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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Friday, April 7, 2017

MWHS Wind Ensemble & Concert Choir Tour visits New Orleans!

Today's post is from junior Diana Hoernemann

This past Monday, I came back from spring break and I could tell who had taken a trip to somewhere warm and sunny. However, my spring break trip was a little early this year. The week before break, I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans as a part of Wind Ensemble. I traveled with other members of the top band and choir at MWHS. I had been down South before, but this was my first time visiting New Orleans, so I was excited.
Now, I can’t write about our trip without mentioning that we took 2 coach buses (unofficially known as the “loud” and “quiet” buses) down south with nearly 100 people. Since we drove through the night both there and back, there was little chance for a good night’s sleep on the 22 hour ride. However, we still had fun with card games, bus-wide music and attempts at homework to keep ourselves busy.

The next few days we explored New Orleans and the bayou. One highlight was going on a swamp tour. A guide took us on a boat through the swamp, and we saw wildlife such as alligators, bald eagles, and herons. We even had the chance to hold a baby alligator; something you can’t do everyday in Minnesota.

In addition to its unique wildlife, New Orleans is a city like no other. I’ve never been to a city where you can walk down the street and see numerous live bands playing and people dancing. On the first full day in the city, my small group was finishing dinner, when outside the restaurant a parade went by. They were throwing out beads and flowers to the people lining the street like a classic New Orleans parade. It was so much fun to be in such a lively city. Even when we visited the U.S Mint Museum, we danced to the music of a local band, the Pinettes. We also spent time shopping in Jackson Square and the French Market, as well as strolling through the Aquarium of the Americas.

One of my favorite parts of this trip was our riverboat cruise on the Steamboat Natchez. The steam calliope (an organ-like instrument) that played before departure was terribly out of tune, but the quality of the cajun-style dinner alone made up for it. After dinner, we roamed about the boat and took pictures as we cruised down the Mississippi. Music on the boat was provided by another live band, so the evening was full of jazz music and dancing.

As this was a music tour, I saved the best for last. Both the band and the choir performed three times each this trip. We played near Jackson square and in a master class conducted by a university professor. The coolest performance was an exchange concert with a local high school band from East Jefferson High School. Their band marches in Mardi Gra each year, and their strength was in their impressive drumline. As we got off the bus, they lined up and performed for us. In turn, they were impressed with our band and choir’s strong musical talent. It was so cool to talk with the students from the other school and to hear about how they approached music in different ways.

This trip was an amazing experience. I loved visiting a new city and experiencing the culture of the people who live there. Not only that, but we got to share our love of music, and in turn listen to the music of others. This trip opened my eyes to new things and I enjoyed every minute of it. Since this was my last tour, I’m glad I got to explore a city where music is an integral part of its culture.

Collaboration with East Jefferson High School

22 hours on the bus!
Riverboat cruise on the Steamboat Natchez

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Pride in our Wrestling Program!

Today's post is from MWHS head wrestling coach Todd Munsterteiger

I’m sitting here today, Friday, March 17, 2017, reflecting on my 21st year as the head wrestling coach at Mound Westonka High School. We had our end of the year banquet on Tuesday, so for all intents and purposes the season is over, although it never completely ends, because I am already planning and looking forward to next year. Although this is a bittersweet time of the year- I miss the intense schedule, action, being in the moment-I also appreciate the time off and enjoy planning our next journey. One thing is crystal clear as I evaluate where we are at: we have a quality program, top to bottom, and this is a direct result of a tremendous amount of work and support from our parents, athletes, coaches, administration, and community. 

The tangible results and numbers are undeniable. We have the best numbers program-wide that we have ever had, we have had a tremendous amount of success at the youth level with severals wrestlers competing well at the national level, and we had five state entrants and a section runner-up team at the varsity level. We have a booster club that raises thousands of dollars through countless hours of volunteer work, that gives our wrestlers more resources and opportunities to improve. We have a core coaching staff that has been together for 17 years and have added quality coaches as of late that have competed at the collegiate level. 

This alone would indicate the qualities of a successful program, but what sets us apart, and is most important to me, is that we are helping to raise quality men. Through the literal blood, sweat and tears that we share with our athletes in the toughest sport in the world, they are learning life lessons on a daily basis. Lessons on the value of hard work, dealing with adversity, and winning and losing with dignity and grace. I am confident that we are successful with our ultimate goal of turning boys into men that will be great sons, husbands, fathers and productive members of society.

So as I end my current reflection on the state of the program, I can rest assured that we are truly great and accomplishing our goals. I have an inner peace knowing we are making this world a better place one wrestler at a time, and has always been the case, I am proud and privileged to be the head wrestling coach at Mound Westonka High School.

2017 MWHS Wrestling Section Team 

2017 Section Place Winners

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Math students taking on a challenge for the love of learning!

Today's post is from AP Calculus teacher Lisa Paul

I am excited to write about Moody's Mega Math Challenge, an event in which five of our seniors took part: Ariel Crawford, Sean Engelhart, Adam Fish, Andrew LaFortune, and Garrett Ryan. But before I get started, let me share a bit of my background.

I am a blessed individual. I get to spend 48 minutes every single day working with talented, motivated and enthusiastic students in the math classroom, much like any math teacher in any district. But in our small and tight-knit community, I often get to observe the development of these mathematicians over the course of consecutive years. It gives me the chance to surely know my students. And yet, do I really?

Attending any extracurricular event in our district is a thrill. Knowing virtually everyone out on the field or in the game brings a huge level of excitement to every contest I see and an even bigger sense of pride in the students I teach. Observing them in an environment different from the classroom is eye-opening. The unique interests and aptitudes of our student body never ceases to amaze me.

Moody's Mega Math Challenge was no different. The five seniors mentioned above clocked into school at 7am on a Sunday. They had 14 hours from clock-in time to solve a problem. Now, being the expert problem solvers that these AP Calculus BC students are, one might think that 14 hours was a generous amount of time. Afterall, they've been successfully solving for x for many years:) However, the problem they were tasked with has no unique answer. It was complicated. It was messy. It was real. It was unlike anything they've ever faced. And these brilliant minds annihilated the challenge in a time of 13 hours and 24 minutes. In a nutshell, they created mathematical models to assess how vulnerable 5 national parks in the US are to sea level changes, hurricanes, and fires and to predict how these types of catastrophic events would affect the attendance and financial status of the parks. Those interested can find the exact question along with all of the details of the challenge here : https://m3challenge.siam.org/

I am incredibly proud of these five students. They set their minds to work until they solved the problem, even if it took almost 14 hours on a Sunday. Their collaborative efforts were a sight to behold. They each took part in the rigors of the problem and each took part in the technical writing of their detailed solution. Their solution paper was an exquisite, 16 page document, which included graphs, tables, equations, and expert analysis. Near the end of their exhausting 14 hours together, I walked into a room full of professionals. It looked like they had been through this punishing process many times over. They were typing furiously, proofreading each other's work, retesting their projections and recapping their conclusions. And they were doing it all respectfully with smiles on their faces. They were enjoying the moment and felt the well deserved pride I share with them in their accomplishments of the day.

These MWHS scholars took on this challenge for the love of learning and for the experience. They were one of 1406 teams in the country competing for one of 6 prizes. Though I am hopeful that their outstanding work will be recognized, the richness of the day is a prize in and of itself and the students know this. In this district, I am proud to say that our students find joy and take pride in so much more than just their classroom achievements. They have much to offer and many layers to get to know. I am fortunate to have seen a glimpse of another one of those layers in these five.

Sean, Andrew, Garrett, Adam and Ariel
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Friday, March 3, 2017

MWHS students write about Being Present!

Today's post is from 9th grader Robby Brustad and 8th graders Carson Meritt & Michael Kurtz

My team and I have had the privilege of working with the student body of MWHS from the beginning of this school year on a Community Problem Solving project called B-Present. Community Problem Solving is a component of the Future Problem Solving Program International. We compete at State Competition on March 25th.

B-Present is a project about cell phone addiction. 80% of teens said they check their phone hourly. This means at our high school that almost 800 kids are checking hourly. 720 kids feel the need to check their phone right away, due to the fact that 72% of kids say they feel the need to immediately respond to texts and social networking messages. This is called FOMO - Fear of Missing Out.

We have had many actions to minimize this addiction at our school. B-Present Week is our biggest initiative. B-Present Week went into action during the week of February, 27th- March, 3rd. This week we focused on educating our student body on cell phone addiction. Michael Kurtz went onto WakeUp Westonka (announcements) and told everyone about this week through an interview with Joey Colianni. Prior to that week we put a video of Michael where he talked about what this project is. This week we were at lunch and had a present that had “B-Present” on it and students would sign their names saying they are going to "be present" in their relationships and mindful and aware of their technology use. The week before the team went to Grandview Middle School during first hour and gave a presentation about phone addiction and what the effects of it are and how to B-Present. Over the next couple weeks there will be a few more videos on WakeUp Westonka. Thank you for participating in B-Present Week.

Robby, Carson & Michael
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Saturday, February 25, 2017

White Hawk Girl Hockey Pride

Today's post is from MWHS girls senior hockey captain Liz Schepers

I don’t exactly know where to begin when trying to explain what this team, this game, this community means to me, but here we go. The game I’m referring to is, of course, hockey. It seems that if there is one thing anyone knows about me it’s that I am a hockey player. I don’t mind, though, there is no better group I would want to be associated with.

They always say how fast your senior year goes by, but you never really know until you’re at the end of the road. Through my five seasons of varsity hockey there was never a time I was not proud to wear the White Hawks sweater. Even as a senior, I got goosebumps before every game, and celebrated each win as though I might never get that feeling again. The joy this team brought to the rink was infectious, and it was an honor to be their leader. It is difficult to put into words the pride I felt wearing the “C” on my chest for two seasons. It was so easy to lead a group of such driven, dedicated, and fun individuals. My teammates helped build me into the leader, person, and player I am today, and I owe them everything. They have a piece of any and every individual recognition I receive, and even though our season didn’t end the way we wanted, I hope they know how proud I am to call them my family and best friends.

Our success did not come easy, but the adversity we faced at the beginning of the season made our conference and section championships so much sweeter and brought our team closer together. People doubted us from the beginning, but we knew in in the locker room that this was the team we wanted to go to battle with. Our success also did not come without the incredible support of our families, and community members. I have never seen Thaler Arena as full as it was the night of our section semifinal win against Orono. As seniors, we cannot thank everyone enough for making our final home game better than any of us could have ever hoped for. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, our crowd at the section final game blew us away. Again, we are so grateful for your unwavering support, and I hope we made you proud. Even though come next year I will trade my red and black for scarlet and grey, I will always be proud to be a White Hawk! 

2017 MWHS Girls Hockey Conference Champs

Student Fan Section!

Captains Emma, Abbie, Liz and Ellie raising the Section Champs trophy!

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