Fear, and the compelling nature of being the domino

“There are too few people in the world willing to be the domino–we aren’t doing it without fear.” –Luvvie Ajayi Jones

By Ron Hustvedt, Jr.

I open with that quote because upon hearing that statement in her Ted Talk, I knew I needed to write as I listened. From the onset, I had the feeling that everything she was about to say was exactly what I needed to hear at this moment, and I’m glad that I did. I wrote as she spoke the things that resonated with me. I didn’t compare my notes to the transcript, but let’s just say it’s close. That’s how much this talk spoke to me and I think if you are in a place where you fear taking action, but feel there’s no alternative, then you will have a similar experience with her talk.

Having been a writer all my life, and a journalist most of it, I’ve learned that the best way I process things is through the action of writing it down. When I first started being a journalist I wrote in notebooks, then those skinny reporter notebooks. Page after page. Almost always I could read my own writing, but most others could not.

Then when I was being interviewed, on the phone, by a professional journalist, I marveled at how I could hear them typing away as I spoke. I was already a decent typist but at that moment I vowed to type what I heard because then I could always read it. I started by recording interviews and writing notes on my desktop (because tape recorders sometimes fail–learned that the hard way in just one lesson, well maybe two).

Then after I graduated college, and laptops became a thing, I began lugging one around when I’d cover meetings. I learned that if I could write as I listen, I saved time from not having to transcribe and I already had the guts of the story written down. When I did some ghostwriting gigs (writing on behalf of others who are experts, but not expert writers) I found that writing what they said was the best way to capture their voice. I also learned that people who don’t think they are good writers, but make a living speaking, have a block with writing. “You turned what I said into a great article,” is a wonderful compliment, but I always assured the person that the genius was them because I pretty much just wrote what they said.

During my first years of teaching I was both a full-time teacher and a part-time journalist. The habit of typing everything transferred into my teaching job, however, at meetings. I learned that when you write down what people said, as they say it, you have a pretty good record of what happened. Those skills as a journalist allowed me to capture the good ideas of others, share those words with people, and help them see their own genius. Planning meetings are a wildfire of ideas, and if that genius isn’t captured, it’s often lost. Writing it down helped me most of all, but I found that it helped others as well.

I transferred that to my practice as a teacher in helping students learn how to write. “Don’t worry about what to write, just say it and I’ll write what you say.” That strategy helped a lot of students break the early stages of writer’s block. As my journalism gig faded due to the demands of teaching and having a family (willingly, mind you) I kept the habit of processing through my fingers as I listened. When somebody is saying something important, you are likely to see me typing away on a laptop or, if I didn’t realize the moment was going to happen, typing away on my phone or recording it so I can type it later.

Capturing people’s words, for self reflection, for sharing, helps me better understand the geniuses of the world around me. I say all this in such a wordy introduction because I want to encourage everybody to commit to writing down more of what they hear and think. I think you’ll be impressed with what you discover.

So with that wordy introduction, here are some of my favorite words spoken and paraphrased from the Luvvie Ajayi Jones Ted Talk that are worth reading. But just like I usually only listen to books when read by the author, you must listen to her delivery. So either stop reading now and just go watch it, or read what I captured and then hear it yourself from the genius who said it.

Fear has a very concrete power in saying and doing the things that are our purpose. I’m not going to let fear ruin our life or dictate what I’m going to do.

If it scares me, I’m going to actively do it.

Wrote “I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual

Being quiet is comfortable. Keeping things they way they’ve been is comfortable. We need to speak hard truths when they are necessary.

I have to speak these truths. Justice should not be an option.

What are your core values? Know them. Embrace them.

Our job is to disrupt what is happening. If two more of us band together we are more powerful. Making sure that other person who can’t make a point is being heard. Our job is to make sure they are being heard. Everyone’s well-being is community business. If we made sure we were everybody’s help we wouldn’t have to look around so much when we need help.

People and systems count on our silence to keep us where we are. Being the domino comes down to being exactly who you are. Being yourself can be a revolutionary act. In a world that wants us to whisper I choose to yell.

When it’s time to say these hard things, these are the three things I ask:
1. Did you mean it.
2. Can you defend it.
3. Did you say it with love.

Speaking truth to power should not be sacrificial. Bridges not based on truth will collapse. It is our duty to be the domino, especially when it is difficult.

Parting reflection: I think some would say I’m doing my best to be a domino but I’d say that fear still has more of a grip on me than I’d like it to. I’m hoping to be able to better fulfill that duty, because while it is difficult, but it is necessary. Writing this down, and sharing it with you, compels me to continue down that path.

Slaying the four dragons of racism

By Ron Hustvedt, Jr.

Here’s my Wednesday reflection for the #NNSTOYEquity21 Challenge, sponsored by the Equity Taskforce of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. The first portion was to read the four levels of racism created by Race Forward. According to their website, raceforward.org is all about, “Race Forward Research conducts cutting edge, original and broadly accessible research on pressing racial justice issues focused on the significance of race to social and economic outcomes in our society. Race Forward Research seeks to provide evidence of the entrenched and systemic barriers to racial justice.” I thought the Four Levels of Racism document was very succinct and neatly defined the four levels (internalized, interpersonal, institutional and structural) but I wondered if it was “too neat” in the lack of details and context. It is clear that this is intended as an introductory document meant to be used during a training and the reflection questions definitely would provoke some good conversations with a group new to this work. My favorite question, and one I plan on putting to use, was, “Rabbi Tarfon, said “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either. What does that mean for you and your organization as it relates to racism? Other forms of oppression?”

The next item for today was a video by Act.Tv on their youtube channel. It was an animated explainer titled, “Systemic Racism Explained.” On one hand I appreciated how it did a good job simplifying the complexities of systemic racism, but on the other hand I felt that it was a tad too simplistic. I worry about how it would be viewed in a classroom of students, especially one where there was only a handful of BIPOC students. A teacher would definitely want to process this video with students immediately after showing it and make time to process a day or two later. I wonder who the target age group is for this one. If you teach young children, and feel well informed on the causes/impacts of systemic racism, I’d say this could be a good one. If you are new to it, and can’t find anything else, brush up on your adult reading/learning first then share it with kids. It’s necessary to educate ourselves and our kids, but we have to make sure we are considerate in our approaches so we don’t derail our own efforts.

The final reading for the day was an article in learningforjustice.org (formerly known as Teaching Tolerance) called, “The Weaponization of Whiteness in Schools.” This was on my reading list anyways as a friend tweeted it out last week and I remember seeing it in the fall when it was first published. I’ll have to admit that reading it was not an easy task. In a majority white profession, I have seen this happen on a regular basis. Identifying it, calling it out, helping people acknowledge it, has been a task I have worked on for many years. It’s something I’ve tried to get others to learn about, but it’s also something I have uneasily noticed in my own practice. It’s not like I’ve done it on purpose. But somehow I just knew to do it. It’s hard to explain, and I’m really just trying to encourage you to read the article, but it gave me an uneasy feeling reading it and reminding myself of those times when I’ve caught myself about to “weaponize my whiteness.” It’s tough not to feel personally offended when a student disrupts or acts out, and it’s a very difficult realization to catch implicit biases bubbling up, but it’s something that you can reconcile with, add a filter to your brain in catching, and even if it gets past that be willing to call it out yourself and reconcile.

A powerful quote that spoke to me came from Alicia Oglesby, a Black high school counselor and co-author of Interrupting Racism: Equity and Social Justice in School Counseling, who said, “When students, who are children behaving as children do, are off task or causing me a disruption, my initial response is to adjust how I’m facilitating that student or the larger class. In real time, I’m assessing that student’s needs because they precede mine. My lesson is never more important than that of the students’ need for education. The classroom and school experience allows for education to happen.” While I’d like to think I’ve caught every misstep I’ve made over the years, I’d be naive to believe that. I acknowledge that I’m more tuned into it, more adept at identifying it, and also becoming good at calling it out. I’m ashamed of every word I’ve written about this article because it’s not what I’d like to admit, but I feel it’s important to own it and acknowledge the pervasiveness of it all.

Circling back to the first source of the day, we can believe that racism doesn’t exist within us, but we are products of our society. Even though I’m an inner-city kid who grew up playing with and going to the houses of a lot of friends from multiple cultures and races, I was also exposed to all the images thrown at me in various forms of media. I believe that if you want to be antiracist you need to go after all four levels of it: internalized, interpersonal, institutional and structural. Publicly, I find myself going after the institutional and structural varieties. Those are the giant dragons to slay and commit to doing so with an ever-growing fleet of allies. But then implicit biases catch you with a right hook and remind you that internalized and interpersonal are always lurking in the subconscious. Exorcising takes time and I’m not convinced full removal is every possible. It’s treatable, but not removable. The four levels of racism are all interconnected, so we must slay the inner dragons with as much intention and ferocity as the outer ones, and go after them all in a public way.

“From Roots to Reconstruction”

By Ron Hustvedt, Jr.

“As we go through this history we will see that this is not easy work, but we will also see how this work is not only possible, but necessary.” –Brandon White

For Day Two of the #NNSTOYEquity21 Equity Taskforce challenge teachers were invited to listen to Episode One of The Complexion Of Teaching And Learning titled “From Roots to Reconstruction.” The description of this podcast is, ““The Complexion of Teaching and Learning” is a podcast docu-series in which we explore the historical, political, and professional insights and experiences of educators of color. The series is hosted by Brandon White (Twitter: @ClassroomB), an ELA Specialist for UnboundEd and former middle school ELA teacher and Restorative Practices educator for the Rochester City School District. Episode 1 highlights the connections between Brandon’s experiences as an educator of color and the experience of Black Educators before, during, and right after slavery.”

As a history teacher, it was an interesting lesson of how the educational system has its roots in African values and teaching styles and adapted, stood up to destruction, and was realized during slavery, Civil War and then became an act of resistance during Reconstruction and throughout the 20th century. Mr. Brandon White draws parallels throughout the lessons to his practice as a teacher today.

One of the interviews in the podcast that resonated most to me was an interview with Dr. Heather Andrea Williams, who is the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought, and Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book “Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom” (2005), and “Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery” (2012). She tells the story of how Frederick Douglass learned how to read as an enslaved man. The white woman who was the wife of the man who claimed to own Douglass taught him to read because it was common for white women in those positions to teach enslaved people to read so they could read the bible. When her husband learned of this she said to him, in front of Douglass, “If you teach him to read he will be unfit to be a slave.” It made Douglass want to read even more and see the power that reading and writing could give him and the danger to the existing power structure. Douglass self-liberated himself, went on to become a great writer, speaker and public servant who famously said, “To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes of human nature.”

Mr. Brandon White, host of the podcast, talked about how he would see this in his teaching practice as well when people would not challenge students of color to read complex texts. When teachers would hold low expectations of their students of color and not provide students with the enriching experiences that would help them thrive. His recounting of that resonated strongly with me because I have seen that as well and have long worked to make sure my classroom does not function that way. I’m certain I’ve made mistakes with this over the years, but getting to know my students is a top priority so I can get them digging into subjects/topics of interest to them. I do this because when a student has a high level of interest in the subject matter, they are willing to take on more complicated texts and build endurance with reading. It’s more than just putting a text related to something interesting in the hands of a student though. Supporting a student’s reading, answering the many questions, asking many questions, contextualizing with the student are all ways that a teacher can both hold high expectations, further build relationships, and support student success. After two more historical examples, Mr. Brandon White said, “When I learn about stories like this, I keep thinking about how education grounded in an ethical ‘why’ and an authentic ‘how’ is the most powerful education you can receive.” Reading that made me feel both validated in what I’ve been working to do but also challenged to do more, to do better, and keep at it. I know that if I do that, the teacher it makes me five years from now will make the teacher I am now look woefully inadequate. Just like how I feel about myself today compared to five years ago, and ten years ago, and 20 years ago.

It was also very interesting to hear the story, near the end of the podcast, about the push for Black educators with Freedman Bureau schools in the years after the Civil War. Having a group of Black teachers who could teach newly emancipated Black children was going to be essential and is what led to the formation of many Normal Schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Mr. Brandon’s White takeaway was that this system, “would have long lasting impacts on Blacks in education…this would prove to be an extremely valuable approach.” He then listed three truths he’s learned in his own practice to become a change agent in educational equity. You are going to need to listen to the podcast for those three truths but they will empower you and propel you forward, just like they did for me.

Thank you Mr. Brandon White and Dr. Heather Andrea Williams for the lessons, insights and challenges to my practice.

Thoughts on “A Talk to Teachers” by James Baldwin

By Ron Hustvedt, Jr.

(This is a stream-of-consciousness piece of writing I wrote on February 8, 2021 as a reflection on this text in conjunction with the #NNSTOYEquity21 Equity Challenge put on by the Equity Taskforce of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year.)

I just finished reading “A Talk to Teachers” by James Baldwin, and with a few minor contextual adjustments, one might have believed he wrote it this year about the events of the past year. Give it a read at this link and see what you think of that easy synopsis. For my thoughts, in the moment, read on.

No, this talk by Mr. Baldwin was not delivered in the past year, but 58 years ago on October 16, 1963. It is older than I am but many of the problems he condemns are just as real today as they were back then. The problem is when you realize something like that, separated by nearly six decades, you realize that the problems today must be even larger than they were back then. Even though people would like to believe that things are better today with regards to racism and segregation than in 1963, the fact that the same points ring true speaks to the lack of measurable progress and improvements. It speaks loudly to the hardwork that’s been done by white supremacists and status-quo fans to “not push too hard” and “just be patient.”

Baldwin said, “What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.” This resonated with me so strongly, and he says so concisely what I believe is at the core of my teaching philosophy.

It reminds me of the very things I hear so many adults tell children when they push to make the world better for themselves. Adults say wait. Give it some time. Knowing full well that childhood is fleeting at best. Those middle school policies that students want changed only need to be stood up against for a year or two because it’s usually the 7th and 8th graders who see it and those with the power know it only takes a few inconveniences to while away the hours until those children move on and the fresh group are assured things will be better. In High School when students are more aggressive, bitter to the lies, aware of the deceits, they must strike fast or time will pass them by as well. Students who realize at age 13 that the voting age should lower will need to fight for several years. The adults with the power just have to wait them out, and hope that once the vote finds them at age 18, they decide not to look back, and look out for, the ones they left behind. One you gain the power you seek, it takes an act of altruism to give that to those you left behind.

When you wait to make change, you create a space for people to fall into and find where they are comfortable. Those most on the edge fall first and become the cushion for that next wave who were ready. Instead of backing up the people most on the edge, they rest on the fallen bodies and enjoy not being on the bottom. The problem with trying to lead the change, and take on the problem headfirst, is that you fail to see where the true danger lies. Well, you notice it when you feel the sharp pain in your back. Only when a critical mass is willing to go to the edge, and hold up those who would fall, do we see change. But too often those who benefit least from the change, and fear the edge, let go of those with the most to lose, those most on the edge, and sacrifice their aspirations for comfort. I struggle so much with that as I want to get closer to that edge, as I want to support those leaning over, but feel the fear of losing the comfortable foothold. What’s a worse fate? To have those behind you stab you in the back? Or simply just let you fall? How often in history is that exactly what’s happened? Declaration. Constitution .Reconstruction. Legislation. Adjudication. Again and again.

James Baldwin wrote this piece in the tumultuous year of 1963. What a year that must have been. It was the year of the Birmingham Campaign. In April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed in that most segregated of cities and penned his powerful “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” That document too, with some contextual adjustments, might have been written in our modern times as well. A passage that speaks to my earlier comments about time is written by Dr. King, “Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”

The year 1963 was also when schoolchildren of Birmingham decided, in May, to take action and stand up, on behalf of the adults, and march and protest. Those children were arrested, attacked by dogs and water hoses, assaulted by the police and fire department and put into jail. They kept at it and gained a national spotlight. Four months later, four children were killed in the very church those protests originated from, by white supremacist terrorists. It was also in 1963, a month before that bombing, in August, when hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was more than Dr. King who spoke that day, but the collective amnesia of those who today feel the problems of 1963 were solved don’t remember it that way. Heck, those who feel the problems are almost all solved only cling to a handful of Dr. King’s lines. “Something about children being judged by their character, not the color of their skin, right?”

It’s easy enough to say and want to believe, but it’s a reality that can only be achieved with an acknowledgement of the problem. A person can wish away racism, but it is a problem created by centuries of policy, justified by more policy, defended by tradition. It is so entrenched in everything that it’s invisible to those who benefit most. When we say we need to acknowledge the problem, to achieve that dream, people believe you can simply dream and it comes true. Yet they yell to their own children that the only way to achieve a dream is to work for it. If we are to change reality we must acknowledge, work, and repair. Baldwin said, “If, for example, one managed to change the curriculum in all the schools so that Negroes learned more about themselves and their real contributions to this culture, you would be liberating not only Negroes, you’d be liberating white people who know nothing about their own history. And the reason is that if you are compelled to lie about one aspect of anybody’s history, you must lie about it all.” Now that statement is about as current as it can get, given the current debate in Minnesota, and across the nation, about Social Studies instruction and civic education. The 1619 Project and many other teacher resources aim to do that, but they become public enemy number one in the eyes those who with to live the myth. You can’t build dreams on lies.

Baldwin ends with a hint of hope and a heaping dread, that also resonates and echoes in our modern time. “America is not the world and if America is going to become a nation, she must find a way – and this child must help her to find a way to use the tremendous potential and tremendous energy which this child represents. If this country does not find a way to use that energy, it will be destroyed by that energy.” We survived 1963 and the decade that followed, but just barely, and not all emerged from that decade fully acknowledged. The liars and blindfolded won the waiting game. Those who worked hard to make improvements and change were matched by those who worked hard to rebuild obstructions, impede change, derail improvements and allow hate to flourish. The energy of 1963 continued bubbling and boiling, hotter and more vicious, until those who said, “Don’t move so fast” and “Just give it time” won the day. The cauldron was capped but the heat continued to build.

It has been released once again and we hear echoes again of 1963 bubbling from the depths and popping at the surface as if they were just spoken. Those words from 58 years ago were rooted even deeper in the stew, and if we don’t recognize and don’t get it right this time, the damn pot is in danger of boiling over. It those who would wait, win the day once again, all they succeed in doing is passing a worse fate on to their children. You know, those who are supposed to walk hand in hand with each other as brothers and sisters?

James Baldwin addressed that as well in this statement, “I began by saying that one of the paradoxes of education was that precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society. It is your responsibility to change society if you think of yourself as an educated person. And on the basis of the evidence – the moral and political evidence – one is compelled to say that this is a backward society.”

Backward facing is a good place to start if we can honestly acknowledge what is behind us. Only then can we better understand the work that must be done. Right now. Enough stalling.

Dear Mr. H…..

This is not an advice column…it’s just a new feature on my blog where I will share some of the more interesting questions I get from students. My answers are my thoughts to that student at the moment…but I’m sharing them with you to ask for feedback. What did I miss? Where am I wrong? I appreciate any accolades as well, but mostly I’m looking for insights of what else I should have told the student. Oh, and I’m going to keep the names of the students anonymous, but to help me remember I’m going to give them a coded name that only I remember (or at least hope to!).

So without further ado, here are two questions from this week’s batch that I think are worth sharing and throwing out for public scrutiny….

A student with a name shared by a character in Pulp Fiction asked,
Question: “Why do kids’ parents limit their potential?”
Mr. H. responded:  “That’s a tough one to answer. Being a parent is a tough job. If you do too much for your kid, that makes their life too easy. If you don’t do enough, it makes their life tough. But sometimes having an easy life is good because it gives you opportunities later on. But sometimes having a less-than-easy life is good because it makes you better know how to do things for yourself. A lot of things that provide potential cost a lot of money. You can’t give your kids all the things they want if you can’t pay the bills for the house. 

Potential is something you have an unlimited supply of all on your own. If a child’s potential is being limited by parents, it’s not being taken away, it’s just being given time to cook longer, to percolate. Sometimes this feels like it’s limiting us, but a lot of times it actually gives us time to be more ready to use it later on, when parents aren’t able to have as much control. The main job of parents is to keep their kids safe and secure. If a child has those things, then their potential has space to grow and build-up. It might not be able to come out just yet, but the more you look for ways to express your potential, the more ways you’ll find. So keep looking. Keep asking. Keep building your potential so when the opportunity presents itself, you are ready. 

 

Another student, whose name could be a nickname for Babar, asked, “Is everyone a leader in their own way? How do you know when you have become a leader? Some people won’t come up to you and say, ‘You have really inspired me or something like that.’ So how do you know?”

That’s a great question and I think that was the point of the TED Talk video by Dudley Drew you don’t really know when you are making an impact so keep on trying. I think there are two things to think about by your question:

  1. Can you make sure to thank people who inspired you and led you to great things? Can you be one of those people who helps others see their leadership and their impact by recognizing them? It doesn’t take much, but you can help people realize their power by telling them how they empowered you.
  2. I think Dudley Drew’s point was that leadership is what we do when we are sharing our passions, when we are working harder than others doing what we enjoy or feel is important. It’s more of the daily greatness on a regular basis, than some great thing on a single day.

When we think leadership has to look magnificent, we wonder if we are capable and doubt we could do it. Great leaders wouldn’t exist without the work of many leaders working with them. Martin Luther King, Jr. is known as a great leader, but the work of the civil rights movement was done by hundreds of people in hundreds of towns. Each of those thousands of people were leaders who greatly impacted the lives of other people. Each of those thousands also put their lives at risk, and some of them lost their lives, just as much as a person who happened to get the spotlight and the cameras. In a classroom, the teacher is seen as the leader, but every student has the potential to be a leader. When you were put into a group and you helped others in group get started. When you told other people in your group that it’s okay to work slower than you wanted to so that a student who read or processed slower could understand, you were being a leader. That student might never tell you “Thanks for sticking up for me” but did you do it because you’d get thanked or because it was the right thing to do? There’s not enough space in this world for everybody to have a statue built in their honor, but there are plenty of spaces where you can lead by showing others the right thing to do and then doing it.

Salk students are literally awesome at Virtual State History Day

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These nine students received special recognition at MN State History Day for their research and projects

MAY 4, 2020—ELK RIVER, MN—Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, this year’s Minnesota History Day went virtual rather than cancel and over 1,200 students from across the state, including 37 students from Salk Middle School, participated in this annual event. 

Those are the same numbers as you’d see in a normal year, speaking to the hard work and dedication by coordinators at the Minnesota Historical Society, Social Studies teachers at Salk, and the students who competed. Each of them took on a considerable amount of work above and beyond what’s typically expected–and the results demonstrated that commitment. 

The Salk student to take home the highest honors this year was sixth grader Ronny Hustvedt for his documentary called,“Restoring Natural Barriers: The Creation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.”.

His 10-minute film on the controversy over the preservation of this wilderness area in northeastern Minnesota also received a Topical Prize. For his use of the Minnesota Historical Society Library and online sources in his project, Ronny Hustvedt received the “Best Use of Minnesota Historical Society Collections” Award and $200 from the Gale Family Library.

Seventh grader Lengxing Yang also earned a Topical Prize at State for his performance titled, “Hmong Journey to America.” The script he wrote, and performed, was about Hmong people escaping southeast Asia in the wake of the Vietnam War and included elements of his own family history. He received the “History of Immigration” Award and $100 from the Friends of the Immigration Research Center and Archives at the University of Minnesota.

Only the top four percent of all projects across Minnesota make it to the State contest and only the top one percent receive Honorable Mention. This year Salk had seven students earn this level of achievement. They include:

  • Melody Kpahn for her documentary on the fall of the Berlin Wall,
  • Ava Kallunki and Ady Bollinger for their museum exhibit on the Minneapolis Millerettes, a team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, 
  • Kai Paulsen for his website on Apollo 11, 
  • Sajor Jalloh for her script and performance on the 1963 Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama protesting segregation during a tumultuous summer, and,
  • Libby Kubicka and Abby Huselid for their script and performance on Harvey Milk, the first gay mayor of San Francisco and his impact on the national LGBTQ+ movement. 

The 37 students from Salk who competed at State, represented the nearly 500 students at Salk who successfully completed this extensive research project on a topic of their choice and presentation style of their choice. “Our focus is on teaching students skills like inquiry, source analysis, evidence based writing and giving them as many opportunities as possible to drive their own learning,” said Starrsha Wolff, one of Salk’s Social Studies teachers. “These are the skills they will use not only through their academic journeys, but for the rest of their lives.” 

Across the state, around 27,000 students from 250 schools participated in History Day with 1,200 advancing to the state contest held at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. This year’s theme was “Breaking Barriers in History” and students selected topics that fit one or both of the leading theme words. 

Not only do students select a topic, they conduct original research using resources from the school, the University of Minnesota Library System, interviews with national experts and individuals involved with their topic, and extensive searches through databases, archives and museums. “These students are incredible! They interviewed hall of fame athletes, professors, advocates, survivors, and heroes who actually lived through their topics” Wolff said. 

The 2021 History Day theme is “Communication in History: The Key to Understanding.” National History Day in Minnesota is a co-curricular historical research program that builds college readiness and communication skills for middle and high school students. It is a partnership of the Minnesota Historical Society and the University of Minnesota. Program support is also provided by the Legacy Amendment.

Details on that theme, along with more information on the Minnesota History Day program, can be found at http://education.mnhs.org/historyday/ or visiting Salk’s History Day website at salkhistoryday.weebly.com/ A complete listing of the top History Day projects from Minnesota, along with all of the Topical Prize winners can also be found on the Minnesota History Day website.

Salk Students at State History Day 2020

Group Documentaries

  • Finley Mortenson & Anna Voigt
  • Hannah Leko & Ava Oblinger

Individual Documentaries

  • Kayla Christy
  • Ronny Hustvedt
  • Melody Kpahn

Group Exhibits

  • Leila Bakri & Olivia Riewe
  • Ady Bollinger & Ava Kallunki
  • Macy English & Brianna Sherman
  • Haillie McCartney & Maliyah Ritthirak

Individual Exhibits

  • Kendall Trost
  • Makayla Petz
  • Riley Sampson

Group Performances

  • Abby Huselid & Elizabeth Kubicka
  • Holly Narr & Olivia Smith

Individual Performances

  • Lamasajor Jalloh
  • Faith Wilkinson
  • Lengxing Yang

Group Websites

  • Elijah Lassle, Isaac Sydow & John Tran
  • Katana Bouathong & Molly Felgate
  • Paige Padilla & Allison Rinehart

Individual Websites

  • Samaira Khan
  • Kai Paulsen
  • Morgan Peterson
  • Jenna Weatherly
  • Lillianna Yang
  • Ella Olofson

Papers

  • Jillian Huntington

Salk team gives solid performance at regional History Day heading confidently into first-ever ‘Virtual MN History Day’

APRIL 14, 2020—ELK RIVER, MN—Amidst the numerous athletic contests and academic competitions that have been cancelled this spring, Minnesota History Day continues on with students participating virtually, teachers coaching virtually, and the state History Day staff working remotely instead of in their offices at the Minnesota Historical Society. This has added a layer of complexity onto this successful academic program, but thousands of students and teachers across the country have risen to the occasion, and the team from Salk STEM Magnet Middle School is fully on board.

A total of 82 students advanced from Salk’s school level History Day competition, which was held in late February when schools were still in session. Two weeks before the regional event was to take place, Minnesota History Day made the decision to have their remaining regional events go virtual to comply with the Governor and Minnesota Department of Health recommendations. “It required all of us to make a big shift but I’m so proud of the students for sticking with it and working with the teachers to figure out how to do this,” said Ron Hustvedt, Salk Social Studies teacher and one of the school’s History Day coaches. 

Those 82 students submitted projects electronically and a team of two to three judges evaluated their projects and selected the top ones to advance to state. A total of 37  students from Salk Middle School’s STEM Magnet program qualified for state, making it one of the top schools in the state. Six students were also awarded with honorable mentions for their projects. Add it all up, and Salk students have shown that they are the embodiment of one of the strongest History Day programs in the state and nation.

“The teachers here work very hard to get all 500 of our participating students to successfully finish a project, that’s the first real victory, advancing to regions and state is just the icing on the cake,” saidHustvedt. National History Day is an inquiry project where students choose a topic based on an annual theme, conduct extensive academic research, create a final presentation, and share it with an audience.

Students from Hustvedt’s classes advanced to regions and state, as did students from teachers Scott Glew, Nikki Tripp, Maranda Cameron, and Starrsha Wolff. “This group of teachers is like a dream team because we all work together well and supporting student success is our number one goal—we want the kids to enjoy all the hardwork and push themselves to achieve more than they would have believed possible.”

The state contest will also be virtual, a first for the contest that’s been in Minnesota since 1980. Salk students will compete with over 1,200 students from across the state. Every single state contest this year will be held virtually, with the national competition being totally online as well. The Minnesota History Day office will broadcast the announcement of students advancing to state and receiving special prizes on Sunday, May 3 on Facebook Live. 

Besides selecting their own topic, students also get to select the way they will communicate their learning to the public. Students can write a 10-minute performance they star in; create a 10-minute documentary: write a 2,000 word paper; create a museum display; or, create a fully interactive website. Each project is organized around a thesis statement and students create annotated bibliographies demonstrating extensive research, often with 30 or more reliable sources including interviews with hall of famers, best selling authors, historians and people who made history.

Best of luck to all Salk students advancing to state History Day!

Students who received Honorable Mention at Regions include: Madison Cloud, Alexandria Schwartz, Kiana Hilary, Macy Shearer, Julia Werner, Lidia Felgate, Audrey Horner and Lillianna Yang. While their projects do not advance to the state competition, their work was amongst the best.

Students Advancing to State

Group Documentaries

  • Finley Mortenson & Anna Voigt
  • Hannah Leko & Ava Oblinger

Individual Documentaries

  • Kayla Christy
  • Ronny Hustvedt
  • Melody Kpahn

Group Exhibits

  • Leila Bakri & Olivia Riewe
  • Ady Bollinger & Ava Kallunki
  • Macy English & Brianna Sherman
  • Haillie McCartney & Maliyah Ritthirak

Individual Exhibits

  • Kendall Trost
  • Makayla Petz
  • Riley Sampson

Group Performances

  • Abby Huselid & Elizabeth Kubicka
  • Holly Narr & Olivia Smith

Individual Performances

  • Lamasajor Jalloh
  • Faith Wilkinson
  • Lengxing Yang

Group Websites

  • Elijah Lassle, Isaac Sydow & John Tran
  • Katana Bouathong & Molly Felgate
  • Paige Padilla & Allison Rinehart

Individual Websites

  • Samaira Khan
  • Kai Paulsen
  • Morgan Peterson
  • Jenna Weatherly
  • Lillianna Yang
  • Ella Olofson

Papers

  • Jillian Huntington

 

Salk Students who advanced to Central Regional History Day 2020

Group Documentaries

  • Finley Mortenson & Anna Voigt
  • Hannah Leko & Ava Oblinger
  • Madison Cloud & Kiana Hilary

Individual Documentaries

  • Velada Akhaphong
  • Gianni Artisensi-Skime
  • Kayla Christy
  • Ronny Hustvedt
  • Melody Kpahn
  • Alexandria Schwartz
  • Cecilia Xiong

Group Exhibits

  • Haley Bauer & Abbee Shenkle
  • Cameron Mielke & Anna Murphy
  • Leila Bakri & Olivia Riewe
  • Ady Bollinger & Ava Kallunki
  • Macy English & Brianna Sherman
  • Bentley Casey & Jack Langlais
  • Haillie McCartney & Maliyah Ritthirak
  • Laura Flahave & Kailey Palm

Individual Exhibits

  • Andrew Albert
  • Lidia Felgate
  • Kendall Trost
  • Makayla Petz
  • Taylor Rice
  • Riley Sampson
  • Macy Shearer
  • Jack Stubbs
  • Julia Werner
  • Amelia Schwieters

Group Performances

  • Roshia Cooper, Fatu Sesay & Gaoia Vue
  • Abby Huselid & Elizabeth Kubicka
  • Holly Narr & Olivia Smith

Individual Performances

  • Dorcas Aroloye
  • Lamasajor Jalloh
  • Paige Murray
  • Cassius VanAvery
  • Faith Wilkinson
  • Lengxing Yang
  • Ashley Stoltz

Group Websites

  • Elijah Lassle, Isaac Sydow & John Tran
  • Katana Bouathong & Molly Felgate
  • Gabrielle Carlson, Greta Harder & Alicia Rothstein
  • Paige Padilla & Allison Rinehart
  • Logan Addy & Tyler Coudron

Individual Websites

  • Olivia Filas
  • Audrey Horner
  • Samaira Khan
  • Kai Paulsen
  • Morgan Peterson
  • Jenna Weatherly
  • Lillianna Yang
  • Ella Olofson

Papers

  • Henry Boese
  • Kendra Cardinal
  • Tabitha Eagle
  • Jillian Huntington
  • Karaline Johnson
  • Chiashee Ly
  • Duaja Ly

Another big year for Salk students at Minnesota History Day

CLICK HERE TO CONTRIBUTE TO OUR GOFUNDME TO SEND MARGARET, FELICIA AND ISABELLA TO NATIONALS!

APRIL 30, 2018—ELK RIVER, MN—The History Day program at Salk Middle School celebrated its tenth year this year, and once again, more than 500 students successfully completed an extensive research project on a topic of their choice and presentation of their choice.

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Felicia Schall and Margaret Krueger outside Williams Arena after Minnesota History Day wearing their medals and thinking about how to prepare their project for nationals.

For the fifth year in a row, at least one of those projects will be advancing to the National History Day competition in Washington, D.C. For the first time ever, two projects are advancing–one from junior division and one senior division.

Junior Division honors go to Margaret Krueger and Felicia Schall, a team of 8th graders who researched, wrote and produced a documentary called The Love Canal: A Toxic Love Story. The film told the story of a massive environmental pollution disaster that took place in a residential neighborhood in the state of New York in the late 1970s. One result of the disaster was the creation of the federal Superfund program aimed at identifying and cleaning up industrial pollution.

Schall and Krueger conducted extensive research for their project including an interview with one of the lead advocates of the clean-up effort and Minnesota’s coordinator of Superfund projects from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“They are a great team and we are really proud of how well they worked together to create an awesome documentary,” said their teacher Nikki Tripp. “It will be exciting to see how well they do at the national contest but the skills they learned and put to use already are the biggest accomplishment,” she added.

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The Minnesota Historical Society and University of Minnesota are co-sponsors of Minnesota History Day

All of their work, from conducting research, to writing the script for their documentary, was completed on their school Chromebook as part of the new 1:1 initiative at all district middle schools. They also used a cloud-based video editing program called WeVideo. A total of 64 students at Salk completed documentaries this year utilizing these newly acquired resources–more than ever in years past.

Advancing to the national contest is extremely tough because only two from each category are permitted to advance. Across Minnesota a total of 27,000 students participated in History Day this year and a record 1,300 advanced to the state contest, held Saturday, April 28 at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. Schall and Krueger’s achievement puts them in a group that consists of the top one-quarter of one percent in the state.

They were part of Salk’s second largest team ever at state. “We bring all the students to the campus in January to conduct research, so it’s always neat for them to come back again in the spring as competitors,” Tripp said. This year’s theme was “Conflict and Compromise in History.”

Elk River High School Sophomore Advances in Senior Division

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Isabella Krueger waiting to meet with the judges at MN History Day, held at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Isabella Krueger is a sophomore at Elk River High School who competed in the senior division of National History Day once again. All four years she has participated in History Day she has advanced to the final round at state for writing an academic paper. For the third time, she is advancing to the National competition.

“She joins a very elite cadre of students from Minnesota who have advanced that many times throughout the 38 years of History Day in Minnesota,” said Ron Hustvedt, Salk History Day coordinator and her History Day coach. This year her paper was titled The Conflict of Unwed Motherhood in the Post War Era: Utilizing Maternity Homes as a Compromise to Convert Women Back Into Feminine Roles.

She said she plans on participating in the contest once again as a Junior because of the scholarship opportunities offered by the University of Minnesota at the state level, and to have a chance at a four-year college scholarship offered at the national level. “History day has allowed me the opportunity to teach myself analytical, research, and writing skills I would never have developed in a traditional history or English class. It has also allowed me to discover my passion not only for history, but defending human rights,” she said.

Four Salk students take home $800 in prize awards

Brian Berg received an Honorable Mention along with a special prize for his documentary titled The Secret War in Laos: Uncovered. Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) awarded Berg their “Remembering the Vietnam War” prize as part of their yearlong commemoration of the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War and to recognize the next generation of scholars and storytellers.

Berg conducted extensive research including interviews with several prominent Hmong professors from across the state. The prize brings Berg a $500 check for his hard work along with the potential for additional opportunities with TPT.

Kayla Vang received an Honorable Mention and a special prize for the one-woman performance she wrote and starred in called Hmong in Minnesota. The University of Minnesota’s Friends of the Immigration History Research Center and Archives (IHRC/A) selected Vang’s performance for their “History of Immigration” prize and awarded her $100 for her research and creativity.

Jack Flahaven also received a “History of Immigration” prize and $100 from the IHRC/A for his documentary titled The Independence of Croatia. This is the second year in a row that Flahaven has earned money for his documentary creating skills.

The fourth special prize winner from Salk was Sarah Minke. Her documentary titled Raphael Lemkin’s Fight Against Genocide was awarded the “Holocaust History” prize and $100 from The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Additional honorable mention winners include: Catie Cramer for her exhibit titled Blood Diamonds of Sierra Leone; Madi Tveit for her exhibit titled Mental Asylums Exposed; Lilly Lassek and Addy Soukup for their website titled Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989; Olivia Ek for her documentary titled Dr. Walton Lillehei and his Compromise with Open Heart Surgery; Abby Kotila for her performance titled Henrietta LAcks and HeLa Cells; and, Benjamin Stout for his performance titled The Marshall Plan.

 

Salk’s History Day program among best in Minnesota

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Most of the students from this year’s Salk NHD team!

With 46 students competing at the state level, Salk had the second largest number ofstudents competing of all schools across the state and was among the most awarded at the contest. What the school’s Social Studies teachers are most proud of, however, is the fact that the project is delivered to all 7th and 8th grade students. Teachers on that team include Tripp, Ron Hustvedt, Scott Glew, Starrsha Wolff and Maranda Cameron.

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Salk History Day teachers (l to r) Scott Glew, Nikki Tripp, Starrsha Wolff and Ron Hustvedt

“The emphasis is on the learning and the utilization of valuable skills they will use in high school, college and life,” Tripp said. “Sure there’s a contest with the project, but we believe all students are capable of this work and are proud that almost all of the students who begin a project, successfully complete it and get to present it to the community,” she added.

“These students are truly inspiring,” said NHD Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn. “National History Day challenges students to analyze and interpret historical primary and secondary sources, draw a conclusion about the significance of their topic, and then be able to present their findings and answer unprepared questions related to the subject. It shows how powerful this program is for students.”

For more information about Salk’s History Day program, including details on how you can help support the program next year as a volunteer judge  please visit my website www.RonHustvedt.com or contact Ron Hustvedt by email ronald.hustvedt@isd728.org.

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Margaret and Felicia (row two far left) are among the crew that will be Team Minnesota 2018 at National History Day, held at the University of Maryland College Park near Washington, D.C.

Learning about U.S. involvement in World War I through the lens of those who made the ultimate sacrifice

stateofwarA century ago, on April 6, 1917, Congress passed an official declaration of war against Germany and joined the “War to End All Wars” already three years in progress. The declaration was well supported in Congress yet was the result of a rapidly shifting public support of involvement. The slogan, “He kept us out of war” was the campaign cry of the 1916 re-election of President Woodrow Wilson. To put that into context, we are as close to the 2016 election today as the declaration of war was to the 1916 election. Public opinion can shift quickly, that’s for sure.

Many young men who voted in their first Presidential election (and only men…the 19th Amendment and women’s voting rights were still non-existent) found themselves filled with patriotic duty to go “Over There” and fight for the United States. Over 4.7 million doughboys answered the call, and served in the final 20 months of the deadliest global conflict at the time. The United States saw over 116,000 Americans fall, and another 204,000 wounded. In the classroom, what I often find with casualty numbers, is that they are difficult for students to contextualize, and can sound like the scores and stats from yesterday’s game.

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The goal of any Social Studies teacher is to help students understand that those numbers represent human lives lost. Those numbers represent empty chairs at the dinner table. For each life lost, there are countless loved ones remaining. Because World War I was a century ago, finding people to tell the stories from the battlefield is an opportunity no longer available for our classrooms. All of those realities were swimming around in my head three years ago when I was asked by National History Day to design a lesson about WWI using primary sources from the Smithsonian’s Price of Freedom collection. This is the brief story of how I did that and what goes into the lesson.

I started by perusing the primary sources available on the Smithsonian website and didn’t take long to decide that the Distinguished Service Cross would be the artifact my lesson highlighted. I’d recently returned from a 2013 trip to Normandy with the Albert Small Sacrifice for Freedom Student and Teacher Institute. A former student and I were part of the group and we created a memorial website for Virgil Tangborn, one of the 241 Minnesota soldiers buried in the American Cemetery in Normandy.

The concept of the lesson was based upon this experience, but I had to massively scale it down to fit just a few days of instruction and make it work for middle school students. c3isherebanner-220After I stumbled upon a website listing details of all Distinguished Service Cross members, the light bulb switched on.

The other goal with the lesson, was to create one that aligned with the freshly published College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies Standards. I wanted to make sure that my lesson matched all four dimensions of the C3 Framework.

Details of the Lesson Plan

You can read all about the lesson in this document, but I’ve written this blog to give more back story and backchat of what I was thinking and how it’s gone. I wrote this with the intention that you’ll also read the lesson, so if details here seem vague, look at the lesson.

The lesson compels students to answer the following essential questions:

  • What does distinguished service to your country in a time of war look like?
  • How does a medal serve as a symbol of the extraordinary service of an otherwise ordinary individual?  
  • What is the value in learning about a large-scale war through the experiences of an individual?
  • How do we honor those individuals a century later?

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 11.57.22 PMWith those questions in mind, students begin learning about the Distinguished Service Cross itself using resources from the Smithsonian. They complete a “Primary Source Analysis” of the medal to help them dig into the first two essential questions. Their next task is to dig into the list of soldiers who received the Distinguished Service Cross in World War I. I prefer to give students the entire list of all medal recipients to choose from, and there are plenty. How it usually goes is that almost every student is immediately drawn to search their last name, and then the last names of the oldest relatives they know. Next, they use their skimming skills (control-F on some computers, command-F on Apples) to find soldiers from Minnesota, or whatever state they prefer.

Soon enough, they apply their own personal criteria to select a soldier to learn about and apply more advanced research skills already taught in the course of the school year.  It’s not required for students to already have these skills, because they will acquire many of them with this lesson. It is definitely possible to go from being a textbook-based teacher and do this lesson. Just know that you’ll need to show students how to do lots, and you will stumble/teach through it together, but that “messy learning” style can be really good for student (and teacher) growth. Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 11.57.32 PM

The top half of the “Get to Know Your Soldier” paper can come straight from the Home of Heroes website, but the lower half requires them to do some deep digging. When they know the date their soldier died, location information, along with the branch, division, regiment, company he served in, they can triangulate that data to conduct searches in google. The example I use with classes or groups of students who need more support is with soldier Joe Collette who is the only soldier from the town where I teach (Elk River). From the website, students learn details of what Private First Class Collette did just four days before war’s end, on November 7, 1918 near Sedan France, as a member of Company L in the 166th Infantry Regiment, of the 42d Division of the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.). A google search of the 166th Infantry brings us to a wikipedia page about the 166th where we read that the 166th was involved in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. Following Wikipedia pages, we discover that Meuse-Argonne Offensive lasted into November of 1918 and that the railroad hub in Sedan, France was successfully captured by the United States on November 6th. While we don’t know with 100 percent accuracy the intricate details of Joe Collette, because we know the movements of his unit and the details of the larger battle, students can make evidence based inferences. This is an important skill that is so much more than just skimming text to answer questions on a worksheet.

Learning such intimate details about a soldier they selected does wonders for engagement. Students long to learn more about the battles, the towns, the actions of the branch/division/regiment around those dates. They keep me very busy fielding questions and find themselves applying their dictionary and database skills. Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 11.57.46 PMWhen they share details with me I learn tons.  When they stump me with questions we answer it together, and they see me go through the process of learning. Learning together with your students is a great way to teach them how to become lifelong learners.

As they research, students share stories with each other, find amazing parallel stories between different soldiers, and never fail to impress me.
Students learn about the events of the U.S. involvement in WWI through the experiences of their soldier and can’t get enough, rather than from a textbook examining the big picture only. Students end up having built connections between both the big picture and an individual story.

Honoring their soldier feels like a natural first step. Writing an editorial about everything they’ve learned so far, and sharing the story, is how they communicate conclusions. Taking up the challenge of publishing the editorial is a great way for students to take informed action. The first year I taught this lesson is the only time I’ve had the time to fully implement it and have students write the editorial, but it was a smashing success. We submitted a dozen letters to various newspapers and were able to find half a dozen of them make it to press (click any of the links below to see the published letters). Nicklaus Gill--Austin Daily Herald (Minnesota)

Something we are careful to do in class is walk the thin line between remembering/memorializing these young men and being careful not to over-glorify death. Today’s students have enough glorification of war coming at them from video games, but this lesson helps humanize the casualty accounts and adds color to the black and white photos in their textbooks.

We are entering the centennial commemoration of the U.S. involvement in World War I and many social studies classrooms across the state will be giving this war some extra attention. I highly recommend this lesson, and all of the other ones available, in the National History Day World War I book. If you have any questions regarding this lesson, do not hesitate to let me know!

The scary, fun, uncertain need for change: Inspiration and collaboration drive the evolving nature of magnet schools

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Salk’s updated themes and essential questions were created by a committee of teachers and approved/embraced by the entire staff 

If you’ve been living in the real world for any number of years you can probably rip off a bunch of different cliches about the need for change, embracing it, how it’s an opportunity for growth and so on and so forth. Change is scary and often those cliches are tossed at us by people who are about to impose it upon us as they see fit.

That’s not how it has to be, however, and Gandhi dished out the best advice when he told us to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” My hope is that your magnet program has the staff, leadership and structure to be able to make this a reality.

It’s not a simple process, but it’s certainly a necessary one and while it’s messy, with many heads and hands involved it can turn out quite elegantly in the end. The STEM magnet school where I teach at in Elk River, Minnesota (suburb northwest of Minneapolis) recently went through a significant change with our school themes because we felt it was time to do so and necessary to reinvigorate our program.

This change comes not at a low point in our overall school performance but a high point. Our school was recently recognized as a top performer in the state and we have seen powerful growth in statewide assessment measures. Our commitment to having a diverse student body continues and our school population of students of color is double the district average with ongoing recruitment efforts showing further growth.

The 140-characters-or-less story of our program is this: a decade ago our magnet program began as a school within a school. I joined the program in year two and we changed our themes. Eight years later the magnet expanded to encompass the entire school and our themes remain the same.

Okay, that was longer than 140 characters, but it’s a pretty good summary of the last decade. Those themes that served us well for four years of being a small program, and through the process of going all-school magnet, were due for a change because so many of the conditions they were created in changed.

Going to an all-school magnet program was the first big change. It was championed by the small number who were part of the original magnet. It was accepted by a good portion of the staff and tolerated by the rest. While there weren’t any who actively opposed the transition, it took a few years to get the vast majority in the “accepted” category.

The number of staff who championed the magnet program grew over time, and new hires into the magnet program didn’t know any different. Ongoing professional development of our STEM themes was extremely helpful in bringing everybody into the “accepted” category and creating champions, but it was glaringly obvious to those of us with the most experience that a Salk STEM version 2.0 was necessary. Making change can be tough when it seems that everything is going just fine, but one could argue that anytime you see the need for change that’s when you should make it. Don’t wait for things to get better or worse, be the change you wish to see.

Changing our themes
Our original themes, that existed for only the first year, were very specific to various interdisciplinary units. In the second year of our magnet program (my first year there), we began changing them to broader themes that encompassed all subject areas. Those STEM themes were as follows: Technology Applications; Scientific Communications; the Nature of Science and Engineering; and, STEM in Society.

Those themes were used very effectively with four years worth of students in the school-within-a-school program and because the subject area magnet teachers taught those students for two to three years of their middle school experience, we highlighted each theme for a quarter and integrated them into our instruction.

Those themes were easily interwoven into the entire school culture with the expansion to all-school magnet but those of us in the small program felt the dilution of the themes. This transition was led by our curriculum coordinator, Teri Ann Flatland who worked diligently with subject area professional learning communities (PLC’s) and helped them connect the themes to their existing curriculum maps. She used the existing magnet program model as a template, and allowed PLC’s to make adjustments as needed.

That drove us to help boost the concentration and understanding of the themes for students and staff alike and it was effective. Still the problem remained, and those of us in it felt it the most, should we engage in a process to change the themes? Flatland, myself, and our school principal Julie Athman, who opened the magnet program, had the same overarching concern: If we change the themes do we run the risk of losing the momentum gained with the existing ones? We wondered if staff merely embraced the existing themes at a superficial level or believed in them strongly enough to go on that soul-searching journey of creating new ones.

Change for the sake of change is never effective. Change for the sake of improvement and a better understanding of self is essential. Adapting to changing conditions is the key to survival, but getting others to embrace and live that process together is complicated.

Sending a group of staff members to the Magnet Schools of America conference in 2014 and again in 2016 turned out to ignite conversations that sparked in 2014 and ignited in 2016. When you have a staff who only know your program from within, either because they had it superimposed upon them or were hired into it, they likely don’t know what else is out there. “New teachers to our school don’t understand the bonus they get when being hired to a school with so many opportunities for students,” said Tasha Goudy, a Salk special education teacher who was hired a few years after the all-school transition. Goudy attended the MSA conference in Miami and said the school tours were the most powerful part of her experience, “I was able to bring back lots of ideas and realize that just because I teach a smaller population of students, I still have the capacity to give these students a quality STEM experience that connects with the larger mission of our school.”

The school tours, workshops, speakers, and opportunities for networking at MSA’s national conferences were crucial to electrifying the light bulb of new ideas and understanding of the power of magnet schools. Themes that looked good on paper, and were superficially understood in the classroom, became glaringly in need of adjustment by these folks new to the STEM magnet program. “There were so many great ideas that we garnered from the conference that are starting to show up and trickle into the classrooms and program as a whole,” said science teacher and theme team member Megan Heitkamp.

Those of us who knew it from the start were not in a position to ignite the change. We could facilitate it, we could harness it, we could work with it, but we alone could not drive it. Flatland created a “theme team” that existed for several years before our recent overhaul. That team needed time to analyze the existing themes and develop their own desire for change .”It took lots of staff input and seeing how students connected with the themes–that power of common language–to get more staff understanding the need for change.”

Something else was happening at the same time that posed a threat to the old themes. Teachers were innovating their instruction because that’s what good teachers do, but these innovations were not always tied to the magnet themes. When that happens, it’s time to make a change. “The conference helped me identify how our magnet program is unique and illustrated the point that we cannot allow the program to become stagnant even as our practice is improving, those must all be part of the same process for the sake of our students,” Heitkamp said.

Making the change
The theme team engaged in a brainstorming process in the spring of 2016 and then met over the summer to try and develop updated themes. One decision that was made was to ditch the quarterly thematic approach and allow the themes to exist all year. The power of quarterly themes is that emphasis can be placed on each one schoolwide, allowing students to see the theme through a multitude of lenses. The drawback of that is the theme doesn’t always fit best with each subject area during any given quarter.

Through all those discussions we developed updated themes to present to the staff, parents and select students for feedback at the beginning of the school year. “The journey we were on to update our program is an important one because the world is shifting around us,” Heitkamp said. “Our learners become more diverse and dynamic so our goals need modification to ensure that they meet student needs and push success at higher levels.”

By December the theme team had ditched the four quarterly themes for three annual themes: Technology Integration; Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving; and, Evidence Based Communication. The response was very favorable from staff, parents and students and what was especially appreciated has been the essential question of each theme:

  • Technology Integration: How can I appropriately utilize technology as a tool for learning and communicating?
  • Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving: How do I use innovative and creative thinking to solve problems as citizens of our community?
  • Evidence Based Communication: How do I apply the inquiry process to show evidence of learning?

“I believe that these latest themes and essential questions are better intertwined with the work that we are engaging our students in and the future curriculum pieces that we are envisioning. The essential questions are better geared to the cornerstone projects that already take place and better involve all the content areas to demonstrate that each teacher, no matter the subject area, is a magnet teacher,” Heitkamp said.

Evolving and celebrating
AScreen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.40.07 PMs the students and staff of the Salk STEM magnet program stride into 2017 we do so with an updated mission. Posters of the new themes adorn classroom walls and the hallway. Discussions at several staff meetings and PLC’s have folded the updated themes into every classroom at ever-expanding levels.

Our theme team has created a theme alignment board in the staff workroom and teachers across all subject areas are sharing the work they complete that aligns to each of the themes. This listing of lessons and units will be used to further integrate the themes into all classrooms and further discover alignment across the disciplines.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.42.08 PM.pngIn a celebration of our updated themes and staff-wide re-commitment to an aligned focus, we recently donned our finest formal wear, rolled out the red carpet, and hosted the first of what we hope will become our annual “STEMmie Awards.” Check out  on Twitter if you dare!

Each of the content areas were recognized for their commitment to the themes and this has been a great official launch into the next phase of our ongoing growth. Creating a welcoming school for all of our students, engaging them in active learning that compels them to ask questions and dig into the possible solutions, and honoring the processes of learning, is what this is all about and student feedback is very positive.

As we enter our second decade of existence as a magnet school, we are inspired to continue collaborating together for our students and being the drivers of the evolving nature of our STEM magnet school program.