Stillness. Do we remember what it was like to just breathe? To quiet the constant din of outside distractions and just be present in the moment?
The students lined up in a row facing the prairie. They didn’t move. The fall morning contained a bit of a chill in the air causing fog to rise gently above the wetland. The students were participating in a daily ritual as part of the Prairie Science Class (PSC) called “getting in the moment.”
To get in the moment means letting go of all the outside noise and clutter – it means centering oneself so that you are conscious and in tune with one’s surroundings. When one is “in the moment” your five senses start to truly come alive. In the distance, the quack of a drake mallard could be heard. A muskrat could be seen swimming through the maize of cattails that otherwise would have easily gone unnoticed. When the wind picked up, it caused the sideoats grama to flicker and dance. There is something about getting in touch with nature that calms the human spirit. There is something about the open expanse of the prairie that puts life into peaceful perspective.
As instructor, Mona Davis, states, “It’s different here.” The approach to learning is an interactive and reflective experience. It can leave an indelible mark on how one sees the world. A senior at Pine River High School was given the assignment to write about an experience in education that was deeply meaningful. Even though her experience in Fergus Falls as a student in the PSC had taken place several years ago and she had long since left the community, she wrote about her personal journey as a PSC student in Mrs. Davis’ classroom and the impact it had made on her life. For educators, those stories are the fuel that keeps the passion for the work burning.
“You've gotta ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya? That quote was made famous by the fictional San Francisco Detective, Harry Callahan. The character was played by the iconic Clint Eastwood and uttered through clenched teeth. I am going to answer that question, but you're going to have to read the column first.
I was able to attend three Veterans Day programs today. One hosted by Cleveland School, one hosted by Fergus Falls High School and the final tribute honoring our veterans came from the Fergus Falls Middle School. Each program paid reverence to our country by honoring our flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and performing the national anthem.
I enjoyed every part of these programs, from the pageantry of the Color Guard to the majesty of the music and the heartfelt words of our guest speakers. I would like to especially thank today’s speakers: Tony Rendz, Tony Mayne and Andrew White for serving as inspiring role models. I am also touched by the thoughtfulness and care that go into making and presenting a Quilt of Valor.
Every school administrator in the room had already felt it, but the report added an extra layer of depth to the conversations we had been engaged in for months. We are short people. It has become harder to find employees across every sector of our organization. Our speaker was a state demographer. As she flipped through assorted charts, tables and line graphs, they all supported a common theme – there are more people exiting the labor force than there are people to replace them. Furthermore, this isn’t going to be a short-term problem. The analytics point to a labor shortage that will be prevalent for the next 8 - 10 years.
Minnesota isn’t going to solve this problem by thinking only within the state’s boundaries. It is going to take a multi-faceted approach that creates an environment where more people who are labor force contributors are moving into Minnesota from other states or other countries than are moving out.
I recently wrote about the possibility of a spring bond referendum for the construction of a new elementary school serving third through fifth grades. If supported, the school will be situated along Highway #210, adjacent to Hilltop Celebration Church and opposite the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center. In the upcoming days, the community will be invited to participate in a survey gauging potential support for this new educational facility. I strongly urge each of you to take part in the survey. Your perspectives and opinions are invaluable and will significantly influence the district's decision on whether to proceed with bringing the proposal to a vote in the spring of 2024.
This column will provide some additional rationale behind the proposal.
When McKinley School and Adams School were built, the year was 1939. Certainly the world has changed greatly since then. So has education. Schools built today intentionally include space for collaborative learning. This type of learning approach promotes the development of critical thinking skills, collaboration skills, communication skills, problem solving skills and creativity. The very skills that most employers list as the most important when considering who to hire.
Our district lacks green space. The general layout of the proposed school complex shows room for an additional soccer field and/or baseball/softball fields to support our middle school students. We continue to see a high percentage of our students participate in school-sponsored activities. We need facilities to support these programs.
We also lack sufficient space to support music education in the upper elementary. A new school would allow larger ensembles to rehearse at the same time and provide greater flexibility in how space is utilized.
NEA Today published a 2016 article titled, “What’s the Purpose of Education? Public Doesn’t Agree on the Answer.” The article referenced a poll where respondents chose the primary focus of education from among the following:
The results of the poll are interesting: 45% of respondents indicated the purpose was to prepare students academically; 26% of respondents chose good citizenship as the top priority; 25% selected preparing students for work as the number one goal; and 4% of respondents indicated that they were unsure.
What would the results be if that same poll were taken today? This is purely speculation on my part, but I imagine the results might look similar. What is different is that there is far more focus (and disagreement) on how these objectives are accomplished. What is being taught? How is it being taught? What role do we, as a society, want schools to play?
Here is a snapshot of our approach in the Fergus Falls Public School District. First, we look at the child as a whole. While we certainly embrace the traditional view of education that we are responsible for providing rigorous academic instruction, it is more complicated than that. The goal becomes impossible if a student’s basic needs are not met.