Eye on ECCS: Chaska Middle School East: Interview with a Veteran

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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. 


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.”

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