January 29, 2017

Welcome home from school!

In Japan, outside a modern hotel with a French name, the summer morning air was warm and humid. A Minnesota family stood at the door for a moment before going in. They had flown from the U.S. to Tokyo, then taken high speed trains to Nagoya, navigating the Japanese rail system in a bewildered daze. They were following directions to meet their long-ago exchange student.

Entering the hotel, the family peered around the spacious lobby and caught sight of the woman who as a teenager had been a part of their family a quarter century before. Yes, it was the same Maki, slender, reserved and poised. She too saw us and came across the lobby, not taking her eyes off her host mother.

Mother and daughter reached out to one another, eyes overflowing with tears of happiness. Her English was precise but halting, "I never thought I would see you again... but you are here."

As a shy 18 year-old exchange student, Maki had come to our home just after Christmas. In a short time, she became part of the family: a big sister who always had time to read a story or play a game with the youngest child; a daughter who helped in the kitchen or came along to the hardware store, was always willing to walk the dog, and an empathetic companion to her junior high host sister. (Maki understood what it was like to be 13.)

We laughed as we recalled her first attempts at ice skating on the backyard pond, the "Anne of Green Gables" movie marathon weekend with new friends, her window shopping habits, and driving to high school each morning reciting tongue-twisters, bursting out in giggles halfway through the poem: 

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't fuzzy, was he?

As we reminisced we asked, "What are your memories of Minnesota?" She hesitated only a moment and looked up with a smile. Her words were simple "...that you welcomed me into your family."

In White Bear Lake this fall, the high school will welcome exchange students from around the globe. According to one source, more than 70,000 students come from abroad to study in the United States each year (iie.org) through many different programs. Several well-known programs are AFS, which places more than 2,000 students from 90 countries (afsusa.org) each year, and Rotary International, where more than 8,000 students participate annually (rotary.org). For example, in White Bear Lake this year and last, Rotary exchange students represent Norway, Japan, Colombia, and Italy.

What is it like to host an exchange student?

These students are usually between ages 16 and 18. They anticipate adventure and new experiences. As typical teenagers, they have hopes, a certain confidence, and also insecurities; they bring with them habits - good and bad. 

Expect an acculturation period. So many things are new: food, family life, school and language. For most, English is a second or third language. In the initial weeks, a student will nod in apparent understanding when the details of the family schedule are explained, the names of second and third cousins are mentioned, and the instructions for washing machine are given. It is a revelation to realize a month later that absolutely nothing is remembered.

How do students, families, and high schools benefit from exchange programs?

Exchange students become part of the school community. As they are welcomed by students and staff they begin to make friends and try new activities. They learn what it is like to be an "American teenager," and that no high school student's wardrobe is complete without a colorful WBL "Rec T-shirt." They soon experience Friday night football games and a real high school musical!

How does this "Exchange Experience" change us?

For host families, high school students and staff, hosting an exchange student opens eyes and minds to new and perhaps surprising perspectives on politics, culture, and religion. For some, friendships that develop during the year can last a lifetime. After all, it means a lot even to 17 year olds that after a long day, arriving home the student hears, "Welcome home from school!"

Michael J. Lovett, Ph.D

Superintendent, White Bear Lake Area Schools

Article originally published in the Fall 2016 edition of Town Life. 

In photos: Scholastic Art & Writing Contest (Gold Key Winners)

Student News

Expressing creativity

Creativity was key for several students as they competed in an art contest, literally. Congratulations to the White Bear Lake Area High School, Sunrise Park and Central Middle School students who won Gold Keys for their artwork that was submitted to the Scholastic Art and Writing Contest. A Gold Key is the highest recognition a student can receive at the regional level, and these students will now move on to compete on a National level. Congratulations to those who also won Silver Keys and received Honorable Mention in the contest. (Additional photos of artwork can be found in the In-Photos section of this issue of the e-newsletter.) 

While secondary students were recognized for their artwork, students in elementary school learned how to transform clay material into a masterpiece. Parents at Birch Lake Elementary volunteered to talk with students about Ojibwe pots and Minnesota's art history by discussing famous artists such as craft potter Warren MacKenzie. The students were then able to mold their own clay into a unique and creative keepsake. Students collaborated about the most effective ways to make a sturdy pot and experimented with different design techniques. 

While students sculpted pottery, one student expressed her creativity through her writing. The America Makenna Ostrowski believes in, made her the 2017 VFW Patriot's Pen State Champion. Throughout the essay, the seventh grade Central Middle School student discussed her gratitude for her freedoms in America. Makenna reflected on the solid structure of the country by exploring fundamental concepts outlined in The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. To read her full essay, click here.

Embarking on journeys

AP chemistry students had such a blast with launching rockets at South Campus that they compiled a video showcasing the excitement of the experiments. Chemistry teacher Cassandra Knutson showed students what it meant to collect a gas over water by creating a methane rocket. Students actively participated in the scientific method by analyzing, questioning, redesigning, making adjustments, and trying again to successfully launch their rockets. The process was conducted safely as students wore safety goggles, stood back, and used a blast shield.

While students at South Campus embraced the journey of launching rockets, Willow Lane Elementary Principal Chris Streiff took students on a different type of journey. She took students on a cultural journey as she shared her experiences of recently visiting Nigeria. She told students about the climate in Africa and the traditions she learned about while on her trip. After her presentation, students kicked off their PowerUp School Challenge to Try for Five new fruits and veggies a day for three weeks. Students will be able to explore where fruits and veggies come from and track what they try. Willow Lane Elementary is not the only school to participate, as more than 40 other schools across the St. Croix Valley are also partaking in the challenge. 

While students at Willow Lane focused on eating fruits and veggies, students at South Campus were busy staying active. Students participated in the handball unit in Tournament Team Sports. This helps students develop teamwork, passing, shooting, and dribbling skills. While the students block goals and work with their teammates to score on the other team, they are also able to benefit from enhancing their skills by becoming an overall competitive athlete. While high school students embraced a challenge in the gym, elementary students were busy staying focused, as they prepared to take center stage. 

Matoska International students embraced a challenge and enhanced their skills as they spent hours rehearsing for the "Seussical Jr." musical. The students spent time rehearsing twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays. While third through fifth grade students were singing, dancing, and acting in "Seussical Jr.," students in other grades brushed up on their skills as well. Students in kindergarten through second grade are also developing their acting skills as they rehearse "The Jungle Book." In the spring, Lakeshore Players is writing an original score for Matoska International based on their school's history.

High school is now history for White Bear Lake Area Learning Center graduates. Mid-year graduates were recognized individually for their accomplishments as diplomas were awarded at the Mid-Term Graduation Ceremony. Students were able to eat dinner with their families at Donatelli's and take pictures in their caps and gowns. This ceremony gives graduates time to reflect on memories and celebrate their accomplishments with family, school board members, staff members, and friends. Congratulations graduates!

Enhancing collaboration

Students were able to reflect on the impact their work in the classroom can have on implementing positive changes in society. Senator Chuck Wiger hit this point home as he visited students in Karin Hogen's class at Central Middle School to give feedback to eighth grade students about their projects. He collaborated with and reminded students of the beneficial influence they can have on change when they personally care about an issue. Students at Sunrise Park Middle School did just this, as they put their thoughts into action at the Walk for Homelessness.

"Over half a million people are homeless," was just one of the many informational signs lining the sidewalk as students walked for the homeless and learned about living conditions individuals have to experience. Students at Sunrise Park Middle School hosted the event as part of their eighth grade Community Service Project. Fellow students could pay $2 to walk outside and learn more about what it means to be homeless in the area, and how they can help. The students will be donating collected items to the Closet, which is a place where families in need of clothing in the White Bear Lake district are able to shop.

While students stayed busy with projects, parents and staff members engaged in conversations to learn what's going on around the district in the Parent Leaders Forum. Each individual shared information and updates about their individual buildings. This meeting gives parents and staff members the opportunity to collaborate and exchange ideas. They are able to come together and share their plans for upcoming activities and events at each individual building while also discussing topics on a district level.

Community support

Community organizations throughout the White Bear Lake area support the district in various ways. The Lions Club recently gave each Otter Lake Elementary fifth grade student a thesaurus. Lions Club members have been doing this for roughly the past 15 years. Also, with the support from the White Bear Lake Area Educational Foundation, the White Bear Area Emergency Food Shelf opened on-site food pantries at five local schools. The Food Shelf provides the food for the school pantries and it is stocked by students in the Transitions work program. Click here for more information. 

62.4-second video updates
Enjoy 62.4-second video updates highlighting weekly district activities throughout the school year.


Activities updates

Tickets are available for the 2017 Night Club event on Saturday, Feb. 11 in the South Campus cafeteria. Click here for more information. The WBLAHS Boys' Swimming Team placed third in true-team section! The WBLAHS's 2016 edition of "Sensicality" was one of only 24 in the nation (and the only one in Minnesota) to receive the highest award from the National Council of Teachers of English Program to Recognize Excellence in Student Literary Magazines. White Bear Lake Area High School, Central and Sunrise Middle School students took home Gold Keys, Silver Keys and received Honorable Mention for their artwork submitted to the Scholastic Art and Writing Contest.


Find a complete list of all WBLAHS Activities, Athletics and Fine Arts here.


Please contact the Communications Department (651-407-7695) to submit Student News for inclusion in future publications. 

School Board News

School Board Meetings

School Board meeting agendas, packets, minutes highlights and videos/audio files can be found here.

Date Type Time Location
February 13 Work-Study & Regular 5 p.m. & 7 p.m. District Center 
February 27 Work-Study 5:30 p.m. District Center
March 6 Regular 7 p.m. District Center 


For highlights from the most recent Board meeting, click here

Superintendent's Message

  • Welcome home from school!

Student News

  • In photos: Scholastic Art & Writing Contest (Gold Key Winners)
  • Expressing creativity
  • Embarking on journeys
  • Enhancing collaboration
  • Community support
  • 62.4-second video updates
  • Activities updates

School Board News

  • School Board Meetings

District News

  • General Information
  • Awards and Honors


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District News

General Information

Community Services

The WBLAS Community Services and Recreation Department provides a wide range of services and opportunities that enhance the quality of life for all members of ISD 624.

  • Seasonal catalogs are available now! You can find them here.

Parent Notices

  • Discounted RENT Tickets - The WBLAS Community Services and Recreation Department is offering discounted tickets for RENT at the Orpheum Theatre on Sunday, June 11 at 6:30 p.m. Click here for more information.
  • Website Quick Links changing in February - In an effort to make the district's website more family-friendly, the Quick Links options on the front page of the district website (in the white box) will be changed to reflect those links most used/requested by families. The drop-down Quick Links listing (in the gray box across the top header, near the Search box) continues to offer the expanded listing. If you have any questions, please contact Marisa Vette.
  • We Are Hiring! - The district is now hiring substitute teachers, Extended Day staff, nutrition services staff, bus drivers, paras and more. Find the online application page here.
  • Stay connected! - Join White Bear Lake Area Schools' social media circles - Facebook and Twitter.
  • Calling all baby models - We're looking for "Born to be a Bear" photos! Email photos to us here and you may find your little one featured in District publications!

Senior Program Updates:

The White Bear Area Senior Center is a program of the White Bear Lake Area Schools Community Services & Recreation Department.

  • FREE Activity Pass for Senior Community Members ( age 65+) - White Bear Lake Area Schools offer a variety of activities - home athletic contests, concerts, and theater productions to name a few. Join us! Call the Superintendent's Office at 651-407-7563 to request a FREE Activity Pass for home athletics events and a District Activities Calendar. Find the application here. The Activities Pass is available to residents of the White Bear Lake Area School District who are age 65 and older.
  • Be a Bear! The district currently has many staff openings available for the current school year and 2016-17! See additional information here, and find the online application page here.

Partnership Updates:

  • BearPower is a community-wide movement helping White Bear Lake area families eat well and be active. For more on this community partner and its upcoming events, click here.
    • The "BearPower Press" - A new issue of the "BearPower Press" is available. Click here to read this issue for more information about the PowerUp School Challenge and the BearPower events happening in January, February and March.
    • Family Funtime gets BearPowered - BearPower will team up with White Bear Lake Recreation and sponsor another free and Open Gym night in March. Click here for more information.
  • The White Bear Lake Area Educational Foundation (WBLAEF) is an independent, non-profit corporation promoting excellence in education in White Bear Area School District 624 schools.
    • The WBLAEF granted the White Bear Area Emergency Food Shelf $6,000 for their school pantry pilot program, and this fall the Food Shelf opened on-site food pantries at five local schools. Click here to read more.

Support WBLAS Students:

  • Night Club Tickets - Tickets are available for the 2017 Night Club event on Saturday, Feb. 11 in the South Campus cafeteria. Click here for more information.
  • Pasta Feed Fundraiser - The White Bear Lake Early Childhood PTA is hosting a Pasta Feed Fundraiser on Friday, Feb. 3 from 6-8 p.m. at Normandy Park Education Center. The dinner will include salad, rigatoni, breadsticks and drinks from Donatelli's. There will be a $100 Target gift card door prize, and chances to win raffle prizes. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children. Click here for more information.
  • Willow Students Work at Donatelli's - Fifth graders at Willow Elementary will be working at Donatelli's every Tuesday in February including Feb. 7, 14, 21 and 28 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The students applied for positions as hosts, servers and cooks by writing resumes and cover letters, and interviewing with the restaurant's management. Any tips greater than 15% will go to HopeKids, which is a charity that supports children with cancer.
  • Be a Bear! The district currently has many staff openings available for the current school year and 2016-17! See additional information here, and find the online application page here.

Awards and Honors

  • The 2016 edition of "Sensicality" received the highest award in the National Council of Teachers of English Program to Recognize Excellence in Student Literary Magazines. There were more than 300 entries nationwide, and 24 received the highest award, but "Sensicality" was the only one to receive it in Minnesota. Congratulations!
  • Congratulations to the 2017 Teacher of the Year Nominees! Click here for a complete list of nominees.
  • February Recognitions
    • I Love to Read Month
    • Black History Month
    • National School Counseling Week - Feb. 6-10
    • National PTA Founder's Day - Feb. 17
    • School Board Recognition Week - Feb. 20-24

Please contact the Communications Department (651-407-7578) to submit District News, General Information, Opportunities or Awards & Honors for inclusion in future publications.