October 23, 2016

Play, Persistence, and Policy

Eyes look upward towards the top of the hill. Hikers proceed cautiously up the steep trail. From time to time, one reaches back to help a fellow classmate. Once at the top, some pause to gaze out upon the vista, clearly proud of their accomplishments. Then three young hikers spot a trail to the grasslands, and gleefully run into the deep grass, rolling with delight down the hill.

Our setting is Tammark Nature Center in White Bear Township; the hikers four and five year olds; and our guides their teachers and naturalist from "My Nature Preschool" a partnership of the White Bear Lake Area Schools and Ramsey County's Tamarack Nature Center.

"Play is the work of the child," famously observes educator Marisa Montessori; echoing agreement are Mr. Rogers and teachers of young children everywhere. Play is also a component of invention, creativity, and innovation, topics of conversation as relevant today as they were among Plato and the Ancient Greeks or Albert Einstein and the Twentieth Century scientific community. 

What we believe about how children learn and how they are motivated to learn influences state and federal education policy, and invariably affects the priorities and structure of schools in America.

Beginning just after the turn of the Millennium, federal policy was influenced by the 2002 "No Child Left Behind" law that emphasized math and reading proficiency scores. As the nation's schools shifted to meet the new priorities, other priorities gave way, including less attention to the arts. Even time allotted to that joy of childhood, the outdoor recess, diminished nationally.

During the past decade our nation's educators and policy experts looked to other countries that achieve superior achievement scores but without the rigid emphasis on testing. Out of these grew sufficient consensus for a new federal law to replace "No Child Left Behind." Passed in 2015, "Every Child Succeeds Act" shifts the focus to a "well-rounded education, moving away from just core academic subjects." More decision-making authority shifts to the states and local districts to determine what is part of a well-rounded education.

This fall the State of Minnesota's Department of Education is holding information sessions around the state to help define what "well-rounded" should mean for Minnesota's students. Consider attending a session and adding your voice to the conversation.

How do these federal and state policy discussions affect a local independent school district such as the White Bear Lake Area Schools?

Because in the United States education is state responsibility, the federal role in education is limited to what it can convince states to do, usually through incentives of federal funding. The emphasis on testing over the past decade and a half was the direct result of federal policy, but implemented differently in each of the fifty states.

States set the standard for what is taught. For example, based on Article XIII, Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution: 
The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. 

As a consequence of this Constitutional mandate, the Minnesota legislature sets the standards, and delegates to local independent school districts the responsibility to implement education laws, giving great freedom to local priorities and values. Our school board, working with staff and our community, establishes our mission, strategic priorities and budget. 

Back to the story about the preschool children and play. One of the unintended consequences of the national emphasis on testing is that what is tested - usually narrow in scope - comes at the cost of time for students to gain a love of learning, and develop the skills, talents and attitudes that will be critical for their long range success.

School work does not need to be drudgery, always preparing for the next test. School work at its best combines play with persistence, as students learn discipline and effort in the pursuit of learning.

Michael J. Lovett, Ph.D
Superintendent, White Bear Lake Area Schools

In Photos: Unity Day fun!


Student News

Student voice

Students in the district's Transition Plus program are sharing their student voice, by way of a Transition Education Center newsletter recently created in a Popular Publications 201 course. The course is designed to give students a basic understanding of journalism and newspaper writing techniques. Students will participate in research and creative writing all while learning about layout, design, blogging, social media and copyright laws. They will also develop skills in photography and interviewing to gather information. See their first publication here.

Student voice is also alive and well at Lincoln Elementary, where students elected Student Council leadership positions last week. Those who were on the ballot, fourth and fifth grade Student Council representatives, delivered heartfelt speeches during an all-school assembly and lined the hallways with campaign posters. The positions of secretary, treasurer, vice president and president were voted upon by the students, who will undoubtedly remember their own election "voice" lesson when following the democratic process in November.


Apple a day

Students throughout the district enjoyed an apple on October 13 as part of the Great Lakes Apple Crunch, a one-day effort to focus on local, healthy farm fresh food from the state of MN. The fun initiative, hosted during National School Lunch Week and National Farm to School Month, looked a bit different at each building - but each school that participated pulled in fun apple-related activities along with students "crunching" into their apples. The fun wasn't limited to students - adults participated as well, at Parent Leaders Forum meetings and at meetings Dr. Lovett had with local municipality leaders that day.


Last week, district students in the Tamarack Nature Center preschool program enjoyed apple-related fun as well. Parents were invited to join their students for Apple Cider Day, where they saw a cider press up close and person and enjoyed the fruits of their labor afterward. An important lessons learned by students in the nature-minded preschool experience was that of using every piece - the deer and other creatures at Tamarack will enjoy the mushed apple leftovers left during the pressing process (called "cake").


Singing from the rooftops

Members of the Mariners Choir from White Bear Lake Area High School - South Campus, are making their mark. The choir group recently spent the day at St Andrew's in Mahtomedi at a Choral Day event, sponsored by Concordia College in Moorhead. The Mariners and five other invited high school choirs performed a solo number at the evening concert, and then everyone performed two massed choir selections.


Their younger counterparts are forging ahead as well. District middle school students have been accepted into the American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota State 7-8th Grade Boys/Girls Honor Choirs. In order to earn the honor, each of the students underwent 45-60 minutes of individual coaching before submitting an entire scale and song excerpt, both sung a capella. Central Middle School choir teacher Andrew Parr reports the students' devotion to the audition process, as well as their desire for success, was apparent.


Partnering for good causes 

The White Bear Lake Library was hopping a couple of weeks ago during an open house event hosted specifically for White Bear Lake Area Schools students and families. Approximately 200 people attended and signed up for library cards, completed a scavenger hunt, met reading therapy dogs, made books to take home, played computer games or built with Legos. The event was made possible due to a mini-grant received by district media specialist Connie Stirling. Also as part of the grant, Ramsey County librarians were available at three of the district elementary schools for Welcome Conferences in August and district/library system professional development is planned for the 2016-17 school year.


The District and the White Bear Lake Police Department are joining forces on Thursday, November 10 for a Parent Safety Night event that will address a variety of topics including: youth drug trends and awareness, internet safety, mental health support and safe routes to school. The event, which offers free childcare to families, will begin with a free dinner at 5:30 p.m. Breakout sessions will begin at 6:30 p.m. Find additional details here.


Another important community asset recently approached the district with an opportunity to collaborate on a Unity Day video, which was compiled with insights from district students and teachers and produced by the Government Television Network. The finished product was shared in classrooms throughout the district on Unity Day - a day on which individuals across the nation wear orange to show support, hope, and unity and band together against bullying and united for kindness, acceptance and inclusion. Check out the video here. Spanish and Hmong versions of the video will be available soon.

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

Activities Updates

Five Central Middle School Choir members were accepted into the American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota State 7-8th Grade Boys/Girls Honor Choirs. Students are: Seventh grader David Krzoska and eighth graders Lucas Fahie, Gabe Adams, Noelle Sommars, and Abby Weidt. WBLAHS Girls' Soccer player Claire Odmark was named a member of this year's All-State Soccer Team. She will be honored at the All-State Banquet on October 23.


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 Recognitions

Before the October 10 School Board meeting, White Bear Lake Area High School students who were named AP Scholars, AP Scholars with Honor, and AP Scholars with Distinction were honored.

School Board Meetings

School Board meeting minutes and agendas can be found here.

Date Type Time Location
October 24 Work-study 5:30 p.m. District Center
November 14 Regular 7 p.m.  District Center
November 28 Work-study 5:30 p.m. District Center

For highlights from the most recent Board meeting, click here

Superintendent's Message

  • Play, Persistence, and Policy

Student News

  • In Photos: Unity Day fun!
  • Student voice
  • Singing from the rooftops
  • Safe Routes to School
  • Partnering for good causes
  • 62.4-second video updates
  • Activities updates

School Board News

  • School Board Recognitions
  • School Board Meetings

District News

  • General Information
  • Opportunities


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