Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The unexpected but glorious benefits of teaching at Mound Westonka!

Today's post is from 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year - Corey Bulman

This year has taught me to expect the unexpected. I sat on the stage for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year ceremony on May 7th in awe of my my fellow nominees. I did not expect to be there. I was able to get to know the 10 other teachers that were finalists during the Teacher of the Year weekend. I felt very grateful to be included in such company. I was ready to congratulate the chosen educator and head on home to mow my lawn. Funny things happen though when you least expect them. The moment the 2016 Teacher of the Year, Abdul Wright said the words, “Mound Westonka,” I knew that I had once again learned that the unexpected is always possible.

People that know me well, know that I don’t react well to praise. I get squirmy and laugh it off. Here’s the truth though: I am very proud to be the Minnesota Teacher of the Year. I am proud because I have worked so hard with other committed educators to build something special at Mound Westonka High School. Let’s face it: Mound Westonka is an unexpected place. Walking around the building you might miss the creativity that is tucked into its strange hallways and its nooks and crannies. At any given time, students are composing amazing writing, mastering the trumpet, throwing exquisite pieces on the ceramics wheel, and working through elaborate math equations. A turn down any hallway can lead one to find the unexpected. Students are collaborating together on History projects, learning new business skills, speaking Chinese or Spanish, and tackling some of the 21st century’s toughest scientific problems. Those hallways are full of unexpected power.

People have asked me in the past month why I’ve stayed at the same school for so long. I always find this an unexpected question. The answer is simple: where else would I go? Mound Westonka is my home (in fact, there’s even been a sign up in the parking lot the last month reminding me that it’s my home, lest I forget). Teaching is a funny career because its success is not measured by the dollars you make, the number of corporations where you’ve hung your badge and your hat, nor the number of direct reports that call you “boss.” No, a successful teaching career is measured by the quality of your relationships, the number of students you help to get across the 12th grade finish line, and the size of the smiles you see on the faces that pass you on the way into the building. These are the unexpected but glorious benefits of teaching at Mound Westonka. The little things - the Monday morning weekend debriefs, the random questions we share, the quirky dress up days, and hallway hellos are what make my work life here complete. This is where the families I have known for years live, where my friends work, and where my beloved classroom exists. Again, where else would I go? Here is the place where I’ve come to expect the unexpected.

Yes, I have pretty special title right now. I am one of only 53 teachers chosen to represent the state as its Teacher of the Year. I know though that the fanfare will eventually die down, and then I’ll just go back to being regular old Mr. Bulman, English teacher at Mound Westonka High School. I am fine with this and I expect it. I’m fine with it because I care more about all the unexpected events that I will get to experience with my Westonka students and colleagues in the years to come, than I do about the title. These experiences will drive my life long after I hand this award off to the next teacher waiting to take over as the Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

I am proud to be an educator at Mound Westonka High School. I never expected to be Minnesota Teacher of the Year, but I am glad that it happened while working at this school. I will work hard this next year to make sure that people in this state know what to expect when a Westonka student comes their way. If they forget though, I know we’ll be fine because you’ll remind them. Your talents, creativity, and drive will let them know that it is always a great day to be a White Hawk. 

Mr. Corey Bulman

Students and staff welcoming home the 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year

Editor's note: In 2013 when two MWHS students decided to start the blog, they knew they wanted the first post to have an impact.  They approached their favorite teacher, Mr. Bulman, to ask him to get the blog started with a bang.  His message was simple, he was proud to be a White Hawk. We thought it was fitting to end the blog this year with his incredible message about the benefits of teaching in our district.  Everyone in the Westonka School District is so proud of Mr. Bulman and wish him luck and success in the year ahead!

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

More than a Motto, Welcoming School and Supportive Student Culture

Today's post is from MWHS Principal Mark McIlmoyle

Small School Advantages, Big School Opportunities. It’s much more than a catchy motto. This is clear commitment on the part of Westonka Schools and Mound Westonka High School to invest deeply in trying to provide as many opportunities as possible for young people to explore new interests. This approach to education nurtures the natural curiosity people young and old possess in trying new things and I see our students trying new activities, new sports for the first time on a regular basis. I hear students say these sorts of things all of the time: “I haven’t tried speech before, but I’m interested. I’ll give it a try.” “I am playing basketball and football, but I have always wanted to do Quiz Bowl . . . yeah, I’m going to try Quiz Bowl.” “I’m going to play tennis this year/ I’ve never played but I like Mr. Paul and I’m interested in trying it.” In short, environments that nurture this level of curiosity (to try new things at any point in a 8-12th grade experience) just does not exist everywhere.

I am also very proud of the welcoming environment MWHS possesses. When we have visitors to our school, the first thing they describe of their experience from the main office to walking the hallways in passing time, is what a welcoming environment we have here at the high school. You can tell a lot about what a place values by spending just a short time observing. When visitors arrive, they experience a welcoming, smiling office staff. Visitors experience students that not only represent themselves effectively and employ great manners, but they are always willing to assist in providing directions or lending a hand. I do not take this environment for granted. I am grateful for everyone’s efforts to represent MWHS so incredibly well and I challenge us to keep up the effort as it sets our school apart!

Finally, our student culture is a supportive one. Students show up to each other’s events to support one another. Students who are concerned about one another, look to adults for help and to intervene. We must keep this commitment at the forefront of our goals as a school. Being there for one another, in easy and challenging times provides a backbone to a student culture that is strong. White Hawk strong.

You have worked hard. The summer months are upon us and it is time for you to get some rest and play. Have a safe and happy summer and know that your Principal is proud to call himself a White Hawk and is proud of the students and staff that he works with every day to make the above points of pride, possible.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

MWHS Harbor Group - there for anyone who needs a friend!

Today's post is from senior Link Crew Leaders Addy Davis and Kali Anderson

This is our second year of Harbor Group at MWHS. Last year, the current senior Link Crew leaders went to go see Mike Smith talk about why he started Harbor Group through Jostens yearbook company. His speech inspired us senior leaders to create our own Harbor Group at MWHS.

The reason why we wanted to start this group was because we wanted to create a better student culture in our school. We wanted to bring together people that normally wouldn't think about being friends and to be there for anyone who needed a friend. Harbor Group was not a mandatory group for Link Crew leaders to be apart of, but many seniors joined because they wanted to have an impact on the under-classman at our school.

Last summer 4 of our members (Ariel Crawford, Adeline Davis, AJ Bomar and Megan Martin) along with the 5 Link advisors got the chance to travel to Orlando, Florida for the Josten’s Renaissance Conference. At this conference there were breakout sessions that the group split up and attended where they learned different ways to make Mound Westonka a better place. They also got to see Jordan Sparks perform, go to DisneyWorld and meet the face of Renaissance, Mike Smith. Everyone had a great time and learned so much that they were able to bring back to MWHS.

With the help of the Link Crew advisors, we were able to do fun things with the under-classman. This year, we went to the Roller Garden for a night of roller skating and traveled to AirMaxx for a fun night of jumping. Harbor Group has done many things to improve our school culture and all of the seniors that have been apart of Harbor Group have had such a fun time and are excited to see where the group will go within the upcoming years. We are so thankful to have started this group here at MWHS and have grown as people because of the support we have given the under-classmen.

Megan, Addy, Mike, AJ and Ariel

Link Advisors and girls

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Friday, May 12, 2017

2017 MWHS Prom -- A Class Act!

Today's post is from MWHS Assistant Principal Marty Fischer

This past Saturday, MWHS Student Senate put on another incredible prom. The festivities started with the Grand March in the MWHS Gymnasium with dinner and dance at Lafayette Club immediately following. In my 20+ years of supervising prom, I have not been more proud of our students than I was on this particular Saturday.

Why? Simply put: Our students are always so respectful of the people and property around them. It was so refreshing to hear one of the Lafayette Club staff members say to another, “I can’t believe how many students are saying thank you!” What is so nice about that is they get to see what I see all the time in and out of school. Our students shine in some of the most respectful ways.

But what made the 2017 Prom even more special was the desire of our seniors to include two students with special needs on the Prom Court. I had the chance to talk to Nate Ogreen and Sienna Hackbarth after they were announced for Court. They were ecstatic! And so humble. Nate wanted to make sure everyone around him knew how grateful he was that his own classmates voted him to be on Prom Court. They both accepted this honor with grace and humility.

What they didn’t know was that the juniors and seniors were then planning to vote them in as King and Queen! They would have never predicted something like that. They were so honored to simply be named a Court member. I will never forget the moment. The ladies opened their reveal cards first and Sienna had won! All of the ladies surrounded her and gave the most emotional group hug that I have ever seen at a Grand March. The gentlemen opened their cards next to reveal Nate had also won! The look on Nate’s face was one of sheer disbelief combined with utter joy. Priceless.

WCCO heard of this possible story and came out to catch the moment on film. And I am so glad they did. The close-up of Nate’s face, followed by his and Sienna’s comments to the reporter were moments that would cause any eye to be filled with emotion. As a parent of a special needs child myself, I felt the emotion of two students, their parents, and the staff who work with them personally. And then my attention quickly turned to the students who saw their abilities, and not their disabilities, as they rallied to have them be THEIR King and Queen.

When I list my “most proud” moments as an Assistant Principal, the 2017 Prom will be right there at the top with the best of them! Way to go, students. You got it right!

Sienna & Nate
(If you want to see the WCCO story, please check it out here.)

WCCO coverage
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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Living the DECA Dream

Today's post is from senior Tiffany Nguyen

DECA... where do I even begin to talk about this club that has brought so much joy, creativity, and confidence in myself. DECA is a business club that teaches students to be professional and prepares them for the business world through role playing and written projects.

Let’s rewind back to ninth grade... I was a shy, and awkward person who was afraid to raise her hand in class. I joined DECA because I kept hearing about how much fun it was. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I stayed after school a lot and asked the advisors for help. I’m pretty sure they were sick of me by the second week of DECA. I made it to state my first year and I thought it was beyond cool how thousands of kids came together to compete in events that they were passionate in. I remember distinctly having so much pride whenever Westonka DECA was called on stage. After my first year, I was hooked.

Moving on to tenth grade... I was gaining more confidence in my speaking abilities and decided to take a risk. Because what is life without a risk? I ran to be an officer for DECA and was elected. After my speech, my brother and his friends stood on chairs and gave me standing ovations. I felt on top of the world. Being an officer was an amazing experience for me. I got to work behind the scenes and help fellow students with their projects as well as offer my own insight on creative aspects. That year, I worked on my first chapter project. In DECA, a chapter project is a yearlong endeavor that involves the entire chapter in promoting an idea or event. I did a creative marketing project on Westonka Tech Interns (WTI). With partners Taran Besant and Sheridan Nygard, we earn third place at state! I have had successes in the past, but this one mattered the most in my life so far because it showed me how far my hard work and dedication could get me.

In my junior year of DECA I felt so confident going into that year. My partners and I decided to do a project on The Truth, which aimed to end smoking in teens. This project hit close to home for me because my dad used to smoke. At state I was very shocked when a project that that I put so much time and energy in didn’t make it. It just reminded me that sometimes really great projects don’t make it. However, I still worked really hard on a Fashion Merchandising Promotional Plan on a company called Great Lakes Clothing Co.. I fell in love with the brand and its values. I was able to make it to internationals for the second time

Senior year definitely stands above the rest in terms of my memorable experiences. I was selected the president of the chapter. I greatly enjoyed helping younger students with their projects, because they reminded me of myself. This year, I did a project on Because I Said I Would, which aims to make sure that people keep their promises. Sheridan Nygard, Zach Riffle, and I worked all year to explain Alex Sheen (the founder’s) vision of the movement. Since we consistently reached out to him on social media, we were able to actually bring him to our school which was a dream come true. This project will always hold a special place in my heart because we spent so much time creating opportunities for students and staff to become involved. But having Alex actually come to explain his movement impacted the school in a such positive way and will be a day that I will never forget.

I can’t thank all of the advisor and fellow community members enough for the support I have received throughout the years. Joining DECA was the best decision of my high school career. It gave me a place to call home. Thank you for letting me be your president, it has been an honor of a lifetime.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Westonka always asks, "What's best for kids?"

Today's post is from Mark Femrite, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching & Learning

As I start to plan for the 17-18 school year, I am reminded about what a special place the Westonka Public Schools is for students, their families and staff.

Over the past 10 years our teachers have implemented new instructional strategies, embraced technology and have developed new ways to meet the individual learning needs of all of our students. It has been quite remarkable the work that has been accomplished on these fronts. The process to innovate has always been the same . . . starting with answering the question, “What’s best for kids?”, then doing our research, piloting and figuring out how best to implement.

This process has served the district well. In the last 10 years, we have implemented the following:
  • The PLC (Professional Learning Communities) School Improvement Model 
  • EDGE21 Technology Plan and K-12 1:1 technology device program 
  • Westonka Tech Intern course at MWHS where students have the opportunity to become certified Dell Chromebook repair technicians 
  • A state grant to provide effective intervention programs for students needing academic support 
  • A new elementary literacy program that focuses on individual needs of students 
  • Incorporation of 21st century skills (critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication and creativity) into student learning 
  • Personalized Learning strategies to deepen student engagement and learning 
  • Implementation of a K-12 engineering program that includes elementary units on engineering, STEM (Stem, Technology Engineering and Mathematics) classes at the middle school and a certified engineering program at the high school leading to college credit 
  • The development of an Integrated STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) high school Physics course 
  • K-12 Phyed implementation of the Heart Zone Fitness Program that has been a game-changer to make physical education more relevant and meaningful to students 
  • The hiring of talented teachers to guide our efforts and support teachers with the implementation of technology and personalized learning strategies 
  • The continued tradition of strong music, theater and art programs across our schools 

All of these innovations started with an idea, a can-do attitude, a supportive school board and a staff willing to step up to the plate to make it happen. Affirming our work have been numerous awards for our schools from outside organizations calling out the exceptional education provided to our students, best-in-state standardized test scores and school districts visiting our schools and engaging in discussions with our staff about our programming and approaches to learning. The greatest compliment was paid when the Minnesota Commission of Education, Brenda Cassellius paid a visit to our school district on Friday, April 21st to learn about approaches to learning and programs for students.

I am excited about what the future holds for Westonka. As I shared at the beginning, the Westonka Public Schools is a special place for students, their families and staff. It is an honor to be a part of this team.

MN Education Commissioner Cassellius visiting with students from the MWHS Integrated Physics Class

MN Education Commissioner Cassellius visiting with Westonka first graders
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Friday, April 21, 2017

Field of Dreams Experience for MWHS White Hawk Baseball

Today's post is from senior captain Hunter Ellis

As my time as a Mound Westonka baseball player winds down, I have begun to reflect upon my fondest baseball experiences. In my three years on the varsity team I’ve collected memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. These memories include the privilege of playing the greatest game on earth in the beautiful, yet unpredictable Minnesota spring. Another cherished memory has been the friendships built by the sport. Colorful conversation between teammates constantly echoes throughout the bus rides and in the dugout. Perhaps the most recent memory that I have is playing Wright County Conference opponent Rockford at the newly opened U.S Bank Stadium.

There is a certain buzz that surrounds our team whenever we have a great opportunity ahead of us. Whether it’s the anticipation to see which team we will face in an upcoming section playoff game, or the childlike giddiness that fuels our passion before a crucial inning, our team has passion. That passion was amplified as the entire team was ecstatic for the chance to play at the massive downtown sports cathedral on Wednesday. Each and every one of us made sure that our uniforms were extra clean, and that our cleats had an extra shine the night before. Each and every one of us carried excitement, and had an extra hop in our step throughout the afternoon and into the late evening.

The game couldn’t have gone much better for the White Hawks. A 14-1 win in five rapid innings. The victory was a complete team effort. The pitching was nearly perfect. The offense knocked the ball throughout the park causing echoes of bat-to-ball contact to ring throughout the massive stadium. In a game that exceeded our expectations of success, the win is not what I will take away from that humid April night in Minneapolis.

What I will take away from my experience of playing at U.S Bank Stadium is the thrill that I saw in my peers. It wasn’t necessary for the stadium employees to turn on the overhead stadium lights, because the smiles coming from the White Hawk bench were enough to light up the stadium in it’s entirety. Baseball is, has, and always will be a kids’ game. For one final time for many of the White Hawks, we were kids again. With the overwhelming cloud of the adult world hanging ahead of the seniors on the team, it was an incredible escape into the exuberant realm of childhood dreams once more. We escaped into our own Field of Dreams, and dipped ourselves into the magic waters of happiness.

Playing at U.S Bank Stadium is an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. It’s moments such as this in our lives that we relish in, and that will be a conversation piece for quite some time to come. There is no other group of peers that I would rather have experienced this opportunity with, as we truly came together as a team, and sank in the magnitude of our experience. I feel that the team pride is at an all time high, and that we will continue to give it our all, not for ourselves, but for the team, for the remainder of the season.

2017 MWHS Boys Baseball Team at US Bank Stadium
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Friday, April 14, 2017

Pride in the MWHS Speech Team!

Today's post is from senior MWHS Speech Captain Megan Martin

It’s hard to believe my time on the Mound Westonka Speech Team has come to an end. After five years of dedication and having the privilege of being captain senior year, I could not be more proud of our team. Although we may not always have brought home the most ribbons, trophies, or medals, one of the things that has always stuck out to me is the camaraderie and dedication this team possesses.

As an eighth grader, the upperclassmen welcomed me to the team and I immediately felt like I was a part of the family; speech team has always been a place where I felt accepted and where no amount of craziness was judged. For example, I distinctly remember the sophomore boys singing “The Ultimate Showdown” (a song about superheroes) at the top of their lungs on the bus to speech meets. These same boys also used a GoPro as seniors to film their shenanigans during speech meets. I will also never forget a group of upperclassmen girls who made me feel especially welcomed in my 8th and 9th grade years; these three girls included Lily, Emma, and Claire. These girls always encouraged me and their dedication to the team still inspires me to this day.

During my freshmen year, we lost all three of our coaches. Lily, Emma, and Claire were the captains of the team this year. Since we were only able to find one coach, the captains also helped coach the kids on the team. The next year, Claire’s mom helped coach; Claire and Emma helped us meet the requirement for judges as well. Although this was not a perfect situation, these girls truly helped the speech team survive and built the backbone of our speech team today. As a captain, I looked to these girls as my role models and aspired to have the amount of dedication that these ladies have. Without their hard work and dedication, we most likely would not have a speech team today. Furthermore, the dedication of our current coaches and the hard work and energy of my teammates has helped make this season incredible.

One of the reasons I am so proud of the Mound Westonka Speech Team is because of the improvement we have shown from last year to this year. Last year, we only had thirteen kids on the speech team, many of whom were first year members. As a result, we did not have many kids breaking into finals or receiving awards. However, after members of the team recruited kids and Coach Rhys sought assistant coaches (Coach Hamilton and Coach Rausch), our size has more than doubled. Fortunately, more experienced coaches and members has allowed our team to thrive and grow. Going from zero kids breaking in Varsity Finals at Marshall, to having nine kids place at Conference, and finally having two kids break into semifinals at Sections, our team has improved tremendously throughout the season. Although we may not have brought home first place at every meet, I am so proud of the growth our team.

I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of such a dedicated and hardworking team. Although the season has come to an end, the friendships I created with fellow teammates and my coaches will allow me to keep speech team a part of my life forever. As A. A. Milne once said, “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

2016-17 Speech Team
Ms. Rausch and Megan
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