February 26, 2017

Finding One's Voice

My writing career began when I was 12 years old. 

Up to that time I wrote only when I was instructed by my parents to send thank you notes to thoughtful relatives. I learned that a handwritten note was a proper response to receiving a gift of any kind. 

But when I was 12 years old and in Boy Scouts, my troop leader assigned us pen pals. Mine was from Melbourne, Australia. Cameron was also 12 years old and may have been like me - writing to fulfill an assignment. He wrote about his town, his school and family in vivid detail. Cameron even sent me a black and white photograph of himself standing outside his house. In those days, I pictured the whole world outside my neighborhood in tones of black and white. But Cameron's descriptions lent color to those pictures. 

I was impressed and inspired, and so wrote back with equal detail. I even consulted the dictionary and thesaurus to find suitable words to describe my neighborhood, although it was hard to find words to compete with exotic Australia. This was the first time I wrote not out of duty but because I wanted to share my ideas and describe my world to someone else. 

After several years, our correspondence faded, but by that time I had learned an important lesson: knowing I was writing to someone who was interested in what I had to say helped me gain confidence and find my "voice" as a writer.

This story comes out of the 'dark ages' when most writing was done with pencil and paper. Though technology has entered the picture, do young writers begin the same way? 

I found a possible answer quite by accident last winter. Each February during "I Love to Read" Month I spend time in each of our nine elementary schools and three preschools programs reading to children in their classrooms.

In one classroom of charming and inquisitive first graders, after reading one of my favorite books to the children, they started talking about their own favorite books. It was time for me to leave but I did not want our conversation to end. I gave my business card to a student in the class and said that I would love to hear about their favorite books.

The next Friday, late in the afternoon, I was surprised to see 20 separate emails from students show up in my email in-basket.

Who are Taylor, Andy, Rio, Caiden, and Edreanna? I wondered. And Lilly, Daisy, Talulah and Elijah?

When I read the emails, I realized that a wise teacher had taken me up on my offer and guided her students to each compose a friendly letter to me in proper form describing a favorite book. That weekend I wrote back thanking each child and then asked a question for them to answer. A week later, all 20 children had written back.

For the first time since I was 12, I had a new pen pal. Actually, 20 new pen pals. 

Later, when I stopped by their school, those children came up to me and eagerly asked, "Did you get our letters?" From these brief exchanges emerged correspondence in simple words expressing their thoughts with insight and humorous frankness. 

In the spring, I attended an event sponsored by our High School Writing Center featuring high school students reading their own, often deeply personal works.

As I listened to these high school students and the attentive audience around me laugh at one reading and be moved to tears by the next, I wondered how each writer had found his or her voice. And I decided never to pass up an opportunity to be a pen pal.

Michael J. Lovett, Ph.D

Superintendent, White Bear Lake Area Schools

In photos: "I Love to Read" Month

Student News

Celebrating "I Love to Read" Month

Elementary schools across the district celebrated "I Love to Read" Month through a variety of literacy activities. Families at Matoska brought books to life by dressing as their favorite book characters at the Rally for Reading Event. Students and families were invited to enjoy an evening full of literacy activities, book themed snacks and a Scholastic Book Fair. Families were also able to hear famous book characters read and take creative pictures at the event. Students and teachers at Willow Lane Elementary celebrated "I Love to Read" Month with stuffed puppies. Willow Lane Elementary Teacher Betsy Peterson structured a contest where students answered questions about dogs and submitted their answers on slips of paper. The answers to her questions were found in several books she made available in the Media Center. Students who submitted the correct answers were eligible to win a stuffed puppy. Betsy donated the stuffed puppies from her personal collection. She is just one of several other teachers at Willow Lane Elementary who have been donating from their personal collections to share with students. Elementary students were not the only ones to celebrate the importance of reading. (Additional photos of students reading with visitors and the Rally for Reading Event can be found in the In Photos section of this issue of the e-newsletter.)

Students at Lincoln Elementary celebrated "I Love to Read" Month at the annual Read Around Lincoln Event. This was an all school event where students had the opportunity to get with their friends and move around the school to listen to three different books from three different adults. The theme was "Rock 'n Roll Reading" this year. Lincoln Elementary also had a Read-A-Thon Closing Event where students celebrated their many minutes of reading they had done over the past weeks while being entertained by staff members. Some classes and individual students were rewarded for their fundraising efforts and for reading extra amounts of minutes. Students even got to enjoy time reading with other special visitors in the classroom. The Boys' Basketball team visited Lincoln Elementary to read with Karen Wallrich's third grade class and Ms. Kornbaum's first grade class. The students and teachers had a great experience.

Kindergarten through fifth grade students at Otter Lake Elementary also had a great experience as they participated in a Battle of the Books Event to celebrate their recent completion of Bookopoly. Bookopoly was an activity played like the game Monopoly where students read and earned as much money as possible. The celebration was in the form of a game show where there were six teams (each grade level) led by staff members who played a quiz based on books that guest readers read to students through produced videos. Click here to watch the videos of the guest readers. High school students also embraced "I Love to Read" Month. Students were motivated to end the book famine in Africa, and wanted to make a difference in the fact that one third of the population of Africa cannot read. The White Bear Lake Ambassadors held the Books for Africa Drive. Students could drop off book donations of children's books, novels, educational books and other genres that needed to be in good condition. They ended up collecting 275 books by the end of the Books for Africa Drive.

Enjoying activities

Birch Lake Elementary celebrated Kindergarten's 100th Day of School by students and teachers dressing up like they were 100 years old and parading through the school. Teachers also completed activities within their classrooms, as well. More celebrations were underway at Birch Lake Elementary as they celebrated being a great neighborhood school for the past 50 years. Students sang in the gym, took a swing at a pinata and played birthday bingo in their classrooms. Past and retired teachers were invited to join the students and staff in touring the school to see the changes. After the tour, the visitors could enjoy cake to celebrate Birch Lake Elementary's birthday and reminisce. Dads or special friends were also recently invited to the school to enjoy quality time with students at the Donuts with Dads Event. While students at Lincoln Elementary had fun indoors celebrating, some students headed outdoors to celebrate accomplishments. 

Lincoln Elementary students have not been letting winter weather freeze up their fun. The students celebrated their participation in a Winter Warm-Up Challenge through BearPower by playing winter games at Podvin Park. Chomp the Carrot even made an appearance. The Winter Warm-Up Challenge is a three-week challenge that aims to get students up and active throughout the wintertime. Each class tracks points for students being active while each student has the opportunity to earn one point per "active activity" each day. It also encourages students to be creative about the ways they are active both indoors and outdoors. One Hugo Elementary classroom took an outdoor activity and brought it indoors. With the help of parents and Kwik Twip, Stacy Christianson's classroom was able to collect enough milk containers to create an igloo where students read and played games before it started melting. 

Students had fun exploring the outdoors and playing games at Tamarack Nature Center while enjoying some warmer February weather. They also got started with planting seeds to get ready for their garden. Later in the spring, they will be planting the seeds into the garden where they will be able to enjoy watching them grow. While students explored learning outside, students at Vadnais Heights Elementary were displaying their work indoors at the annual Vadnais Heights Elementary Art and STEM Fair. There were more than 60 students in kindergarten through fifth grade participating. Students were able to develop a greater interest and awareness in the areas of art and science. Some students chose to have displays about Minnesota weather, 3D printing and daily sugar use. Other students stood smiling in front of their creative and unique projects that they were able to show their friends and family members.

Raising money for a cause


The Willow Lane Plunging Bears were busy getting cold for a cause. Students and staff jumped into the lake to raise funds for new playground equipment for Willow Lane Elementary. Willow Lane's team of 2017 Winter Plunge jumpers went with a "Love Doctors" theme for their annual fundraising effort. Dr. Lovett, staff members, parents and students jumped into the frigid water to support Willow Lane Elementary as they worked to raise money for the new equipment. Families also enjoyed activities indoors at Otter Lake Elementary where students and parents shouted "bingo."

The annual Bingo Night Event was sponsored by Otter Lake Elementary's PTA and more than 300 people participated. Each person in attendance brought a "trinket" as their entry fee, which were used as prizes for the night. They sold popcorn and water at the event and it was aimed at bringing people together and enjoying the company of others. Students at Sunrise Park Middle School exemplified what it meant to have big hearts while helping little hearts. The school had a Wear Red Day to raise awareness for heart defects in children. During lunches students could get their pictures taken with props and a background in a photo booth. The students running the photo booth would send the pictures to the students who smiled for the camera. The photo booth was $1 per photo per person, and all the proceeds go to the Children's Heart Foundation.

Exploring learning opportunities

The Native American Parent group has organized an Ojibwe Language Class. All sixth through twelfth graders, teachers, parents and community members are invited to participate and learn different Ojibwe words and phrases in upcoming classes that are offered throughout the springtime. One class gave participants an opportunity to experience hand drum songs, learn about the origin of birch bark and enjoy storytelling. Future classes will explore sampling maple sugar, a pipe ceremony and discussing what the meaning of a ceremony is. 

Seniors participated in a Community Forum on Seniors Event. This was a district wide engagement project to gather information, foster discussions and encourage citizen based action to create an age-friendly community that supports seniors. Seniors in the community had another chance to collaborate at the Chat Café Event focused on honoring Black History Month. The theme was centered around "I Have a Dream: Then and Now" as community members listened to Dr. King's classic speech. Participants were able to reminisce on where they grew up, who they are and share how they witnessed or took part in the Civil Rights Movement. They also discussed the relevance of Dr. King's message today. The Chat Cafés happen about once a month through the White Bear Lake Senior Program. While seniors have been gathering to collaborate and have important conversations, so have other community members in White Bear Lake. 

Community members gathered to collaborate at a World Café Event. The Reimagine Minnesota event is World Café, a community conversation that will inform the work of superintendents as they build an educational plan designed for the success of all students. White Bear Lake Area Schools is one of more than 40 school districts who participated in Reimagine Minnesota. Transportation was provided. Learn what Reimagine Minnesota is all about by watching this video. Click here for Spanish, and click here for Somali.

Embracing dancing, singing and acting

Lincoln Elementary students are taking a trip to Neverland. Lincoln Elementary PTA Productions is presenting Disney's Peter Pan Jr. This musical is designed for middle-school aged performers and is based on the play by J.M. Barrie and the 1953 Disney film. The cast and crew contains approximately 150 students in first through fifth grade, and is led by a team of parent and teacher volunteers. There will be performances on March 31 and April 1 at 6:30 p.m., and on April 2 at 2 p.m. in the Community Auditorium. While elementary students are getting ready to showcase their acting skills, Central Middle School students embraced their talents by performing in the Central Middle School Talent Show. Students sang, played instruments and danced for families, staff members, and friends. High school students also were spending time performing, as White Bear Lake hosted the subsections for the Minnesota State High School League One Act Play Competition. White Bear Lake was one of six high schools to perform that day with the show The Zero Sum Mind. 

Matoska has been invited to participate in the Dance to Learn Residency through the Ordway. This is a three-year commitment and there are four classrooms participating. Each classroom receives six hours of dance and movement instruction and then four hours of instruction with their buddy classroom. These classes are also asked to attend three performances at the Ordway. This is giving the students the opportunity to learn elements of dance, body control, strategies and routines that transfer to their classroom learning.

Achieving goals
Christine McMakin is taking her shot at becoming a World Curling Champion. She participated in the 2017 Junior Women's National Championship in Fargo, North Dakota. Her team was successful in becoming champions of the 2017 USA Curling Junior National Championships. Then, the Annmarie Dubberstein team traveled to South Korea where they have been representing the United States at the 2017 World Junior Championships. If the White Bear Lake girls' hockey team had a goal to make their team feel like a family, they are sure succeeding. There are five sets of sisters on the girls' varsity and junior varsity teams. Some of the students say they can become competitive with their sibling both on and off of the ice. Click here to watch the story featured by KARE 11.

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


Activities updates

Our girls' hockey team "family" was highlighted on KARE 11! Click here to watch or read the story. Olivia Schwintek was All-State at Minnesota's 2017 State Nordic Ski meet finishing 20th. Doug Shield and Keely Nistler finished in the top half. Also, congratulations to Keely Nistler, WBLAHS's Athena Award winner for 2016-17. The three sport athlete will be honored at the 23rd Annual St. Paul Athena Award Luncheon on Wednesday, April 19 at the Envision Event Center in Oakdale, Minnesota. Area Learning Center students Madinah Lawton, Haley Bougie, Ayan Abdilahi and Agustina Suarez have become published bloggers as their work will be distributed on the Emily Program Website. Click here to read the blog posts.


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. 

Superintendent contract offered


Janet Newberg, Chair of White Bear Lake Area Schools School Board, recently announced that the Board is offering a contract to Dr. Wayne Kazmierczak to serve as the district's new superintendent effective July 1, 2017. The offer is contingent on the district and Dr. Kazmierczak entering into a mutually agreeable contract. The district's comprehensive search process entailed a characteristic survey, multiple constituent meetings, and interviews with five candidates. Dr. Kazmierczak, who currently serves as the district's Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations, will spend the day meeting with Cabinet members, secondary and elementary administrators, directors and coordinators, and union representatives on Tuesday, Feb. 28. Community members are invited to a public meeting question-and-answer session with Dr. Kazmierczak that will take place that day from 4:30-5:30 p.m. in the District Center Community Room 112. For more information, click here.

School Board Recognitions
Before the Feb. 13 School Board Meeting, the School Board recognized the students and staff involved with:

  • WBLAHS Fall Musical - Mary Poppins 

To see clips from the recognition ceremony, watch this 62.4-second video update here




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

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

For highlights from the most recent Board meeting, click here


Superintendent's Message

  • Finding One's Voice

Student News

  • In photos: "I Love to Read" Month
  • Celebrating "I Love to Read" Month
  • Enjoying activities
  • Raising money for a cause
  • Exploring learning opportunities
  • Embracing dancing, singing & acting
  • Achieving goals
  • 62.4-second video updates
  • Activities updates

School Board News

  • Superintendent contract offered
  • School Board Recognitions
  • School Board Meetings

District News

  • General Information
  • Awards and Honors


School Board Work-Study Meeting
5:30 p.m.
February 27
District Center

School Board Regular Meeting
7 p.m.
March 6
District Center

School Board Work-Study Meeting
5:30 p.m.
March 27
District Center

Find the 2016-17 Activities Calendar here. 2016-17 Parent Academic Calendar here. Find the recently-approved 2017-18 Parent Academic Calendar here.


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.
  • Digital Backpack information is emailed to parents every other Thursday and available here.

Parent Notices

  • Superintendent contract offered, Feb. 28 public session scheduled - Janet Newberg, Chair of White Bear Lake Area Schools School Board, recently announced that the Board is offering a contract to Dr. Wayne Kazmierczak to serve as the district's new superintendent effective July 1, 2017. The offer is contingent on the district and Dr. Kazmierczak entering into a mutually agreeable contract. For more information, click here.
  • Tutors needed - If you are interested in tutoring students (paid position), please complete this form or contact Community Services for more information at 651-407-7501.
  • Looking for a tutor? - If you are looking for a tutor for your child, please complete this form to make a request or contact Community Services for more information at 651-407-7501.
  • Proposed calendars - The 2017-18 and 2018-19 calendars were proposed for review and first reading at the School Board meeting on Feb. 13, 2017. The calendars will be reviewed in detail at the February Work-Study meeting and presented in final form at the March 6, 2017 School Board meeting for approval. See the proposed 2017-18 calendar here. See the proposed 2018-19 calendar here.
  • Superintendent Search - As the district conducts the superintendent search process, updates are available here.
  • Free Community Baby Shower - Community members are invited to join other parents of new babies, birth to six months old, for a free community baby shower. Click here for more information.
  • 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.
    • BearPower Open Gym - Families, friends and community members can come play basketball, catch or just run around at BearPower's Open Gym events. Click here for more information.
  • H2O for Life - The Race 2 Reduce initiative at H2O for Life is a collaboration of stakeholders working to educate about local water resources and water conservation. White Bear Lake Area Schools is a partner in this effort and is working to align curriculum to integrate these important topics into school.
    • 2017 Poster Contest - Kindergarten through twelfth grade students in Minnesota are invited to participate in the 2017 Poster Contest Clean Drinking Water Starts with Me. Entries are due by March 3. Click here for more information.

Support WBLAS Students:

  • Minnesota Golf Cards for Sale - The Boys' Golf team is selling Minnesota Golf Cards once again this spring. The cards sell for $35 each and are good at more than 160 golf courses statewide and in western Wisconsin. If you are interested contact Coach Nasvik.
  • Disney's Peter Pan Jr. - Lincoln Elementary PTA Productions presents Disney's Peter Pan Jr. with approximately 150 first through fifth grade students on March 31, April 1 and April 2. Click here for more information.
  • Willow Students Work at Donatelli's - Feb. 28 is the last Tuesday the Willow Lane Elementary fifth graders will be working at Donatelli's from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Click here to watch the event in action.
  • 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

  • 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.