Eye on ECCS

Each week throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well.

So follow along as we keep our Eye on ECCS!

NOTE: Each week throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may be to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well. So, keep your Eye on ECCS!

 

The white board had terms you would associate with a math class. Geometric net, vertices and Euler’s Theorem (Google confirmed this is indeed math), but it was apparent from the start this wasn’t going to be a traditional math lecture.

There were no textbooks. At this point, there was no arithmetic. However, there was a task of finding creativity. Teacher Jennifer Williams introduced the project of first sketching, then second implementing a wearable geometric sculpture. 

Williams told the class the math would come later. But first, art.

That is the overall theme of Eastern Carver County Schools’ Integrated Arts Academy, a high school founded on linking academic success to the arts and hands-on learning experiences. 

Integrated Arts Academy, or IAA, opened its doors in 2012, located at the District Education Center on Peavey Road in Chaska. The curriculum embeds culinary, horticulture and visual arts into core subjects such as English, math, science, and social studies.

Students can enroll at the school if referred by school counselors, self-refer due to an interest in the course work, or meet one of the state’s criteria of being at risk of not graduating on time. The school has a number of open enrollment students as well.

Amy Spinello, visual arts teacher – she’s been a bit of everything, she said – has been at IAA since it first opened its doors 11 years ago. Spinello was part of the task force headed by former ECCS community education director Jackie Johnston to develop an alternative learning environment for students.

“I’ve been in education for 28 years. I started in Owatonna in their ALC program and I realized from the start those were my kids,” Spinello said.

EXPLORING WITH THEIR MINDS

Williams shared with the students that she went shopping, picking up a number of items that could go a long way in helping them create their geometric sculpture. Some students drew inspiration from web searches, others were visualizing their creations in their own minds.

The beginning stages of the sculptures ranged from simple to complex. Some were creating headwear, as well as arm, wrist, and hand bands. Two students were collaborating on designing wings.

The students were scheduled to present their creations in a fashion show on Jan. 19.

Williams is also in charge of Deja Brew, a student-run coffee shop that is open on Tuesdays and Fridays. The shop was recently reopened to the entire district office building, drawing a line with staff and students the first day.

Baristas Peter and Justice make a mean mocha, latte, and hot chocolate if you’re ever in the area.

Next door in the culinary room, teacher Remy Roper, a District 112 alumni, tasked teams from the Prostart class to cook an appetizer; a project each group had been working to develop as part of an overall meal plan.

A trio of juniors, who have plans to present next month in a competition at the RiverCentre in St. Paul, worked on scallops with a pea puree drizzle and lemon zest marinade. The tasks were split among each group member, each handling part of the process from cutting, sauteing, mashing, preparing, and serving. Communication among the team is key in competition as there is a 60-minute time limit to create an appetizer, entree, and dessert.

Another group was working on a risotto side dish with onions, while the other group was frying pickles. 

Roper bounced between the three groups to check on their progress and answer any questions and share suggestions.

Spinello’s classroom, like many of the spaces at IAA, is one for every kind of learner. Some students choose tables, others choose a couch and chairs with a table in the middle. The class’s task on this day is brainstorming ideas for a cartoon character.

To warm the students up, she asks them to research the history behind cartoons. In exploring the topic, the class learns about the different types of cartoons, how the subjects of them vary from human to animal, and how their facial features, their body, their posture, can explain their emotions and their personality without explicitly telling the reader.

Some students jump right into the project. Sketches take shape. Some of the students have been exploring their characters before the class has even begun.

One of the students, Echo Pendlebury, had a hand-drawn portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. on a digital platform spotlighted at the Chaska Human Rights Commission MLK Breakfast at the Chaska Event Center on Jan. 16.

Many of these presentations will be on display at the school’s annual gala in May. An opportunity to invite back past students, families and friends, and the school’s supportive community, to celebrate the work and talent of many.

  • EyeOnECCS

NOTE: Each week throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may be to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well. So, keep your Eye on ECCS!

 

When Eastern Carver County Schools’ Teaching and Learning leadership, in collaboration with secondary staff, set out to establish new science standards for the 2022-23 school year – a practice the Minnesota Department of Education requires of each district every decade – they identified what was most essential for students to learn and understand.

 

Middle schoolers will now have Earth and Space Science in sixth grade, Life Science in seventh grade and Physical Science in eighth grade, while all freshmen in high school will now take Environmental Science followed by Physics or Chemistry in 10th grade and Biology in 11th grade.

 

The standards go beyond order and sequence change. More hands-on, activity-based instruction, using the five Es (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate), are critical in lesson planning.

 

Teacher Whitney Eipperle bounced between the five Es in a recent 10th grade Chemistry block class. Students first engaged in lab work by burning a marshmallow and then working in teams to measure matter. In both activities, students were asked to explore and explain what they were seeing.

 

When the classroom came back together to wrap up their analysis, students concluded the color and texture of the marshmallow changed due to a chemical reaction. Weaving in and out of these instructional practices helps students secure a firm grasp on the science concepts they learned.

 

“If there is one thing you write down today, make it be this. We will use (conversion factors) every single day from now to June 9,” Eipperle said.

 

Students in Taylor Hamilton’s 10th grade English class were also using many of those same five Es in a discussion group.  Students discussed both book choice and required reading. The assigned articles centered on a disconnect many students feel with required reading the older they get in school. 

 

While the group started slowly, they broke through the engagement stage; the deeper into exploration of the articles, the more comfortable the students felt in sharing their opinions. Not only did the group evaluate what each article stated, but they also elaborated with their own ideas based on their own experiences.

 

Common themes from the students were having a choice in assigned reading; a vote among students, perhaps. Students also shared that the teacher’s attitude toward the book, how it is initially presented, potentially influenced their perception of the book before even starting it.

 

Hamilton told the students their ideas were “super helpful” to her when thinking about future reading assignments.
 

‘I wish every school had BARR’

Eipperle and Hamilton are both involved in BARR (Building Assets, Reducing Risks) at Chanhassen High School. The program is now in its fourth year at the high school, and the program is in place for all ninth grade students and most 10th graders.

 

According to the BARR website, the model is ”designed to create strong schools and communities by empowering students, teachers, and families with data, so that schools can realign existing resources to nurture a unified and personalized culture of support and success for every student, both inside and outside of the classroom.”

 

So, what does that mean?

 

High school can be a major adjustment for freshmen, and sometimes sophomores. It’s not just added expectations in course work, but also learning about personal responsibility and organization. Through BARR, school staff can track the progress of students to see trends. When a student is heading in the wrong direction in a class, staff works together to create potential solutions.

 

The staff BARR team builds on relationships that counselors have with students. They attempt to make connections with all students, not just those in their classes, learning their “interests, strengths, hopes, and dreams.”

 

The responses in a recent meeting from teachers, a counselor, a special education coordinator, a dean, and a principal, about having BARR at Chanhassen High School all were glowing in praise.

 

“I wish every school had BARR.”

 

“If I were starting at a school, BARR would be the first program I’ve have.”

  • EyeOnECCS

NOTE: Each week throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may be to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well. So, keep your Eye on ECCS!

 

The average child asks 200 to 300 questions a day. If an elementary school kindergarten teacher has 20 or so students, they are asked a minimum of 4,000 questions a day … 4,000!

 

Yet, these were the words of Victoria Elementary kindergarten teacher Sybil Druce.

 

“When I wake up in the morning, I just feel so lucky to come here and be with these kids each day.” If you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work at all, right?

 

Spending time with Mrs. Druce, it’s apparent she means what she says, even in a challenging environment like kindergarten.  When kindergarten students arrive at Victoria Elementary at the start of the school year, for some it may be their first classroom experience. They are in the beginning stages of learning social skills, school rules and new routines.

 

By day number 59 (Wednesday, Dec. 7), the expectation level of each student has increased. When a guest arrives in the classroom, the students welcome them in unison with a greeting. They all understand where their spot on the rug is, and what to do when the teacher is reading.

 

They remind themselves with a song that begins …

 

“Eyes are watching. Ears are listening. Body is still …”

 

Mrs. Druce refers to a book from the beginning of the school year in which the students felt unknown to their peers.

 

“Are we strangers anymore?” Mrs. Druce said.

 

“No, we’re all friends now,” said one girl.

 

“School is an amazing place to be. Friends are here to be with you,” said a boy.

 

The story is similar across the five kindergarten classrooms in Victoria. Students in Chelsie Zens’ classroom are working on their passport book. Today is the country Laos in southeast Asia. The class is learning about how other cultures celebrate different holidays. They learn about the Hmong New Year.

 

Next door in Christine Olsen’s class, the students are in language arts rotations. While some students are practicing independent reading and writing stories, others are at a table with the teacher in a small group.

 

These students are working on sounding out high-frequency words. Ms. Olsen asks the students how many sounds, or syllables, they hear.

 

As recess and lunch approach, Janae Porthan’s class heads to their lockers to grab their winter gear. Some get dressed among the masses, but she applauds the few that chose to bring their gear back into the classroom where there are less distractions. Mrs. Porthan mentions the winter-gear process has become less of an adventure as December has rolled on. Of course, there are a few stragglers as the class heads across the school to the playground where a fresh coat of snow and bright sunshine await them.

 

The day is chilly, but most kids do not despair. They run around and make lots of noise until the whistle blows and they must line up for lunch.

 

Finding an open seat with a bunch of boys from Dawn Dammann’s class, questions soon appear. “Have you ever been to a Chicago Bears game? I was born in Chicago.” “Are you a teacher?” “Do you know that my mom likes quiche?” One-by-one, some two-at-a-time, thoughts are shared out loud.

 

While some things have changed, a crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a carton of chocolate milk, and kids complaining about having to eat broccoli still remain.

 

Year-by-year, each student will grow, but they’ll look back at kindergarten and realize how important that time was. The connections they make, the learning they will build on in future years, all of this is the foundation for the years to come. Truly, this is “the Laker Way!” ”

  • EyeOnECCS

NOTE: Each week throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may be to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well. So, keep your Eye on ECCS!

 

What started as a casual conversation between two Eastern Carver County Schools parents has resulted in an experience Chaska Middle School seventh graders will not soon forget. When Dan Tengwall shared he was a veterans service officer for Carver County, fellow La Academia parent Rachel Berg Scherer brought up her sister, an Army staff sergeant.
 

Tengwall quizzed her pretty hard, he said.
 

“I shared with him that my sister is in the military, and he asked what she did, and I had no idea. We started talking about ways people like me can learn more about the veterans in their lives. And since Dan’s goal is always to connect veterans with the services that are owed to them, we started to brainstorm how we could marry those two things,” Berg Scherer said.
 

Berg Scherer and Tengwall collaborated to create the Veteran Story Project, an initiative to support families in having important conversations with their veterans. Berg Scherer said it’s different from other storytelling projects because it gets to more of the feelings and lighter sides of military service. 

From there came the idea of bringing the project to Eastern Carver County Schools. What resulted was a partnership between Carver County Veteran Services and seventh-grade civics classes at Chaska Middle School East that allowed two dozen local veterans to share their story with more than 200 middle school students this past October.
 

“That was the genesis of this project. Sometimes, non-veterans can find it intimidating to speak to veterans about service, and/or veterans don’t always carry their own message well, too,” said Tengwall, who served 18 years in the Minnesota National Guard, including tours as a first lieutenant and platoon leader in Kuwait and Iraq.
 

Chaska Middle School East teachers Katie Rotunda and Andrew Waller jumped at the chance to participate, developing curriculum for their classrooms to support the project. As an introduction, students learned about the different military branches and common acronym terminology as well as a timeline of U.S. wars spanning from the Revolutionary War to the war in Afghanistan.
 

The veteran story project tasked each student with producing one trading card, front and back, with information gathered during the October interview session. Students were put into groups of roughly 10, and each group met with one veteran to learn their story. The classes prepared a bank of questions ahead of time to spark topics of discussion.
 

While some of the information on each card was identical, what each student chose as their main focus gave uniqueness to the card series for each veteran.

“Andrew and Katie worked hard over the summer to create the awesome curriculum. They also had support from their administration, which made it possible for us to carry out the project. The results from that day were amazing. The veterans and students all got so much out of it. We’re all excited for the showcase on Nov. 17 to see the projects that the students have created,” Berg Scherer said.

The mix of veterans, spanning decades of wars and branches of service, was a reminder that veterans can be of all ages.
 

“I think they thought he’s 32, how could he be a veteran? I even get that sometimes at my own VFW. It feels like everyone is looking for someone from the Vietnam War era. They forget there are millions of us that were involved in Iraq and Afghanistan,” local veteran Kyle Gray said.
 

Gray said his 12-year-old niece even questions that he was a veteran.
 

“I told her, yes, I am a veteran. There are pictures of me holding you in my uniform. I think it’s important for these kids to understand, maybe their parents are close in age to me, and their generation could be veterans,” Gray said.
 

In addition to local veterans, guests of the event included Minnesota Disabled American Veterans Foundation executive director Lauri Brooke and Brad Lindsay, the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs Deputy Commissioner. Asked if either had been involved in a project of this scope with students, Lindsay said this was a first of a kind for him.
 

“You often see veterans asked to speak in classes or in Veterans Day ceremonies, but never something like this,” Lindsay said.
 

“It’s nice to give the kids some perspective on what serving in war is like. Otherwise they’d never know. On TV, you’re only hearing about certain things. These kids were really interested in things like daily routine, what guys did each day, things you won’t find out in a book,” local veteran Randy Eiden said. 
 

BETTER UNDERSTANDING

Waller said learning Civics is ultimately about learning how to be a part of and serve one’s community. 

“That naturally led us to learning about how vets have served their communities and how Carver County Veteran Services works as a government agency to serve as well. Katie Rotunda has for years done an incredible job of establishing and fostering community partnerships. Earlier this year, our students learned about citizenship from guest speakers who have experienced the naturalization process. We’ve also learned from senators and congresspeople about the legislative branch, from lawyers about the justice system, from people in finance about economics, and so on. These opportunities are a natural fit for helping kids understand the real-life application of our Civics curriculum,” he added.

Students presented their project during WIN time on Veterans Day, last Friday, Nov. 11. A public presentation is set for 6-6:30 p.m. on Nov. 17 at Chaska Middle School East. The projects will be shared in a gallery setting.
 

“After the event, we heard feedback from both veterans and students that there is real interest in reconnecting later in the year to have more time to share and learn from each other.  We’ve continued to connect with Carver County Veterans Services and will likely turn this into an annual event,” Waller said.
 

“I learned that there is a real desire to learn more about military life from those who served.  There is a great desire for veterans to tell their stories, and we need to provide the space and the time to do that. Great things happen when people from different generations and with different life experiences sit down together to listen to each other,” Berg Scherer said. “I hope we can bring this program to District 112 again.”

  • EyeOnECCS

NOTE: Each week throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may be to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well. So, keep your Eye on ECCS!

 

The room becomes quiet. All eyes are on one student. Teacher Chelsea Zabel holds a tablet in front of a student with limited motor skills. Through hard work from the student and his school district occupational therapist, he has been working on moving his hand to tap a button to start the video on the tablet.
 

The focus and determination of the student is apparent. Teachers and paraprofessionals cheer him on. The button is pushed and one bear appears on the screen and eventually ends up with three dancing bears on the screen. Everyone celebrates. 
 

“I love the collaboration that goes into the DISCOVER program. We are always working closely with service providers (speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc.) to provide the best programming for our students,” said Zabel, a special education teacher at Chanhassen Elementary.
 

All district center-based programs are multi-categorical based on student needs. DISCOVER primarily serves students who have qualified for special education services under the categories of Developmental Cognitive Disabilities, including Moderate and Severe/Profound, or Severely Multiply Impaired. 

Zabel, in her second year in the Discover program at Chanhassen Elementary, her third overall in Eastern Carver County Schools, is among one of two special education teachers in the program. KaryAnne Landon is the program’s other teacher. Like Zabel, it is her second year at Chanhassen Elementary, and fourth overall year in the district.

The DISCOVER program provides each student with individualized instruction, support and services needed to access the general education setting to provide social interactions with peers and to increase independence.

Students in Ms. Zabel’s class, with support from paras, work on language skills. Serena Mayers goes through matching pictures of objects with beginning letter sounds. Katie Ochs lets the students pick out a book for story time. Kelly Helgeson is also working on matching words to letter sounds, while Zabel is aiding students in sounding out high frequency words.

Two students come up to the smart board to begin the lesson, one drawing lines to match an object to the word, while the other takes scrambled up letters from the word, “stop,” to spell it correctly. The students and teachers dance to a YouTube song about the word as well.

Zabel said that collaboration among teachers and support staff allows the classrooms “to create fun and engaging lessons that all our students can participate in. 

“This year we were able to make apple sauce. Our students learned about the apple life cycle, used kitchen tools like an apple peeler, measuring cup and knife, and then the best part was eating the finished product!” Zabel said.

The vision of the DISCOVER program is to model and teach students lifelong independent living skills to be productive members of their school and community. 

One student, new to Chanhassen Elementary this school year, has a special job every day now. He, along with a para, heads to the media center to grab a book cart. They circle the building, passing each classroom to collect books that are being returned. The student, just in his third day of his “book job,” has already developed his own method of stacking the books.

Once all of the books are returned to the library, the student is eager to get back to the classroom to see what his classmates are doing. It’s those moments that Zabel sees huge growth in as the students begin their second month of the school year.

“I love to see the peer interaction throughout the day. These students are teaching each other about kindness and acceptance,” Zabel said.

Down the hall is the AIM program, new to Chanhassen Elementary this school year. Like DISCOVER, the AIM program provides each student with individualized instruction, support, and services needed to access the general education setting to provide social interactions with peers and to increase independence.

This program primarily serves students who have qualified for special education services under the category of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

AIM and DISCOVER are similar in their approach to curriculum and staffing.

Inside one of the two classrooms, teacher Dan Wendle works with a student in a cube. Wendle asks for a certain number and the student must choose the card that matches it. Along with reassurance and praise for the student’s correct answer, Wendle and the student bond through multiple high-fives.

Around the classroom, Mackenzie Vruno and Sofia Elmi are among staff bouncing between students who are working on various assignments. Stamp markers are a huge hit with some, while one student mimics the sounds of every animal he places on a puzzle.

The AIM classrooms have a schedule similar to that of a traditional classroom with morning circle time, handwriting, reading and math group times, social skills and music groups, recess and lunch, and open gym time in the afternoon.

Proper classroom etiquette of sitting at the table, taking turns and raising their hands are also learned expectations of the students.

Chanhassen Elementary principal, Greg Lange, said, “we’re diligent in fostering a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for each student we serve. 

“Bringing the AIM center-based program back to Chanhassen Elementary School has been amazing. Everything from our students, staff and families, to the actual physical and sensory equipment, the transition has been very smooth. Our teachers have been able to customize their classrooms to meet the needs of, and best serve our students. Having both AIM and Discover under one roof maximizes the learning opportunities for our students. Our entire school community embraces and celebrates the unique diversity of our students.”

  • EyeOnECCS