Page 1

DeSIGnInG Video Games


Pay It Forward Making Brainerd schools and the community a better place.

Opening Doors For Tech Careers

MuSIc Programs Heart and Soul of The Community

GARFIelD Performers

Elementary Students on Stage

Plus: • Rebecca Yeh

Performs at The Big Event

• Nurses

Fall 2013

A publication of the Brainerd Dispatch

Do More Than Cuts and Bruises




Discovery Horse


Grads Pay It Forward

Caring for horses teaches teamwork, communication and leadership. By Denise Sundquist



Successful BHS grads “pay it forward” with The Big Event, a Brainerd Public Schools Foundation fundraiser. By Cynthia Bachman

Community Supports Hearing and Vision Screening Volunteers play a major role in screening students’ vision and hearing. By Jodie Tweed



Changing Roles for School Nurses


Garfield Performers

Not just cuts and bruises, the work of the school nurse is expanding. By Sheila Helmberger

Concerts, musicals, plays — there are all kinds of musical and theatrical options for students at Garfield Elementary. By Jenny Holmes

On the Cover:

Graduates, (L to R) Eryk Haapajoki, Chris Halvorson and Jill Carlson-Ferrie remember the good old days at Brainerd High.

In Every Issue Opportunity






Fun Facts


Music —The Heart and Soul of The Community By Mary Aalgaard Learning to Design Video Games By Rebecca Flansburg


Sarah’s Happy Day By Carolyn Corbett By Steve Lund

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013






PUBLISHER oin us as we celebrate the fourth year of our successful

partnership with the Brainerd Dispatch to produce Brainerd Public Schools’ community magazine. While many aspects of our publication have changed over the past four years, we remain committed to our core principle, which is to share personal stories about the wonderful work taking place in our schools. Since our last issue, we unveiled a new look for Brainerd Public Schools, including a new logo and our defining tagline — Opportunity. Innovation. Success. The work on our district’s image spanned nearly two years and centered on the traditions that are central to our community and our schools. The new logo and tagline reflect how these traditions guide our future. “Opportunity. Innovation. Success... “Opportunity. These words define a culture Innovation. that exists in every corner of Success.” are Brainerd Public Schools. not simply three descriptive words; rather, these words define a culture that exists in every corner of Brainerd Public Schools. These words guide our goals and describe our achievements. It is the same reflection on tradition that helped redefine the Warrior identity. Our students have continued to insist we bring the Brainerd Warrior back to life — and played active roles in its redevelopment. Much like our district logo, a comprehensive development process resulted in the new Brainerd Warrior. With a process that included input from a diverse group of stakeholders and many revisions, we arrived at a Warrior that, in a single image, brings life to words such as: strength, honor, commitment, respect, courage, and compassion. I invite you to once again take time to read the personal stories that portray OPPORTUNITY, INNOVATION and SUCCESS that exist in Brainerd Public Schools every day.

Steve Razidlo, Superintendent of Schools 4

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013

Tim Bogenschutz

EdItoR Meg Douglas

ARt dIREctoR Lisa Henry

PHotogRAPHER Joey Halvorson

coPy EdItoR DeLynn Howard

We are 181 is a publication produced in cooperation with The Brainerd Dispatch and Braienrd Public Schools District 181 • For advertising opportunities: 218.829-4705

E-mail your comments, suggestions or topics to copyright© 2010 vOlumE ThrEE, EDiTiOn FivE Fall 2013

506 James street, P.O. bOx 974 brainerd, mn 56401 (218) 829-4705

By Denise Sundquist

Discovery Horse



mily Irion, age 14, a student in the Middle Level Alternative Program (MLAP), attended four sessions at Discovery Horse last

summer. At first, she thought she was just going to ride horses but soon discovered all the lessons were with horses, not on horses.

Owner of Discovery Horse Sara Sherman first pitched the idea of partnering with horses to Jackie Janousek and her team of teachers at MLAP last May. With Sara’s degree in counseling psychology and background in child welfare; Jackie’s team was confident that Sara’s program would connect with their students in a new and meaningful way. Located in the Area Education Center (AEC), the Mid-Level Alternative Program (MLAP) includes 5-8th grade students who may have academic or social challenges in a mainstream classroom. Their purpose is to help students prepare to meet the challenges of a mainstream setting. During the school year, students focus on academic achievement. In the summer months, students concentrate

on work readiness and life skills. Partnering with Discovery Horse was an opportunity to work on life skills: self-esteem, honesty, teamwork, communication and leadership.

Posture is a major form of communication that horses respond to.

Self Esteem

Emily used to walk with her back hunched and her arms crossed and never understood how that impacted her relationships with people. Horses have the ability to read humans’ emotions and body language. When

students felt vulnerable as they approached their horse, the horse reacted to their fear. Students learned that when they show fear they can be targets for bullying. Sara coached the students to approach the horse with confidence and clear intention. When the students have empowered body language and believe in their strength and value, the horses respond positively. Emily started this school year with a new focus of walking with confidence and self esteem, like she had a 1,200 pound friend at her side.


In the past, the students haven’t always been honest with their friends or adults. They learned that 80 percent

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013


Owner of Discovery Horse, Sara Sherman, (center) prepares students for the lessons of the day. Students learn to work together as a team, harnessing a horse. of all communication is spoken through body language, not the spoken word. When the students approached a large horse terrified and said, “I’m not scared of you,” the horse knew they were lying. And if a horse can tell you are lying, probably most people can too. The students’ goal is to be more honest with others and determine when someone isn’t being honest with them.

a horse through an obstacle course. Because the students struggled to give clear directions to their teammates — some called the

At Discovery Horse, the students were often separated into teams to work on group projects such as haltering a horse, having the horse cross a small jump and getting a horse to voluntarily walk into a box. They had to rely on each other and the information they were given by Sara to get these tasks accomplished with some very spirited horses. The students learned that you don’t have to know everything; you can depend on your friends or “team” to help you navigate through life’s challenges.

raised bank a “berm” while others called it a “loopy-loop,” the horses were as confused as the students and just wanted to go back to the pasture. Once the students found a way to clearly communicate with each other, the horse was responsive and completed the course willingly.



Students learned that we all have different forms of communication, not only with horses, but with people too. They formed teams and had to guide 6

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013

if a horse can tell you are lying, probably most people can too.


Horses are always looking for a leader; their lives depend on it, says Sara. When she works with the students, she is not “teaching” them to be a leader; she is helping them to discover the leader that is already within them. Students find that inner leader during activities with the horses and the horses respond with gratitude and without reservation.

This is perhaps the most rewarding part of the Discovery Horse experience. Emily wishes everyone could get a chance to go to Discovery Horse. “It’s like school; they present lessons and you practice the lesson and learn the skills. But it is your job to apply these skills in your daily life. Things gradually get easier. It works.” MLAP was awarded a grant that made this opportunity possible for students. Discovery Horse works with a variety of clients in Minnesota, facilitating team building experiences, personal growth opportunities, and finding everyone’s “Inner AWEsome.” Learn more about Discovery Horse by going to

Denise Sundquist

Denise Sundquist is the health & safety coordinator for the Brainerd School District. Since her boys left for college, she has embraced a more active lifestyle including local triathlons, running races and mountain biking with her husband, Matt, on the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail System.


By Mary Aalgaard

Music I

Heart and Soul of the Community

f sports are the adrenaline of a community, then music is the soul, embracing everyone, bridging gaps, healing relationships, creating understanding and respite. Students who participate in music programs are part of something larger than themselves. Even as they’re learning to use their own instruments, be it their voice, or the cumbersome tuba, they all have a place and a purpose. The community that surrounds the Brainerd schools supports themselves by supporting the arts. They have rallied to raise money to save the programs and keep quality teachers, as well as contributing generously to fundraisers. The community fills the auditorium for concerts. Chris Fogderud, BHS band director, says, “When you stand in front of 70 kids, with different instruments and skills, coming from varied backgrounds, it’s all about psychology.” How does a teacher engage over 200 students every day, meeting their individual needs as a learner, a musician and an adolescent? The number of kids the music teachers inspire is staggering. As they work hard to improve their skills, the students’ confidence grows. They become section leaders and mentors. The orchestra has a

Brainerd Highschool is known nationwide for it’s outstanding music progrqm. program called Kids teaching Kids, where kids as young as four years old, can get one on one instruction from a more advanced player. You can get connected with this program through the new orchestra instructor, James Larson, 454-6287. Brainerd High School is known nationwide for its outstanding music program. Band and orchestra offers intermediate and chamber orchestra, jazz ensemble, concert

and symphonic band, marching band and Wind Symphony. Students need to work hard and audition for the highest level bands and choirs. On March 9, 2013, the BHS Wind Symphony and Symphonic Band participated in the Percy Grainger Wind Band Festival in Chicago. Both ensembles had the opportunity to work with legendary bandleader and conductor Col. Arnald Gabriel of the USAF bands. The BHS Wind

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013 7


OCT. 24

Choir Concert

Fall and Winter

grades 9-12 7 p.m., Tornstrom

NOV. 1

Jazz Concert 7 p.m., Tornstrom

NOV. 7

Band Concert

grades 9-12 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Tornstrom

NOV. 11

Veterans’ Day Program

10 a.m., BHS gym

The Pep Band plays under the direction of Chris Fogderud.

Symphony was selected by written recommendation from Minnesota collegiate band directors and through NOV. 19 a recorded audition to perform in Orchestra Hall at Orchestra Concert Symphony Center. Fogderud explained, “The experience 7 p.m. • Tornstrom of working with a world-class conductor and performing in a world-class space was a life-changing experience for DeC.12 AND 13 all involved. Our eyes were opened to an entire world BHS A Cappella Choir of musical possibilities beyond our rehearsal space at presents Christmas Madrigal Dinner Brainerd High School. It was truly unforgettable.” at Legacy Golf Course Lodge This year, BHS brought back AP Music Theory taught 6:30 p.m. by Fogderud. Students who take advantage of the music programs at BHS are well equipped to advance in music DeC. 19 at the college level and beyond. Regarding the AP Music Band Concert Theory class, 2001 BHS graduate Andrew Miller said, “On terms of theory, sight singing and ear training, I started 7 p.m., Tornstrom college light years beyond my peers.” “Our eyes were opened to an entire world Brian Stubbs, of musical possibilities beyond our rehearsal BHS choir director space at Brainerd High School. It was truly believes in teaching unforgettable.” the literature of music, ~ Chris Fogderud, BHS band director stretching the singers to be better and stronger than they ever Brian Stubbs directs the thought they could be. “This is not an episode of BHS choir. ‘Glee,’” he tells the guys in Bards and Women’s Concert Chorale, which anyone can join. A Capella is by audition, as is the small group Windfall. Windfall is often on the road, performing for service groups and other functions around town. A Capella is the lab choir that goes to workshops and festivals. This year, A Capella is touring in New York, with plans to sing at Lincoln Center, St. Paul’s Cathedral near Ground Zero and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Look for the Music Coupon Books and other fundraisers. Stubbs says that the fundraising can also be a community building experience. The Brainerd lakes area is an economically diverse community and the music teachers see where community support lifts up everyone.


Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013

From choral tours to providing instruments, all students have an opportunity. The band and orchestra programs have lending and rental programs. Students help each other through mentoring, teaching and modeling. High school musicians go into the elementary schools to perform and inspire the younger learners, giving them something to look forward to joining. The trips and tours are also incentive to join and stay in the music programs. Larson is making plans for an orchestra trip next year. The middle school program is strong and growing, with jazz band offered this year to 7th and 8th graders, and the district is looking at eliminating scheduling conflicts. High school students can take classes from classical guitar to AP Music Theory and use their skills personally as well as sharing them with the world. We

are all proud to know that Rebecca Yeh, 2011 graduate of BHS, won the Miss America talent portion with her violin tucked tenderly under her chin and the bow pulling out that glorious sound. Andrew Miller went on to make a career in music in Bismarck, N.D., says: “I have heard great reviews from students and professionals in the Minnesota music scene and I have heard their ensembles that carry all the quality and excellence I remember. This is a testament to BHS’s commitment to hiring the finest music educators, who are qualified and committed to providing a high school music experience like none other. It is also a testament to the lakes area community’s deep support for the


Mary Aalgaard

Mary Aalgaard is a freelance writer in the Brainerd lakes area. She writes for area publications, an inspirational blog,, and entertainment reviews on her blog and on the Brainerd Dispatch website. Mary is also a playwright whose first original full-length play was performed spring of 2012. She lives with her four sons and a cat named Leo.

Individual music lessons are key to the success of the students and the program.

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013


By Cynthia Bachman

Grads pay it


usy person y, “It’s the b sa y e th s a , ing am of Eryk with the te s to fundrais rd hen it come ne.” That is the case f the Braine do co-chairs o , re ie a rr y e e -F th that gets it n gether, ll Carlso o Ji T d t. n n a e i v k E tr jo g ex a ) Big Haapa nt, providin on’s (BPSF e ti v a e d e n u iv o rt F o p ools hools. d sup Public Sch Brainerd sc a strong an e te th a in re c ., tc to e g , rd High collaboratin ers, sports, recreation raduated from Braine g h c a th cially the funds for te and Carlson-Ferrie bo unity, espe vitality m m o c e i th k e Haapajo are active in eir goal to sustain th e 90s and th udents. th d st e f in ss o l s re o n p o o x h e ti c S ra o e ls n a e g th o re sitive em. B g futu em and po schools syst nity through educatin st sy l a n o ti u duca of the comm ay than a strong e w r e n of our tt e b What the childre e t? id n v e ro m p n o vir is to ducation, learning en “Our goal unities of e ons of s, rt y o p sa p ie o l rr o e o Carlson-F positive sch cial restricti ite the finan ith the same w sp y e it d , n d u a m h m e co tw d sports tha , comprised creativity an hool district.” of directors rd a o port b sc a e y th b cus is to sup made fo re today, in a ir e s h n T . io is rs c e e unity memb s, activities, The BPSF d i and comm n m lu a ademic rd e e 4 As: ac of Brain th s a entary, y if ss cla from elem rs e h c what they a e T thletics. arts and a


BHS grads Eryk Haapajo ki and Jill Carlson (left) -Ferrie, co-chair The Big Event, a BPSF fundra iser.


sert • Dinner & Des inment a rt te n E t n e d • Stu Auctions • Silent & Live rt and cash bar.

Feb. 8 • 5-9 pm

kend ner with dese rts, trips, wee Sit-down din lude: conce c . in es s m ag ite ck n pa Auctio d great sports getaways an ance

be a perform e evening will th f o ht ecca Yeh, ig hl g A hi innesota, Reb M s is M n w o cipients by Brainerd’s BPSF grant re 14 20 f o nt e m e funds the announc will share how ho w s nt ie ip c and past re ed students. have benefit therings

ni ga unity for alum de! Great opport ns. Wear your Warrior Pri o ti p o and photo

10 Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013

Big EvEnT Cragun’s Sports Center


Cost: $50/pe rson (Available D ecember 20 13) CTC,

MMFCU and Lakes Printin g or online at: ww

For sponsors hip or donatio information n contact Eryk .h a a pajoki@ ctctelecom.n et or jferrie@

middle and high school request grants and scholarships for supplies and funds that are needed, but that the school district may not be able to fund. In 2013 the BPSF awarded grants for basics such as, sports equipment, reading programs/books, a high school science research program, music Smart Boards and touch screen interactive computers. Both Haapajoki and Carlson-Ferrie explain they had mentors in school and parents who set them on a positive path by giving of their time, patience and energy. Both are successful in their own right and want to “pay it forward” as a way to honor those who helped them. Both hope that students grow not only through formal educators but also by the example of leaders working quietly in the wings, providing steady fund raising for the BPSF. Carlson-Ferrie was born and raised in Brainerd and graduated from BHS in 1993. Her mother was an educator and her father was in sales. She values education and has recently completed her masters of management and leadership. Currently, she works in training and development at Mid Minnesota Federal Credit Union (MMFCU) in Brainerd. Carlson-Ferrie lives in Baxter and has two daughters and a son. She believes volunteer work is a way to teach her children to give and a way to pass the torch of community responsibility that her parents instilled in her and her siblings. Carlson-Ferrie is definitely a role model. Her current volunteer activities include: Brainerd Public Schools Foundation, Brainerd Women’s Fund, Brainerd Rotary Foundation. She is an active member and past president of Brainerd Rotary, Presenting Yourself; a mentorship program between business women and students at Central Lakes College, Brainerd High School Hall of Fame Committee and part of the planning committee for her 20 year class

reunion. Haapajoki is a 1992 graduate of BHS. He has worked in the technology field since 1998, starting with Integra Telecom now with Consolidated Telephone Company. An active volunteer in the Brainerd lakes area, he is a member of the Brainerd Public Schools Foundation, has volunteered as a coach for youth baseball and football, has been the executive director of the annual Brainerd Men’s Softball Invitational, raising money for Camp Sertoma, an outdoor experience for deaf or hard of hearing youth. Haapajoki is also a member of the Brainerd Jaycees, the Brainerd Area Hockey Association (BAHA) and Brainerd Basketball as well as the Lakes Area Networking Group. He is on the board of directors for the Brainerd Youth Athletic Association, Brainerd Community Action and is a past board member of MMFCU. He lives in Baxter and is an active father with three children: Courtney, Alex and Jake. Both of his parents were active in the community and his late father was a school board member. This is the first year of the Big Event and both Haapajoki and Carlson-Ferrie plan to make it the largest annual fundraiser to benefit the BPSF.

Cynthia Bachman

te Cynthia Bachman is a gradua ion cat of BHS. She continued her edu Nursing with a BA from the U of MN, BS/ stic from the College of Saint Schola ion cat and recently a master’s of edu her with s at the U of MN. She live d, Brian, in the Brainerd area. ban hus

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013


By Jodie Tweed

Community SupportS

Hearing and Vision

screening Programs Central Lakes College nursing students apply what they learn in the classroom, helping with hearing screenings for the school district—a win win opportunity.


f a child is having difficulty seeing what is written on the whiteboard in the front of the classroom or is missing some of the verbal instructions given by a teacher, it can have a serious impact on learning.

But a unique partnership forged between Brainerd Public Schools, the Brainerd Area Sertoma Club, Brainerd Lions Club and Central Lakes College’s nursing program is making sure that all students in first- through ninth-grade in the district are screened at least every other year for hearing and vision loss. The school district has around 7,000 students and only two school district nurses, Mary Lastovich and Aimee Jambor, so volunteer support is critical for the nursing staff to conduct the regular fall screening clinics for first-, third-, fifth-, seventh- and ninth-grade classes. They try to hold the clinics as early as possible each fall so they 12 2

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013

can catch any hearing or vision problems at the beginning of the school year, often mid-September through November. To keep classroom disruptions to a minimum at Forestview Middle School and Brainerd High School South Campus, an entire grade is screened over the course of one school day, or about 500 students. Students are pulled out of class for the screenings, one class at a time, so about 60-70 students are screened within a 50-minute class period. It can make for a busy session as volunteers work quickly and efficiently to ensure students are able to make it to their next class before the bell rings. At the elementary schools, all firstand third-grade students are screened by school on scheduled dates. If a student fails the basic vision test, then his or her parents will receive a letter of referral by the district nursing staff to see an optometrist for further vision testing. If a student fails to hear a couple of the tones during the hearing screening, then the student will be rescreened again in a couple of weeks to make sure he or she didn’t have a cold that could have interfered with the results. Jambor

said older students who participate in the fall duck and deer hunting seasons will exhibit temporary hearing loss from firing hunting rifles, which can skew their hearing results. If the student fails a second hearing test, then the parents are notified. Jambor said close to one-third of the approximately 2,500 students screened each fall are sent for a referral, either for new glasses or a prescription adjustment. A smaller number of students are referred for hearing difficulties. The clinics aren’t mandatory, but are recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health. “I think it’s one of the best services that district nursing provides for the students in the district,” said Jambor. “If they can’t see the board, they aren’t able to see what is going on. They’re bored. (Vision loss) definitely affects their learning.” Lastovich said younger students may be unaware they’re having difficulty seeing or hearing well. For more than 20 years, Brainerd Sertomans have volunteered at these clinics to help provide additional stations

to screen students, so more students could be seen at the same time. The club’s mission involves hearing loss, so they take their efforts to the next level. If a student does need a hearing aid or additional hearing assistance and the parents are unable to afford it, the club will help pay for it. Sertomans also have donated many of the audiometers used during the district’s hearing screenings. They have been helping to replace the outdated machines. This year they donated four new machines. “The volunteers all feel good about volunteering,” explained Bob Ehrich, a Brainerd Sertoman who helps coordinate Sertoman volunteers for the clinics. “It’s an easy sell for me to stand up at our meetings and say how many we need.” Brainerd Sertomans also have purchased audio amplification systems for many of the school classrooms in the district, allowing teachers to quietly give instructions to students without having to compete with classroom or hallway noises. Trina and Joe Johnson were so grateful for the financial support they received from the Brainerd Lions Club, which helped pay for their son’s vision therapy, that they became Lions themselves. The Brainerd Lions help families having difficulty paying for eyewear or eye doctor appointments. The district nursing office has applications for families who wish to apply for financial assistance. “The Lions were able to help our family out and we wanted to pay it forward,” Johnson explained. “We wanted to be part of that and help other families in the way we were helped. It’s just an amazing group of people, all of the Lions, to do the things they do and to help the community so much.” The Brainerd Lions are starting a new program this fall that involves vision screenings for preschool children enrolled in the district, said Johnson. For the past four years, Central Lakes College’s nursing program has provided volunteer nursing students to work with district nursing staff to help screen students. The student nurses are able to apply what they’re learning in the classroom into a real world situation, while also earning clinical or community service hours that are applied toward their degrees. “It’s a win-win all-around,” said Connie Frisch, director of nursing at Central Lakes College, both Brainerd and Staples campuses. “The students love it, and they get exposure to all pediatric age groups. It’s important to their learning, talking to a first-grader and a seventh-grader is two very different things.” Frisch said often a nursing instructor will accompany about nine nursing students to the clinics. Because of their efforts, the

Jodie Tweed

Jodie Tweed is a freelance writer and former longtime Brainerd Dispatch reporter who covered Brainerd Public Schools.

district can screen larger number of students more efficiently. She said some students enjoy volunteering in the schools so much that they’ll help with head lice checks in the spring and teach hand washing to young students during the rest of the school year. The nursing students help fill out the referral forms for students and learn the paperwork side of being a school nurse. Other area school districts heard about CLC’s partnership with Brainerd Public Schools and now they are helping with hearing and vision clinics at Pierz, Little Falls, Crosby-Ironton, Staples-Motley, and Nah-AhShing School in Onamia. Sacred Heart Catholic School in Staples is in the process of being added as another school partnership. “The students are there, the school nurses are there and the volunteers,” said Frisch. “It really is a neat community effort.”

Vision screenings are held early in the school year, says nurse Mary Lastovich, to catch any potential problems.

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013





By Carolyn Corbett

“Happy Day” is one of Sarah Meyer’s favorite expressions.

Sarah’s teacher this year is Katie Halstead.

Happy Day SaraH


arah, a cheerful 4-year-old child with Down syndrome, adopted the words “happy day” from “happy birthday,” after a string of family birthdays. With big smiles, Sarah spreads that happiness to her parents, her teachers, her therapists, her brother and sister and other children who are often drawn to nurture her. All are touched by Sarah. Sarah’s life didn’t begin with smiles. When she was just two days old, physical, speech and occupational therapists were already working with the newborn on interventions such as sucking on a bottle and encouraging movements to strengthen her muscles. At 10 days old, Sarah had surgery on her aorta, later a staph infection and at four and a half months she had open heart surgery at Children’s Hospital in the Twin Cities. Returning home, Sarah’s parents, Carol and Tom Meyer, contacted the


Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013

Paul Bunyan Educational Cooperative, an organization assisting area districts in providing educational and support services to students with disabilities. Sarah’s parents had already been in touch with the Down Syndrome Organization of Minnesota so they understood the need to reach out for help with their daughter. Information from that organization explains Down syndrome as a chromosomal variation which usually causes delays in physical, intellectual and language development. There is a wide variation among people with Down syndrome. Each individual has a unique personality, capabilities and talents, just as do those who do not have Down syndrome. Joanne Vukelich, from the Paul Bunyan Coop, went out to the Meyer’s home to conduct an evaluation and determine which early intervention services were needed for infant Sarah. District staff

SaraH iS truly a SucceSS Story. “ “one of tHe HigHligHtS of my career”...” ~Nicole Gunderson

began arriving at the Meyer’s home and Trinity Children’s Center, Sarah’s daycare, to provide services. This continued until Sarah was old enough to attend school at age 3. An occupational therapist helped Sarah with eating, and a speech therapist helped her learn words and sign language. Cathy Dens, a physical therapist, saw Sarah once a week and is still with her today. The whole team and the family met regularly to define goals and evaluate her progress. Nicole Gunderson worked with Sarah at home from the beginning of the school’s involvement, both as her teacher and case manager, handling all the paperwork. Gunderson then became Sarah’s teacher when she began attending Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) classes at the district’s Washington Educational Services building, where all of her occupational, speech and physical therapy continued.

“Nicole helped us understand the process and ensured everyone knew Sarah’s goals and progress,” said Carol. “Without someone in that role to help a family, it can seem overwhelming.” This September, Sarah has a new ECSE teacher, Katie Halstead, who took over following Gunderson’s move to the Area Learning Center. Gunderson is tearful speaking of her affection for Sarah and her extraordinary progress, for Sarah is truly a success story. “One of the highlights of my career,” she says, “was being able to follow her from an infant to passing her off this year to new teachers.” Sarah attends integrated ECSE/ECFE (Early Childhood Special Education/Early Childhood Family Education) classes two mornings a week with teachers Sandy Agre and Natalie Embertson, while continuing ECSE classes the other three mornings. One

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013


Sarah attends classes three mornings a week, learning skills such as hand washing with educational assistant, (center) Leesha Bisek and playing with other children. great benefit of the integrated ECSE/ECFE class is that Sarah has the opportunity to meet and socialize with 15 of her peers with whom she will attend kindergarten. It was the Meyer’s idea to place their daughter in ECFE classes in addition to her ECSE classes. “We want Sarah to be the best Sarah she can be,” says Carol. They want her to have the opportunity to become more socially comfortable, to have a curriculum more driven toward kindergarten readiness and to learn the cadence of being in school. The Meyers already saw new progress just in the first week of school this fall. “Tom and Carol have no limits for what they want for Sarah,” says Agre. “They grasp the magnitude of the developmental delays and are very positive.” Their daughter has brought the Meyers love and pride and wonder. “I miscarried with our third child,” says Carol, “so when we found out about this child, we simply wanted a baby to hold and love. I got that in spades with Sarah. When she was born all we wanted was the best for her, whatever that would mean for Sarah.” The focus of the years between ages three and five is to prepare ECSE students for kindergarten. All the children in ECSE


Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013

classes have special needs of one sort or another and the class sizes are small, with seven to eight students, a teacher and an educational assistant. Sarah also has a oneon-one educational assistant, Leesha Bisek, who has worked with Sarah since she turned 3, assisting with communication, feeding, toileting and daily activities in the classroom. Sarah is comfortable in these rooms and she thrives on the structure. In both the ECSE and integrated ECSE/ECFE settings Sarah has breakfast and snack time, morning greetings and story time, art projects and free play time, sensory exploration and singing, gym or outside time. She is used to different people in different roles, and there has always been wonderful integration in the services Sarah has received at home, at daycare and at school. Having worked with three different speech therapists, two occupational therapists and ECSE teachers, she has wowed them all. “They all worked,” says Carol, “to transition Sarah to the next person. Sarah adapts well to people because she loves them all.” This fall’s open house at school resembled an extended family reunion for Happy Day Sarah as her former therapists and teachers stopped by to visit!

The school staff and family and Sarah’s daycare teacher meet together once a year to update Sarah’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP lays out short and long term goals and the type of services that will be provided by the school district. All present contribute to the process. Sometimes the staff encourages the Meyers to put goals on the IEP that may seem to be quite a stretch for Sarah, and in the spring, all are pleased to be able to cross these things off the list. “We are thrilled with Brainerd’s special education staff. It’s heartwarming to see their commitment to our daughter. We would hate to move from Brainerd for just that reason,” says Carol.

Carolyn Corbett

Prior to her passion for playing with words, Carolyn Corbett taught elementary school for 14 years. At 35, she resigned and sailed off into the sunset. Literally. Along the way she became a contributing writer for a number of sailing and cruising magazines. Today, as a freelance writer/editor, she has over 200 articles published in cruising, parenting and general interest magazines.


By Rebecca Flansburg

Learning to


Video Games


he description for the Video Design Class at Brainerd High School includes phrases like “an introduction to C# programming and game development with XNA Game Studio and Microsoft Visual Studio.” This may be almost a foreign language to some, but for today’s youth, it’s a language they fluently understand. As the technology field in our world continues to grow, it also fuels a need for future tech-savvy workers. This growing need and opportunity was recognized and tested last year by the Brainerd High School Visual Arts department. Andrea Rusk, principal of Brainerd High School and South Campus, recognized the need for new and innovative curriculum that would not only keep students engaged, but prepare them for the needs of today’s workforce. Last year Rusk received information on an affordable, yet very complete and impressive curriculum

Visual arts instructor, Joseph Wagner, teaches an innovative class called Electronic Art and Video Game Design to senior high students.

that would offer students the chance to learn and experience the world of video game app design. She passed the information on to visual arts instructor Joseph Wagner, who was also impressed and eager to share it with students. Wagner is a visual arts teacher who teaches Introduction to Art for ninth grade students and Photography, Yearbook, Introduction to Electronic Art and Video Game Design

to students in grades 10-12. With a strong technology background, he saw a lack of technology-based art courses and two years ago implemented an Introduction to Electronic Arts course and the following year the Video Game Design course. One of his goals with these courses is to introduce students to programs and skills that they could carry with them to college and careers. “The Video Game Design

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013


Wagner’s class is popular with students he says because gaming is a growing industry and kids love video games. course offered to us through STEM Fuse was a good fit because it uses the C# (pronounced C sharp) programming language, Microsoft Visual Studio and XNA Game Studio,” says Wagner. “These are current programs and languages used to make Microsoft XBOX Live games, as well as smart phone apps.” Each video design course project begins with an introduction to the key

Important skills for game design: Math, problem solving, analytical skills, and most importantly, patience. concepts of the lesson, explanation of the new vocabulary and the review of examples. Students then work through the use of PDFs, which allow them to create through code and learn how it works. In later lessons, when students have a better understanding of the code, they work through the code of completed video games to alter and customize the game material. A l t h o u g h students do not need prior


Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013

programming experience to complete this course, Wagner agrees there are some skills students should keep in mind. “Some important skills that the students should have and continue to improve upon are math, problem solving, analytical skills, and most importantly, patience,” Wagner shares with a smile. Not surprisingly, the first offering of the video game design course was hugely popular. The class was offered to any student in grades 10-12, but seniors were given priority due to limited space. “The class did fill up fast last year for two reasons,” observes Wagner. “Firstly, gaming is a huge industry right now and kids love video games. Secondly, because we were just introducing the class last year, we only offered one section of it. We did that because we wanted to keep the class size low to allow for the fact that I would be teaching a brand new class.” Principal Rusk and Wagner both agree that the greatest benefit of the video game design course is that it is an opportunity for students who are interested in programming careers to get a head start and learn some core skills before they move on to college. “They are learning skills that will be important to everyday life,” says Rusk. “It’s just such an outstanding opportunity for any student desiring a career in the technology field.” In light of the popularity and relevance of this course, BHS is offering three sections of the video game design

course during the 2013-2014 school year and Wagner also has his eye on the future. “For the 2014-2015 school years, I am looking to add a beginner’s game design course that doesn’t involve programming and will appeal to more students,” explains Wagner. “The new course will be called Game Design 1, while the current course will be Game Design 2.” Wagner also says he feels the greatest success story of the course is the excitement students have for the course as well as the sense of community that’s created in the classroom. Students in the class work at very different levels and different paces and it’s rewarding to see them communicating with each other to help solve problems and find solutions. Again looking to the future, Wagner says, “My hope is to continue to grow the program and continue to give Brainerd High School kids the opportunity to learn in this growing field.”

Rebecca Flansburg

is a freelance writer and workat-home-mom who lives in Baxter. She is also a full-time virtual assistant in the field of social media, content management and blogging and her tagline is “working behind the scenes to help you SHINE.” You can connect with Rebecca on her blog,

By Sheila Helmberger

Changing Roles for

School Nurses T

he licensed school nurses in District 181 do a lot more than apply BandAids and take temperatures. Aimee Jambor and Mary Lastovich collaborate closely with parents and staff in the district to meet the social, physical and emotional needs of students. Jambor oversees the health services at Forestview Middle School, Brainerd High School’s North and South Campuses, AECISD 181 Learning Center, Lincoln Education Center, Paul Bunyan Transition Program and Early Childhood Family Education. Lastovich

More than cuts and scrapes

Administering medications Care plans Meeting with families Tube feeding oversees health care at the Brainerd’s five elementary schools, Nisswa Elementary School and ECSE at the Washington Education Building. Jambor and Lastovich visit their various

Elementary students review their diabetes numbers with school nurse, Mary Lastovich. buildings throughout the school day. In addition, each building in the district remains staffed during school hours with an onsite health paraprofessional who can provide needed services. Both women have worked for the school district for over 15 years and agree their jobs have changed tremendously over the years. There is no longer a typical day. Besides cuts and bruises, one day might include administering medications

and meeting with the families of students who have chronic or special conditions such as asthma, diabetes, seizure disorders and severe allergies. They might also perform a variety of specialized medical practices during the school day such as tube feeding. Prior to the first day of school each year the nurses are proactive, identifying students who might need special care or more attention. They ask parents to develop specific care plans, determining

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013


An arm needing icing. Often one student after another keeps the nurse busy at Forestview.

Nurses as Educators

From hygiene and healthy food choices to a home nursing assistant class, Jambor and Lastovich are focused on education. Nurses now spend time in the classroom teaching a variety of skills, including hand washing. 22

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013

the best treatment available during school hours. Lastovich also calls kindergarten parents whose children were flagged with a health consideration to ensure adequate arrangements. If a student is diagnosed during the school year with a new condition, the nursing staff meets with those parents and is brought up to speed. Early in the year lice checks are conducted. The Minnesota Department of Health also mandates that school districts keep track of immunizations and each autumn the district nurses verify that each student is either immunized according to current recommendations or the district has a signed waiver on file from the parents or guardians. When there is a health scare like H1N1 or, more recently, whooping cough, it means carefully monitoring the student body. Both Jambor and Lastovich oversee the annual vision and hearing screenings. These are administered with volunteers from the Sertomans, Central Lakes College RN and LPN students and community members. Education is an important new responsibility for school nurses. Lastovich spends time in the classrooms each year teaching students proper techniques for hand washing and covering a cough. In the spring Lastovich goes into the fourth grade classrooms to talk about proper hygiene, which

includes the importance of deodorant and showering and Jambor speaks to students about puberty. During the school year Lastovich also teaches a home nursing assistant class to junior and senior students. Promoting good health practices to district staff each Friday, Jambor sends an email with a “Friday Fit Tip,” and may include a healthy recipe or advice geared toward relieving stress or making healthy food choices. Also new is a campaign throughout the high school with healthy tips for students, posted in visible areas throughout the buildings. Jambor and Lastovich also serve on the District Wellness Committee. The group makes decisions regarding the well being of students such as the decision to reduce the use of vending machines during school hours and the purchase of soda. It also makes recommendations for healthy snacks, parties and school store products. Jambor also collaborates with the district’s dietary department on the Farm to School program, a program that offers fresh foods and healthy


Find student health services, forms and other health related information at:

Healthy Students:

8-10 hours of sleep Smart food choices Drink plenty water Physical exercise Regular healthcare visits

choices for school lunches and makes alternative food options available for students with allergies. Parents are invited to check out health related information by logging on to the District 181 website,, clicking under Services and then Student Health Services. The site also includes several printable health related forms. While school nurse job descriptions might have been updated over the years, Jambor and Lastovich still recommend basic advice for parents to keep their students healthy. Students should get eight to 10 hours of sleep a night when possible, practice good nutrition and make smart food choices. Regular

School nurse Aimee Jambor, ices the recently injured knee of a student at Forestview.

attendance in school is important for good grades, they say. For good health, they recommend visiting periodically with family physicians and dentists, drinking lots of water for hydration and getting physical exercise whenever possible.

Sheila Helmberger

Sheila Helmberger lives in Baxter and has been contributing to area publications since 1999.

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013


By Jenny Holmes

Garfield’s music teacher Heather Larson brings a theatrical flare to the students’ performances.

s r e m r o f r e P Garfield


ourth grade seems like an eternity ago when you’re 16, but Brainerd High School Sophomore Alex Tibbetts fondly remembers his music experience at Garfield Elementary School. Alex transferred to Garfield for his fourth grade year and recalls standing on the risers, performing songs for a packed house of parents and grandparents. While he couldn’t necessarily remember any of the song titles, he does however, remember the elaborate backdrops created by staff that helped make those performances so much more special. “I loved how they always had different set ups for the singing parts we would do,” Alex said. “They had great backgrounds and the music teacher was always really good helping people along.” Alex said his positive experiences with elementary school music certainly helped develop a passion for music as a teen. Since sixth grade, Alex has played the euphonium in the BHS Band, and has every intention of learning even


Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013

more instruments into the future. “It’s a passion of mine to be in something with music,” he said. “I love music; it’s great!” Heather Larson has been the music teacher at Garfield for the past 14 years and was Alex’s teacher ‘way back’ when he was in the 4th grade. “I love to see my past students grow up on stage,” Larson said, noting she is seeing an increasing number of her elementary students pursuing choir, band and orchestra in high school, many of whom are standout musicians. In the past few years, Larson has taken her school’s music program to a new level. In one year – kindergarten, first and second graders will perform Christmas programs in December. Then, in the spring, the third and fourth graders will put on two different spring productions. The following year, the roles will reverse. As most elementary schools in the Brainerd School District do, third graders participate in a recorder unit during the school year where they learn to play music on the flute-

Third graders learn a flute-like instrument called a recorder, last spring performing as the BHS Indoor Marching Band in concert. That same night, (below) fourth graders in costume presented a musical called “Joust.”

like instrument. At Garfield, they take their practice and put it into action – full action. Last year, almost 90 third graders showcased their recorder skills by simulating a high school Indoor Marching Band Concert. The sound of “Attention” echoed through the Garfield halls as the students marched into the gym accompanied by the heroic cadences of the BHS Drumline. The audience was wowed as the eight- and nine-year olds surrounded the gymnasium – executing sequential sharp turns, playing by memory, and simultaneously finding their places on the concert risers with precision. Later in the program, student soloists took center stage – each taking their turn at demonstrating their improvisational skills while their peers played along with the 12-Bar Blues. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” raised the spirits of everyone as they finished their concert with a rousing display of School Spirit – marching out to the beat of the BHS Drumline once again. “The programs are always fantastic,” raved Garfield Principal Jon Clark. “They really have a theatrical flare.” Says Larson, “It was like a marching band with a touch of jazz band at the third grade level. “It doesn’t matter how they march. It’s just that they keep on trying at this age.” Later that same evening, Garfield’s fourth graders presented a full-scale musical entitled, “Joust,” an adaptation of the days of young King Arthur. Students learned the legend of King Arthur with a little extra twist of humor which had the audience on the edge of their seats. The knights had names like Sir Ender, Sir Vival, Sir Rah, and Sir Up, and rode in on stick horses – accompanied by coconuts, ala Monty Python. Damsels and court jesters completed the 90-person cast

along with Merlin and King Arthur himself. The show also featured additional skits re-created by the students that brought back memories of their fourth grade trip to Deep Portage. “The most special part is that all kids are busy throughout the production,” Larson said. “If they don’t have a speaking part, they have a different responsibility. It is the intention for the students to call it their own.” Thanks to parents, volunteers, and teaching staff, scenery and props are covered at a minimum cost. This year the Brainerd High School choral department along with a parent involved with the Renaissance Festival allowed them to borrow almost 60 costumes. “I was most impressed,” Clark said. “Everyone felt so involved and so important.” Laughing, Larson said, “Now I feel the bar has been raised,” to which Principal Clark finished, “Heather continues to raise that bar, year after year.” “Our programs at Garfield are geared for all the students. There are no auditions. It’s basically an all-comers show,” Larson said. “It’s harder to get everyone involved when it’s just singing. This way, everyone

Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013


Students are encouraged to participate in singing, dancing, speaking, acting, or playing instruments. “It’s an all-comers show,” says Larson.

has an important responsibility that contributes to everyone’s success. There’s singing, dancing, speaking, acting and playing instruments.” Both Larson and Clark praised the Garfield educational staff for their support of the music program and time commitment on the part of everyone involved. “Our staff has been 100 percent behind Heather and whatever she’s doing,” Clark said. “Sometimes they’re just as excited as the kids! Heather has fantastic vision and allows us all to support and follow along with her. Teachers aren’t worried about giving


Brainerd Public Schools • Fall 2013

up their classroom time. This is so much more than just music class,” Clark continued, “It’s time very well spent.” Over her tenure at Garfield, Larson is proud of her students and the quality experiences their music department has been able to provide students, hopefully leading to more students getting involved in the arts in the future. In cases like Alex Tibbetts, providing music education tends to open up doors and opportunities to students they may never have approached on their own. “There is more to life than music,” Larson concedes, but “There is no end to the impact music can have on a child’s life. If music speaks what words cannot say, there is a song waiting to be written for each student that’s walked into my classroom – just like Alex Tibbetts. I could write a symphony of thanks to all the students who have helped me become a better teacher.”

Jenny Holmes

Jenny Holmes is a former reporter with the Brainerd Dispatch and operates her own public relations and communications business. She lives in Nisswa with husband, Tim, and their two school-aged children.

BPS: Brainerd Public Schools  
BPS: Brainerd Public Schools  

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