffing the cafe, which is open for about an hour after school Monday through Thursday each week. The Hive sells “relatively healthy” snacks, according to Valley View parent and Hive manager Cindi Laurent. She is responsible for keeping the shelves stocked – not an easy job, given that the cafe serves roughly $100.00 of snacks each day.  

Kids can choose from a variety of offerings, including granola bars, cheese sticks, beef jerky, Chex mix, juice, Gatorade and smoothies. Top sellers are smoothies and muffins. The Hive does not sell pop or candy. It prices numerous items in the 25- to 50-cent range, with the student budget in mind. Clearly the selection is popular, given that 50-75 kids visit The Hive each day after school. “The kids love it. It really adds to our school climate,” says Valley View Dean of Students Lillian Ziff.

The Hive is decorated with a mural of vivid green rolling hills and trees. Soft pop music plays in the background. Outside in the adjacent hallway, five tables with stools provide space for friends to eat their after-school snacks together. “It’s nice to get a little snack after school,” commented sixth grader Isabella. Kyle, a sixth grader who shared a table with three friends, note that “we can do homework while we eat and the food is pretty good and cheap.” 

Our son’s many trips to The Hive fueled not only his appetite, but his growing need for independence.  He could decide when he wanted to stop by The Hive. In this kid-dedicated space, he could make his own food choices and socialize away from omnipresent parental eyes.  

The Hive gives to kids after school in more than nutritional ways. All profits are donated to Valley View after-school programs. In the past, Hive proceeds have contributed to the cost of after-school homework support.

Sarah Morris

Thursday, February 23, 2012


19 committees! Wow! Concentrated support like this from our parents and community is one reason why Edina Public Schools have been recognized as a Grammy Signature School. Thank you to all who give our students this opportunity to shine.
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper 

The 59th annual Pops Concert, presented by the Edina High School Concert Band, is underway at Fick Auditorium. The show is much more than a typical band concert: it combines music, skits, short films and unexpected talents of all sorts. The performance is unique in that it is almost entirely created by the students themselves. Nevertheless, a show of this scope also requires the time and talents of many, many volunteer parents. The timeline is short, only 6 weeks from start of production to the final curtain, so parent involvement is key. As one of those parent volunteers, I can give you a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.

There are 19 specific committee chairs, each tasked with some segment of the production, from tickets to publicity to costumes. While the students and band director Paul Kile fashion the content of the show, parent volunteers are filling all the duties that a production of this size creates.

Well before the show ever hits the stage, parents begin the campaign to get the word out. Media outlets are contacted, posters and buttons are created and distributed, and advertisers are solicited for participation. The performance program is designed and yard signs are created and planted. 

A Silent Auction is presented each evening. This auction is the sole fundraising event benefiting the entire EHS Band program.  Solicitations for donations are all handled by volunteer parents, as is the entire auction itself.

Parents also are responsible for creating the costumes for the show. Working with the costume designer, Carol Ann Winther, volunteers spend hours sewing, fitting, retrofitting and custom-sizing pieces used in the dazzling production numbers. 

One of the committees is responsible for compiling a “Senior Slide Show,”a traditional and sentimental part of the production recognizing this year’s senior band members.

Once the show is ready to open, photos, advertisements, personal messages and student biographies have all been compiled and edited by volunteers to be included in the show program. Preparations have been completed for ticket sales, flower and balloon sales and food concessions.  Ushers have been recruited.

As the curtain opens each night at Pops, there are at least 40 volunteer parents at work in and around Fick Auditorium, including backstage where quick costume changes and unexpected repairs are being made. Our work doesn’t finish when the curtain comes down.  By 10:00pm, when the show is over and the instruments are back in their cases, students are exhilarated, but also exhausted, hungry and thirsty! Following each performance, one family hosts the band and stage crew at their home for a meal and a viewing of the tape of that night’s performance. Again, parent time and donations make up the event.

Pops is a huge production, one that requires the time and effort of many, many parent volunteers, many of whom take on multiple tasks. It is fast and furious, and can be, at least for a time, all-consuming. It is also a privilege and an honor to volunteer for Pops. The band experience for my student has been absolutely amazing, and Pops is the culmination of that. I would not trade this volunteer experience, this opportunity to give something back to EHS Band, for anything in the world. 

Don't miss the final performances of the 59th Annual Pops Concert, APOPScalypse, this week.  Shows are Thursday 2/23, Friday 2/24 and Saturday 2/25 at 7:00pm. Order tickets online at

Cindy Awes