Thursday, December 15, 2011

Adopt a Family

Even our very youngest students have the power to make our community a better place to live. Giving students these kinds of opportunities is an important cornerstone of our our District's mission.
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

Dinnertime at our house offers an opportunity to talk about your day, and to give  “highlight” and a “lowlight” if you choose. As you can imagine, conversations with a 6, 4, and 1-year-old are quite rich and filled with the breath of simplicity. 

One night, our first-grader came to the table quite eager to share his highlight. Neither recess, lunch, gym, music, or art made the list that night. “I need to work to earn money to give to school for a kid!” he exclaimed.  He went on to explain that he was to do a job and earn money to share with a kid who wouldn’t have any presents this year. We asked him what job he would like to do to earn money. It would have to be above and beyond his normal routine. As he left dinner that night, the wheels were turning behind those blue eyes as he mulled over just what that special job would be.

Our fabulous first grade teacher, Mrs. Davis, had sent an e-mail home explaining that for the second year on a row, Countryside was working with Volunteers of America’s Adopt a Family-MN program.  This special service-learning project would affect every kid at school if they were willing to jump in and serve. Kids were to do some work to earn money and donate it to a classroom fund. Each classroom in the school had adopted one individual and set out to make them smile, to make a difference. The individual had written a wish listl and parent volunteers, with earned money in hand, would go shop for this child, wrap the gifts and deliver them. 

“Shoveling!”  It finally came to that smiling face as the flakes began to fly one Saturday morning.  That was a job he could do to earn money. He did the whole sidewalk, and proceeded to the back yard to attack the deck. “I’m done,” he said with a cranky face when half the deck was completed. “This is too much.”   

“Lots of work?” I asked.  

“Yes. I need a break, water, and a snack." We chatted over water and snack about just how much work it is to really give. He smiled, realizing what his gift would mean to someone. His crankiness turned back to joy and he finished the job. When I handed him the envelope filled with ones, he broke into a smile. Giving is good. It feels good. It is good. 

Last week, 24 lives were touched by the hard work of the Countryside students living out their ICCAR ethical values. What a gift to all of us, not just handing over the money, but really helping our kids get in touch with giving. 

I truly love this community--our teachers, staff, parents, and kids. Thank you for living the ICCAR values and teaching our kids to step out and serve. What a gift it is for our kids to know that they have the power to make a difference in the lives of others. 

Sarah Wohlrabe

Ahoy, Me Mateys

Nightmare sailors, zombie pirates, hypnotizing mermaids, Spiderman...not to mention the tech crew! There is a part for everyone in the sixth and seventh grade play at South View-and the cast is large, with over 60 students taking part in the production. Kudos to all involved!
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

The theater is dark, and above the childrens’ heads, a skull and crossbones is shining on the black velvet curtain. There is a language being spoken that one does not usually hear from sixth and seventh graders. Lots of" "arrgghs," "me mateys," "scurvy wenches" and "wee scrogs" are being thrown about. I find myself in the South View theater watching rehearsals for the upcoming play, “The Fearsome Pirate Frank.”

Learning lines with a pirate accent, moving on stage, dealing with hot stage lights and finding just the right costume are some of the things these students have been working on since October. Directors Betsy Madson and Kathleen Hartman work diligently with students to get all the details just right. The professionalism, enthusiasm and dedication of everyone involved brings a smile to my face.

I have experienced all of this first-hand with a sixth grader in her first play. It was great fun to see her so excited when she came home from school and announced she had earned a lead role in the production. Then the preparation began: rehearsals at least twice a week and memorizing all those lines of pirate-speak! 

As opening night approaches, I know that many of these students are getting nervous for their first on-stage experience in front of a live audience. The directors are exhorting students to get plenty of sleep, eat healthy meals and snacks, and use plenty of hand-sanitizer. The make-up will go on, the pirate gear will be donned, and there will be lots of energy backstage as these students prepare to take the stage.

The months of preparation and hard work are about to pay off with performances happening this week in the Dragseth Auditorium at South View. The performances are Thursday, December 15 at 7:00 pm, Friday, December 16 at 7:00 pm, and Saturday, December 17 at 2:00 pm. Come support these young new thespians!

Melissa Seeley

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

We Care

Edina students benefit from an extraordinary team of adults who teach and lead by example, both in and out of the classroom.
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

“We care, we dare, we share.”

Edina School District bus drivers have brought service to others to the school bus. For the past four Novembers, bus drivers have invited their student riders to bring food donations for the hungry. The Edina Fire Station’s work collecting food for VEAP inspired the drivers to give students a chance to help food shelves. Last month, Edina students donated approximately 5000 pounds of food through the school bus food drive. This year’s total is down a bit from last year’s of 6648 pounds because of a temporary space shortage at the bus garage.

Jerry’s contributes the grocery bags. The drivers place them at the front of the bus, where interested students can grab them. The drivers do not pressure students. Not everyone is able to participate. That’s okay, because some kids climb the bus with a full bag day after day. It is a “light-hearted” effort to assist those in need. In this spirit, in 2009 a driver dressed up in a tutu as penance when another bus collected more food than his bus.

The food drive requires a lot more from the drivers than putting bags on the bus. At the end of each day during the drive, the groceries are weighed, so the tally can be reported to students the following day. Then, a driver loads the donations into her truck for delivery to the food shelves. This year’s drive benefited two small food shelves - one in Minneapolis, the other in St. Paul.  Drivers also reached into their own pockets to donate cash to the effort. The 2011 drive raised more than $2800.00 in cash alone, including a contribution from the drivers’ union. This figure is similar to cash collections in past years. 

At our home, we learned of the food drive when our sixth grader came off the bus one day with a Jerry’s bag. Stapled to the bag was a flier from the District’s bus drivers. The flier described the program and noted that the District’s drivers “love taking care of your kids.” As one driver put it, “There is nothing more heartening than pulling up to a bus stop and seeing the kids holding bags of food.” Not only are the District’s bus drivers safely transporting our kids to and from school, they are modeling the District’s motto in a potent way. Something to be thankful for this season.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Strike Up the Band

The Grammy Foundation has recognized Edina High School as one of 42 "Signature Schools" for excellence in music education. Thank you to the students and teachers who represent our community so well!
RicDressen @EdinaSuper 

It was one of those surreal experiences. One of those pinch-yourself moments. As a mom of an Edina High School band member, I have had many an occasion to watch our hometown band perform, but this was different. This was big. This was New York City! 

photo credit: Times Square Alliance
On November 10, the Edina Marching Band participated in the Band of Pride Tribute.  Our kids were part of an elite group of 1500 students invited to pay homage to the sacrifices of our veterans, as well as to remember the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 World Trade Center tragedy. Directed by Dr. Kenneth Dye, musical director of the University of Notre Dame, our kids played their hearts out, to the joy of the crowd. Amidst some of the largest skyscrapers in the world and animated billboards with massive, basketball-court-size electronic screens, the Edina students stood just as tall, their music resonating throughout the hearts of everyone standing in Times Square.

The following morning, our family joined hundreds of thousands of people who lined Fifth Avenue to watch the 92nd annual Veterans Day Parade, the largest parade of its kind in the nation. The air was crisp, but the excitement surrounding the event warmed us as we waited in anticipation for our band to make its debut. While we waited, we cheered on other parade participants, including members from 27 active military units, six Medal of Honor recipients, veteran’s groups that included wounded warriors, and junior ROTC troops. And we applauded for all the other high school bands, knowing firsthand how much it meant for them to be there as well.

Just when we thought we could not wait any longer, we heard an unmistakable sound in the distance. A familiar sound we had come to know while sitting in the bleachers of Kuhlman Field back in Edina on cold autumn nights. A sound that could only be created by the combined talent of 227 Edina band students giving it all they had as they marched down one of the most famous streets in Manhattan. Goose bumps formed on my skin and a shiver went down my spine as I caught my first glimpse of them as they passed the New York City Public Library, where even the famous lion sculptures appeared to be enjoying their music. The performance brought tears to our eyes, knowing the hard work that went into that moment. A moment that was appreciated by so many on that 33-block parade route.

Standing amongst the locals – construction workers on their lunch breaks, veterans representing all generations, policeman and young school children – we were lucky enough to experience that appreciation.  Eavesdropping on their conversations. we heard words and phrases describing our band: “WOW” and “…what a great band” and “…now THAT’S a marching band,” said with thick Brooklyn accents. Restraining ourselves, we did not admit to our fellow bystanders that we were proud parents, so that we could continue to listen to the unsolicited praise for our kids.

As we reflect on the day, there are so many aspects of the experience to be proud of – the long hours of practice that went into creating such a moving performance, the professionalism and respect our kids exhibited, especially toward our veterans, and the dedication of our band directors – Mr. Kile and Mr. Richter – to get our students to the point where they could earn the privilege to play in such a large venue, on such a grand stage. 

To quote Hans Christian Andersen, “Where words fail, music speaks.” The music created by the Edina Marching Band to honor our country’s veterans spoke loud and clear in New York City on these two special days. With gratitude we salute these students and their directors for an outstanding performance.  

Friday, November 18, 2011

World Youth Summit: Barranquilla, Columbia

Seva Football is one of over 15 groups in Edina's Youth Serving Youth program at Edina High School. The program gives students opportunities to develop leadership, community service, and social awareness. 
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

November 2, 3 am: I woke up. I copied my presentation onto three different flash-drives. I placed one in my backpack, one in my bathroom bag, and one in my back pocket. That way, if my belongings were stolen in supposedly dangerous Colombia, I would still have my powerpoint presentation.

November 2, 3 pm: On the last leg of the flight, I kept thinking to myself, why would there be an international conference for young people in such a dangerous location? I decided I would go to the conference, not talk to anyone, give my presentation, and come back to Edina.

November 2, 5 pm: I arrived in the homeland of Shakira and Sofia Vergara. I was in Barranquilla, a coastal city in the north of Colombia. I’d never seen so many security guards in my life. After going through customs, I saw a sign that read "IAVE World Summit Transportation." I followed the people with the signs onto a bus with fellow volunteers. As I walked down the aisle of the bus, I saw airline tags from South Carolina, Peru, Netherlands, and Poland. The streets outside dazzled with fluorescent lights, women walked in four-inch heels, and the McDonald’s was packed with local teens. When I arrived at the conference hotel, I met up with other volunteers from Minnesota and Canada; we ate a Colombian meal outside in the hot breeze.
November 3, 7 am: I ate a tropical breakfast at the hotel and stepped onto the bus for my first day at the World Summit. The conference was held at a prestigious Colombian university called Universidad del Norte. When I arrived, soldiers guarded the entrances of the university; I flashed my conference ID to get in. All 830 of the conference attendees were in a large auditorium space inside the university. At the front of the auditorium was a big banner that said "International Association for Volunteer Efforts Second World Youth Summit." I went to the table that said "Presenters." I found the room I would be presenting in the following day, and I learned the names of my fellow presenters. After that, the conference officially started. I listened to the president of Partners of the Americas, Steve Vetter, and the founder of Global PovertyProject, Hugh Evans, speak about the importance of volunteer efforts. During a break after these presentations, I got to talk with both men, and I got to meet a ton of other volunteers from around the world. I met a lot of folks from Colombia itself, a few from Peru, many from Jamaica and St. Kits, a handful of North Americans, and some Poles. I realized that Colombia’s citizens were not as dangerous as I thought they were; they were some of the warmest people I have ever met. I knew I would meet many more people from around the world in the coming days. More presentations by successful philanthropists were followed by panels targeting specific service issues. I attended a panel whose presentations were about how to best use social networking to promote service efforts. Following the panels were breakout sessions. In these breakout sessions, all conference attendees were randomly placed in small groups to discuss how to launch an online network of volunteers in the future. During these breakout sessions, I definitely had some of the most meaningful conversations about how to maximize sustainability in volunteering and how to promote volunteering in any given community. Later that night, I watched a beautiful cultural program in which dancers and singers from Colombia performed. I went to bed that night fulfilled, but a little nervous for my presentation the next day.

November 4, 6:45 am: I went downstairs to eat breakfast. Paul Teeple, the director of a multinational organization called A Ganar, approached me. A Ganar uses soccer as a medium to help at-risk youth in fourteen Latin American and Caribbean countries get employed. We had a long discussion about what more my organization could be doing both in the US and abroad. He would also be chairing the Sport for Development panel that I would be speaking on later that day.

November 4, 2:30 pm: It was time for me to give my presentation about my Youth Serving Youth group, Seva Football. In the face of two other multinational organizations led by adults, I felt like a toddler. Regardless, I spoke about Seva and how we use soccer to promote women’s empowerment in India and Vietnam, and how we make those programs sustainable and meaningful. I spoke about our programs in Minneapolis that use soccer to promote school attendance and discourage gang membership among our large Hmong and Latino communities. Mr. Teeple spoke about A Ganar. The other panelist, Jos Dirkx, teaches young women in South Africa about sexuality alongside soccer. Hearing what other people around the world were doing with soccer really warmed my heart. Learning the different ways in which soccer could be used as a meaningful tool for youth development was also very inspiring. After the presentation, what seemed like a hundred people shook my hand and took photos with me. However, one woman, Stybaliz Castellanos, was not interested in taking pictures. She told me about an impoverished community in Manatí, Colombia that had been displaced because of incessant flooding; families were living in tents made of canvas or, worse, garbage bags. Colombia wasn’t just the sparkling streets I had seen; there was a suffering community nearby. Ms. Castellanos told me about how the children there were playing soccer with a dented yellow wiffle ball. I was convinced that Seva could do something to help. Ms. Castellanos was the director of a program called Univoluntarios; it is made up of students and faculty from Universidad del Norte who regularly volunteer in Manatí. We decided Seva would send soccer balls to Univoluntarios to be distributed among pickup leagues in Manatí.

November 5, 7 am: I took a half-day trip with a few other Minnesotans to the historic Colombian city of Cartagena. I saw ancient forts and the gorgeous Caribbean Sea. However, I wanted to go back to the conference. On my last day, I listened to more presentations and had more discussions about service. I shared more experiences with people from around the world involved in innovative service projects. At the end of the day, I watched a Jamaican dance-off and said goodbye to all the wonderful new people I had met.

November 6, 8 am: I packed my things, checked out, said more goodbyes, and snapped a few more photos. I went through customs and boarded the plane. The conference made me really think about how to make Seva’s projects more sustainable and motivated me expand Seva in a meaningful way.

November 7, 2 am: I was back in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I pulled out my toothpaste in one hand and a flash-drive in the other. I was reminded about how, in three days, I saw the whole world come together in a single country. My boundaries are no longer limited to Minneapolis or India or even Colombia; I can start more initiatives anywhere from the Dominican Republic to Denmark and continue to promote soccer, knowing I have a network of individuals who will support me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Clothes Make the Man

South View’s sixth grade orchestra has 55 players this year—the largest in the school’s history. We encourage all students to take part in extra-curricular and co-curricular opportunities like this. They allow students to develop skills for life and career—skills like leadership, responsibility, social and cultural awareness, and, yes…presenting oneself professionally!
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

The music for the sixth-grade orchestra concert was unexpected and interesting. The playing was polished. And you can read here about how professional, inspiring and compassionate the orchestra teacher is.  But the real performance of the evening? Getting dressed.

I remember when it was fun to get my son dressed each day. As a toddler, he really rocked the cozy, washable English Professor/Tennis Pro look, with little corduroys and plaid pants, zip cardigans and v-neck vests.

Fast forward to middle school. It’s all I can do to make sure that he doesn’t wear the same sweatpants to school that he wore to bed last night (most days). We watch Project Runway together, and  the judges are always talking about mixing “hard and soft.” I have tried to make up some similar rules about what he wears to school, like, “You need to mix loose and structured. If you wear sweatpants, wear a shirt with a collar. If you wear a t-shirt, wear some pants with some stitching or a zipper.” We’ve had many conversations about how what you wear might affect how other people perceive you, and it might even influence how you think about yourself. But in the end, he wears what he wants, because I don’t want an itchy tag or a irritatingly-placed pocket getting in the way of learning how to add and subtract negative numbers or where to find Djibouti and Togo on a map of Africa.

For the orchestra concert, though, there was as dress code, or really more of a uniform. Boys were required to wear black shoes, black socks, black pants, a long-sleeved white shirt with a collar, and a tie. Quite a stretch for my guy, and it took a fair amount of work and expense on my part as well, as these are not wardrobe basics for him. The shoes were the biggest challenge. He did own one pair of dressier shoes, but they were brown. Once I located a reasonable pair, I bought them a size too big, hoping that they still fit the next time he puts them on, which I am guessing will be the spring orchestra concert. Of course, we couldn’t actually locate the new black shoes when it was time to get dressed for the concert, so there were a few dicey moments when I thought he was going to have to choose between the pirate boots from his school play costume, or the humiliation of my black clogs. But at the last minute, we found the new shoes where I had stashed them after snatching them from the jaws of our puppy.

Did the students perform better because they also put time and energy into looking their best? Maybe. There is conflicting evidence about the influence of dress codes and uniforms on student success; read more here. Would they have played just as well if the policy was simply to wear nice clothes, without the requirement that they be black and white? In any case, they certainly were a handsome group on South View’s very professional stage, and I'm sure that the students felt connected to the world of professional musicians.

After the concert, we stopped at the grocery store for some celebratory ice cream.  I thought for sure that my son would rip off his tie and strip down to his t-shirt, but in fact, he strutted around that store in his too-big shoes and bow tie, along with his brother--who, in a gesture of solidarity, donned a tuxedo t-shirt and sport coat.  I had little glimpse into the future, my boys grown into young men. I breathed a little sigh of relief when we returned home: the sweatpants slipped on, the tie and shoes and pants crammed into the back of a half-open drawer.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sixth Grade: High Hopes

We know that 21st-century learners need to be able to think about what they are learning—going beyond simply knowing the material, making it personal and relevant. Making the breakthrough to that level of understanding is not always easy for students, but struggling is an important part of learning, too.
 —Ric Dressen @Edina Super

Being a player of computer solitaire, I am familiar with a certain cycle of hope and despair.  Every new game is full of hope at first. Maybe this game will end with the magic of seeing all the cards flutter up into place and the words “You Won!” blinking away. Then as I start moving into the rounds I still maintain hope, now balanced by reality: the aces either are or are not going to appear.  Right up until the game is utterly lost, I am full of hope. Then, when the cards are just repeating and there are no new moves, it’s time to cut the losses and move on.

I recognize traces of this cycle of hope and despair in school as well—and it seems especially strong in sixth grade (remember this blog post?). After five years as a paraprofessional at the high school, working primarily with students on the autism spectrum, this year I am a paraprofessional at Valley View middle school and spend a great deal of time in sixth grade classrooms. I encounter this cycle of hope and despair daily as I help students lay the groundwork for what I know lies ahead in high school. In addition to covering material and designing lessons that meet specific state standards for curriculum, the middle school teacher’s job is to pry open those brains and strengthen the neural pathways that these students will need as they move through secondary school.

At Valley View, many of the teachers are having students create “Interactive Notebooks.” Daily notes are taken on the right side of each page, and the left side is for the students to draw, write or create some kind of thinking map in order to interpret the day’s learning in a personally meaningful way.  This is where hope enters the equation. Will this tool help students become invested in their own learning, and not just do the minimum required to earn the grade they desire? Will it really be personal for each individual student, building on their strengths and what they already know?

But now comes the reality: for many students, these strategies are difficult. One sixth-grader I work with is happy and productive when the task is to fill in the blanks with geography vocabulary in social studies. But when he has to bullet point advantages and disadvantages of maps and globes, he breaks down. He’s got the obvious ones, but how to go deeper? Is it really two bullet points (as I argue) to say maps distort land masses and that areas closer to the poles are stretched, or is that one point? It may seem trivial, but a lot of time can go by while we work this out, and there is no going on until the point is settled. And there is no getting that time back either. Now everyone else has started looking up the next 20 vocabulary words, but it will be homework for us. Multiply this by the eight classes he is in during every two-day cycle, and it is easy to feel lost. Sometimes a student’s head goes down to his desk top as he crumbles. Hope arises again, though, as he practices using visual tools such as thinking maps to help him grasp onto concepts.

We keep moving. Much is luck, a little is skill, all is patience. And hope.

Janet Ha

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Breakfast Book Club

Breakfast Book Club is 11 years old and running strong--over 100 students participate each quarter. These teachers don't underestimate the power of giving a student a book and a bagel...and the chance to read and talk about books for the sheer joy of it.
--Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

At Edina High School, there is a club for everyone: math team, language clubs, Images, robotics, hip-hop dance team and even a Harry Potter club (for all who didn’t get accepted into Hogwarts this year)!   

However, my favorite club is the Breakfast Book Club. We meet every 4-6 weeks at 7:45am, a time when most other students are still fast asleep. The books we read are different from those we are assigned to read for class. We choose contemporary books that high schoolers can make a connection to—books that are fun to read. Our goals are to laugh, share ideas and have fun!  (Those 600+ page classic literature books? Analyzing nano-details? Figuring out what the main character’s abandonment issues are a result of? Not usually my cup of tea.) As tempting as it is after a long day of school and homework to go home and play videogames or spend the night and the wee hours of the morning on Facebook, when I find a book that I really love, I can’t put it down. This has been the case with all the books we’ve read in book club.

I remember the first meeting I went to, in late October of my sophomore year. I walked into room 276 a little anxious, because I hadn’t finished reading the book, Zeitoun! But once I was there, I was surprised by how fun and welcoming everyone was, and even though I hadn’t finished the book yet, I had a great time. (That was also the meeting where I discovered how amazing blueberry bagels with strawberry cream cheese are!) All the conversation piqued my interest and, that afternoon when I got home from school, I finished Zeitoun and started on our next book.    

Two other books that really struck me last year were The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein—a hilarious, yet tear jerking story of deep and true love narrated by Enzo the dog—and The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly—a story of David, a young boy whose love of books takes him on a journey to a land where real fairy tales live. Both were funny but were also very touching books that made me think about love, life and hope. You can see more books we’ve read here.

I feel very fortunate to be a part of such a wonderful group of people who enjoy reading as much as I do. I am very thankful to our book club leaders, Ms. Cosgrove and Ms. Swenson, for everything they have done for us.  I find that reading opens new doors and brings in imagination and creativity, and I believe it’s important in this age of technology and mass media.

“Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath a blanket, books [have] no real existence in our world. Like seeds in the beak of a bird waiting to fall to earth or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lie dormant hoping for the chance to emerge… They want us to give them life.” ―John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Party!

Enjoy these photos from the Edina Family Center's annual Pumpkin Party. These young students are our future scientists, artists, communicators, thinkers, environmentalists, teachers. We are preparing them for a world we cannot yet imagine, and for jobs that have not yet been invented.

--Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper
photos by Julianne Prior

Friday, October 28, 2011

Opening Doors

Join us at the Technology Open House Saturday morning for more information and  inspiring stories like this one.
--Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

I just came back from an Edina Education Fund Board meeting, where we got an update on one of the Innovation Grants we awarded last year. Nichole Krier, Assistive Technology Specialist for the Edina Schools Special Services Department, filled us in on a pilot project using iPads for students who access our Special Services programs, including English learners and students with IEPs or 504 plans. This particular Innovation Grant provided seven iPads to teachers in several schools.

The idea of the grant was to test how iPads might make a difference for this particular group of students, and the preliminary results show that this technology is not only helping them learn, but in fact dramatically improving the quality of life for many of these students.

You might be rolling your eyes right now. I’ve already written here about how an iPad helped my son (and me) navigate the first few weeks of middle school, and so I am probably coming across as a technology-crazed iPad fanatic. An Apple stockholder? No. In fact, for the past decade, I have been officially labeled the meanest mom in the world because our television set (a hand-me-down) is 25 years old (I’m not kidding), and I have so strictly limited my kids’ screen time that on several occasions they have been unable to participate in conversations with their peers (cue the glares).

So I'm not a big fan of technology for technology's sake. But Nichole’s presentation about how this technology can be used effectively was pretty eye-opening. iPads have amazing potential for all students, but especially for this group. One $599 iPad (plus a few of the 140,000 apps currently available to customize it, many of them free) can now perform the tasks that in the past a student might have needed several very expensive and single-function technology devices to perform. (One simple text-to-speech device, for example, costs $3,000-$4000.) All iPads come loaded with software that can turn the text on screen to audio, zoom in to make text very large, show text white on black, or provide closed captions for students with visual or hearing challenges.  iPads are portable, so students who have difficulty learning in their seats can work with them on the floor, under the table, behind the fan…anywhere. iPads are socially acceptable, so it’s actually cool to be seen with one. And if you’re not reading the same book as everyone else, no one will ever know. You’re just another kid, doing your work.

Nichole shared one story of one student that I just can’t get out of my mind. This student has no verbal language, and it has been difficult for his teachers to figure out how to know what he really knows. This elementary student has been working with an iPad from this grant, and in just a few short weeks, the student has amazed his teachers, showing how much has been locked inside him until now—including spelling words.

The success story sends chills down my spine. My family is intimately familiar with Edina's Special Services department. This could so easily be my child, and in some small sense, is my child, our child. I am so grateful to be part of a school system that wraps its arms around all of its students. I am grateful for teachers and professionals like Nichole who are constantly learning, growing, evolving, and for a generous community that works to keep innovation and possibility alive.

Cheryl Gunness

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Marching Band 101

One of the challenges of a large public school system is to constantly improve transitional moments to make students more at ease. Read below as 9th graders are introduced to what lies ahead for their high school years in the band program. 

—Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

It is a lovely, warm Indian summer October  evening—one of the many we have been blessed with this fall. The lights of Kuhlman field are bright in the night sky. On one end of the field, empty instrument cases of every shape and size are strewn about,  tossed carelessly with sweatshirts, water bottles and odd items. Hundreds of band students are scattered on the field: some in clusters of their section, others running back and forth. Some kids are chatting. A Frisbee and a football can be seen flying through the air over the emerald Astroturf. There is a feeling of anticipation, as just before a game starts, but this time the bleachers are empty, except for parents of ninth graders slowly filing in and taking a seat.

This was the ninth grade marching band night. It is the first time that all the ninth graders in band from both South View and Valley View join forces during a marching rehearsal on the football field with the tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders. The ninth graders have learned the music during class time. The evening is designed to give the ninth graders a taste of marching, learn a couple of basic formations, and meet the older kids and the band directors. There was also an opportunity for the parents to ask Mr. Paul Kile and Mr. Andrew Richter questions about the high school band program. When all these students from four grades are together, they number around 450.

To see 450 musicians working together is impressive.  They do the circular swam in the middle—forming the ‘Hornet’s nest.’ They spell out E-D-I-N-A  in huge human letters.  The drum majors – the seniors who lead on the field—work extra hard to include these soon-to-be sophomores.  We sing, cheer and clap for their inaugural efforts.  Mr. Richter does a nice job speaking clearly into the microphone, directing the students while explaining to the parents what is happening. He also talks about the band trip this fall.  In November, the Edina High School band will march in the 92nd annual Veteran’s Day Parade in New York City.

As a parent who has already had one ‘bandie’ graduate, I understand the many benefits of being part of this large, powerhouse group.  I could write about the diversity of the band, the bonding experience,  the fabulous trips. There is the excellent leadership, the high standards of musicianship, and the long standing tradition of Pops—the lively variety show produced for the community every February, primarily by the seniors. There are wonderful concerts, and friendships formed among the parents. And most definitely, the band’s presence makes a home football game and the homecoming parade complete.

But on this mild October night, it’s transition in action. This well-planned evening has taken away a little fear of the unknown heading into high school. Putting on that band uniform for the first time is a little scary—much like trying that instrument was in the 5th grade.  So I applaud this evening, and not just for the perfect weather.