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A publication of the Brainerd Dispatch





FRED Inside:

Making it in Music Today’s Middle Schoolers are Tomorrow’s Engineers Measuring Success


Features FRED........................................................................ 5 Read about FRED, not a person but a program that jumpstarts the reading habits of young children who are read to by dads, brothers or uncles. By Jenny Gunsbury


When Your Future Depends on the Levy Passage........ ................................................................................10 Waiting for the outcome of the levy, these students felt their futures hung in the balance. By Jenny Holmes

GRAD Testing..........................................................16

Most BHS students pass GRAD, tests you must pass to graduate in Minnesota, but what happens if you don’t? By Karen Ogdahl

Making It in Music...................................................19


This graduate of BHS is grabbing the brass ring in a high profile profession. By Mary Aalgaard

Today’s Middle Schoolers are Tomorrow’s Engineers.... ............................................................................... 24 Eighth graders using computer-aided design software like engineers at Intel? With its mix of science and technology, Forestview’s Project Lead the Way appeals to students and employers. By Jodie Tweed

In This Issue We are Competitors...............................................8


All You Gotta Do is “Tri” By Sheila Helmberger

We are Easy to Access........................................12 Streamlining Enrollment for Parents and Staff By Cynthia Bachman

We are Test Takers.............................................14 Measuring Our Success By Steve Lund

We are Thinkers...................................................22 Learning to Make the Pros and Cons of an Argument By Judy Kuusisto


On the Cover: Alayna Ostrowski and her dad Derek appreciate the quality time they spend together in the FRED program. Cover photo by Joey Halvorson We Are 181 • Spring 2012


Opportunities for ALL Students


n education, spring is the time when we celebrate the end of another successful school year. But for most people spring is not about conclusions, but rather about beginnings. For example, our community views spring as the beginning of another summer season in the Brainerd lakes area. And our families view spring as the beginning of a summer filled with activities and quality family time. But the most significant beginning may be that experienced by our graduating class. For these students, spring signifies a different “beginning” for each and every graduating student. After years of collectively preparing our graduates for whatever their futures may bring, it remains our greatest hope that each student leaves our schools with a “sky’s the limit” attitude and ambition. In this issue of We Are 181, you will learn about more of our district’s programs and how they are helping our students reach their potential. These programs are as unique and distinctive as the students who are drawn to their curriculum and classroom experiences. We are also pleased to introduce an alumni feature in this issue of We Are 181. The broad-reaching traditions of Brainerd Public Schools span generations. With that in mind, this feature will emphasize the impact our schools have not only on today’s students but also on tomorrow’s leaders. We are as proud to have alumni who are traveling the globe as we are to have alumni who are making differences within our community. I want to thank our community for the support provided to our schools. It is important that you know your support is helping students forge their own path to a successful future.

Staff PUBLISHER Tim Bogenschutz EDITOR Meg Douglas ART DIRECTOR Nikki Lyter PHOTOGRAPHER Joey Halvorson

We are 181 is a publication produced in cooperation with The Brainerd Dispatch and School District 181 • For advertising opportunities call Sam Swanson 218.855.5841

E-mail your comments, suggestions or topics to copyright© 2010 VOLUME TWO, EDITION TWO SPRING 2012

Steve Razidlo, Superintendent 506 JAMES STREET, P.O. BOX 974 BRAINERD, MN 56401 (218) 829-4705 • 4

We Are 181 • Spring 2012


by Jenny Gunsbury




arents of preschoolers and early elementary kids are probably familiar with Mr. Rogers, Reading Rainbow’s LeVar Burton and Big Bird, Cookie Monster and the rest of the Sesame Street gang. These characters teach and model the joy and fun of reading. But have you heard of FRED? FRED is right here in our own backyard, helping the Brainerd School District’s youngest students learn to love reading while spending quality time with special people in their lives. FRED is not a person, per se, but a free program called Fathers Reading Every Day. “The goal of FRED is to encourage fathers and other positive male role models to read to their children on a daily basis,” explains Lowell Johnson, FRED coordinator. “It’s a national program originally developed by the Texas Extension Service at Texas A & M University in 2002. We’ve been doing it here in Brainerd since 2006.” Programs are geared toward 6-to-8year olds at the

district elementary schools, along with Early Childhood and Family Education (ECFE) programs for preschoolers. “Modeling reading is powerful. Fathers tend to read to their children less often than mothers, but when they do, it has strong positive effects on children’s success in school. It’s really building a foundation for life-long learning and reading,” says Johnson. As a retired ECFE and first grade teacher, Johnson has seen this firsthand. “There’s research that shows a child who has been read to at home every day from birth to age 5 has 5,000 more words in their vocabulary when they start school than children who don’t have someone reading to them. That gap never really goes away.” Baxter Elementary School held three FRED events this winter, one each for kindergarten, first and second graders. In early February, 18 kindergartners and their dad, uncle, or grandfather met for a “Run & Read” session. For the first 15-20 minutes,







everyone is in the gym, running around and laughing, playing with scooters, bouncing balls, or using jump ropes. “The first two parts of the evening get the kids tired out a bit, ready to sit and read,” says Johnson. “It’s also a great hook for the dads because they tend to enjoy physical activities. They come because we offer a fun environment and quality time with their child. Tacking on the reading is a huge bonus. Dads want kids to be successful in school. They get the message that reading to them is a way to make that happen.” Teachers do notice the results. Baxter Elementary first grade teacher Jan Wangsness comments, “The kids just love it. We hear about it afterwards. It really makes a lasting impression on them.” Johnson noted that teachers were seeing more fathers signing off on student reading logs. “That tells me it’s really working,” he says. In the hallway near the entrance to the gym, a variety of brightly colored picture books are arranged on a big We Are 181 • Spring 2012



A program called FRED encourages fathers to read to their children on a daily basis. Developed for 6-8 year olds, FRED’s been a part of the Brainerd district since 2006.


table. After all the physical activity, the participants pair off, choose a book from the table, and find a spot on the gym floor or in the bleachers. Low murmurs of voices are heard as fathers or kids begin reading to each other. Some children point to pictures as they read, some fathers ask questions about the story, and all appear to be engaged and enjoying the time together. When the book is finished, the kids run over to select another one from the table. This process repeats until reading time is over. Kindergartner Gabby Wentzle takes a break from reading aloud to her dad and says, “It’s awesome to be here with my dad!” Her father, Matt, adds, “We’ve been to a FRED event once before at ECFE. It’s a good reason to get out of the house to have some

“Tan Webb floor sits o as he Tank great enco the r reads faster hand of dif story B group of th along home FRED incom

We Are 181 • Spring 2012

father-daughter time. Then we try to read at home for 20-30 minutes every night.” At the first grade “Run & Read event, Abigail Paulson, says, “My dad and I have read three books so far tonight. “Octopus Hug” (by Laurence Pringle) will be the fourth. I like this night. It’s our third year doing it.” Abigail and her dad, Chad, started coming to FRED events when she was in preschool. Chad explains, “She enjoys it and it’s good to get some oneon-one time with her.” FRED is a relaxed event. The students love to see their teachers in a different setting than the classroom. The teachers also get a chance to see their students in a new light. Kids who may be quiet or shy in class can be more comfortable reading and interactive

at FRED,” explains Steve Lundberg, principal at Baxter Elementary. Bev Dunphy, Baxter elementary kindergarten teacher, adds, “It’s fun to see the dads here. Moms are usually the ones we get to know because they come to school and volunteer.” Gavin Hoelzel and his dad, Kurt, also attended the event for first-graders. Kurt says, “Gavin was excited to come tonight. It’s a great way to show the kids that reading is important.” There was no doubt what Gavin liked best about the night. “It’s really fun to just come and read with my dad and play running games,” he says. “At the end, the director reads a big story and gives a copy of the book to everyone to take home.” The last activity is a reading of the featured book of the night,

Quality books are provided to the families with support from community groups. “Tanka Tanka Skunk”, by Steve Webb. Everyone gathers on the floor, surrounding Johnson as he sits on a chair, showing the pictures as he reads, “Skunka Tanka, Skunka Tanka, Skunka Tanka, Skunk!” with great enthusiasm and expression. He encourages the audience to listen to the rhyming pattern of the words. He reads it once, then a second time a bit faster. Listeners are asked to clap their hands to beat of the syllables as a cast of different animals parade through the story. Before leaving, Johnson tells the group that everyone will receive a copy of the featured book to take home, along with a sheet of reading tips for home. “Besides early literacy, two of FRED’s other goals are to focus on lowincome families and to provide quality

books to children and their families. Parents can’t read to their kids if they don’t have the books,” says Johnson. During the 2010-11 school year alone, 58 FRED events were held. More than 875 children and 555 adults attended and 1279 books were given away. FRED wouldn’t be possible without the contributions and support of many people and organizations in the community,” explains Johnson. When the Brainerd Lakes Area Childhood Coalition formed, it chose to focus in part on father involvement. FRED was implemented to fit that need. Since then, FRED has continued to grow and thrive with collaboration from the Brainerd School District Community Education, Rotary, Baxter Kiwanis, Crow Wing Power Trust, Otto Bremer Foundation, various Parent Teacher

Organizations, Kinship Partners, Crow Wing Social Services, Crow Wing Inside Out Connection, Kitchigami Regional Library System, and the Nisswa Community Library. Elmo may have a catchy little song about the alphabet on Sesame Street. But as FRED shows, there’s nothing quite like a child curling up with their dad, grandpa, or even an older brother to read a favorite story book. The benefits for all reach far into the future. Jenny Gunsbury lives in Nisswa with her family and writes freelance articles for area publications. Although her kids are too old to read to now, two of their favorites were “Officer Buckle & Gloria,” by Peggy Rathmann and “The Napping House,” by Don and Audrey Wood.

We Are 181 • Spring 2012


The final exam for approximately 40 juniors and seniors in this class is a Triathalon held in May.


tudents enrolled in one class at Brainerd High School can measure their success not only by the grade on their report card, but by whether they reach the finish…line that is. About 40 juniors and seniors challenge themselves each year to step up their workouts and train hard enough to participate in the school’s annual Triathlon. The final exam is held on a Saturday morning in May and combines a one-mile swim, a 25-mile bike ride and a 6.2 mile (10 k) run. It’s not so much a class as an introduction to a lifestyle change, one that becomes permanent for some. It’s not unusual for Triathlon students to continue


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to train and compete on their own following graduation. This year BHS physical education instructor Ellen Fussy is preparing her seventh class of athletes for the May 19 event. “The fun part of teaching for the Tri,” said Fussy, “is that every kid is doing it for a different reason. On Friday every kid is nervous and on Monday they’re honestly almost different people. When it’s time to register for spring classes kids always come and ask me if they should do it and I say, ‘Do it if you want to do it. Do it because this is a goal you want to do for yourself.’ We want this to be a positive experience.” At the very least, with the training

students receive they leave the class in the best shape of their lives. “We do some weight lifting, strength training and conditioning,” said Fussy. “We work on stroke development in the pool. We go to the YMCA and do some cycle classes.” This year for the first time there was an additional, optional fall class offered for students called Triathlon Training for those students who could fit it into their schedule and wanted even more time to prepare and train. Lexi Larson, Emilee Struss, Andy Whiteman and Cam Swanson, seniors last year who all participated in the Triathlon, said those who take the course won’t be sorry. Swanson says

by Sheila Helmberger he originally just thought it would be a great way to get in shape. “It is a really fun class and it’s worth it,” he said of the hard work. The 2011 Triathlon was Whiteman’s second. He registered for the course a second time last year to challenge himself to beat his time of the previous year—and he did. Struss had older friends that participated in the rigorous class and said it was something she wanted to push herself to do. “I’ve always loved to run and swim. I thought I might as well put it all together and go for it.” She said she trained a lot on her own outside of class. “If we did a 12mile bike ride during class time then I’d do more after.” The extra work paid off. Struss placed first among girls in last year’s event. Larson placed fifth. “It feels like such a great accomplishment,” she said the week after the Tri. “My calves got really sore so I stopped for a couple of minutes

to really stretch out. All the stuff we did to prepare—practicing transitions, swimming, biking and running around the track helped so much. I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.” Though the actual event focuses on the individual, the class is still very much a team event. “We make a class t-shirt,” said coach Fussy. “The kids come up with a good slogan and all of their names are printed on the back.” And the day also becomes one of family, friends and teams made up to support the students. Supporters pepper the route with colorful team t-shirts for each student, banners, posters, and often, if the situation calls for it, ear muffs, mittens or umbrellas. As their athlete passes by on the Tri route, fans offer cheers, enthusiastic encouragement and sometimes a willing partner to jog along on the final leg to the finish line.

Last year’s Triathlon took place on a day meteorologists had promised sunshine and temperatures in the 60s, but delivered instead a chilly drizzle and temperatures closer to 40 degrees. “Weather has always been a factor,” Fussy says of the event. “Lots of times it’s not good on Saturday but then it will be beautiful on Sunday,” she laughs. “On the other hand we don’t want it too warm either,” she says. Triathlon day is one Fussy waits for all year. This year is no different. “I always have three or four kids I think will do really well because of their training and how they’ve stayed on course,” she says. “But I still get excited for every single one of them every year.” Sheila Helmberger lives in Baxter, is married with three children and contributes to area publications.

We Are 181 • Spring 2012


TJ Graves feared the loss of Future Farmers of America if the levy failed. FFA, he says, gave him interests that may translate into a career.

When Your Futu


rainerd High School student TJ Graves made sure he was well informed of the facts surrounding the Brainerd School District’s November 2011 referendum election. And despite the fact that, at age 15, he couldn’t cast a vote in the election, Graves said a lot was at stake for him had the referendum failed. Graves, a sophomore at Brainerd High School, has already carved a niche for himself and has established his educational path toward graduation, with plans to someday become a veterinarian. This bright young man was just one of several BHS students who watched with great interest in how their future would unfold, all at the hands of the community’s vote. “I knew what the referendum was for,” Graves said. “And I knew what would have happened if it had passed or didn’t pass.” Graves has been involved the last two years in FFA, an extracurricular organization supported, in part, by the Brainerd School District. With life and occupational skill building activities for its members, FFA has helped Graves confirm a choice to pursue a post-secondary education in veterinary medicine. He said he was also well aware, prior to Nov. 8, that if a proposed levy increase was not approved, the organization that has given him support and direction would certainly be on the chopping block. “I knew that FFA could’ve been eliminated,” Graves said. “And our adviser is also a teacher. She could’ve lost her job. It would’ve been like 10

We Are 181 • Spring 2012

the football team going away for us. When I go to school, some of the things I most look forward to are my elective classes, and a lot of those would’ve been cut. Many of those electives prepare you specifically for the future. Anything career related would’ve been gone.” With such passion and strong desire to see something through, Graves said it was a helpless feeling to be unable to vote in the election. However, he didn’t let his drive go to waste. Graves said he talked a lot with teachers, his parents and others about the importance of the levy passage and tried to learn as much as he could about the issues that would ultimately affect him, either positively or negatively. A young, budding entrepreneur who owns a local lawn mowing business, Graves said he is enrolled in an Outdoor Power class, which has helped him learn to maintain his own machines. That, also, would’ve been a class lost to cuts deemed necessary to trim the district’s budget. Dan Fischer, school counselor at BHS, works daily with students in regard to academic planning, both on a post-secondary education level, and in relation to planning for life after high school. “I think, in general, students are aware there are options out there,” Fischer said. “We deal with both students bound for postsecondary education and workforce bound students. Opportunities that are provided through proper funding.” Fischer said the Brainerd School District begins introducing career exploration as early as the eighth grade. The Explore Test is administered to

middle school students, encouraging them to begin thinking about their future; allowing them to explore career options, and also serve as preparation to the ACT test. The following year, the momentum continues, as freshman are now able to take those interests and put them into motion. “In ninth grade, students are introduced to an array of elective opportunities that allow them to explore career choices and open the doors to those same opportunities,” Fischer noted. In 10th grade, the PLAN Test is given to sophomores to help prepare them further for the ACT, as well as provide an interest inventory, identifying additional areas of potential occupational focus. Fischer said these types of “extra” opportunities, as many would deem them, would be eliminated had funding not been restored; and students would, ultimately, miss out on opportunities to give them a head start on planning for their future. “One reason students have these elective opportunities today, such as welding or woodworking options, is because of the funding from the referendum. Had it not passed, career exploration would have seriously been limited. These elective options are critical to help our students grow and learn.” In addition to career and postsecondary exploration offerings, Fischer said services and staffing are also paramount in providing students a quality education. “When the last referendum failed, it drastically changed the school dynamic. We reduced our number of staff and reduced our number of course offerings. With the


a if ay

by Jenny Holmes

u re Depends on the Levy Passage passing of the recent referendum, we can maintain the number of students in a classroom, paying closer attention on an individual basis. Quality staff create a great learning environment for our learners. It all plays such a big part in helping shape who they will be in the future.” For BHS junior Rosie Hunter, the referendum meant more about camaraderie and keeping the Warrior Spirit alive. Hunter has played Warrior tennis since the sixth grade,

BHS junior Rosie Hunter, a tennis player, worried that athletics might be cut without the passage of the levy.

including being part of the team that has advanced to state the last three seasons. Hunter said fees to participate in tennis are already high, not to mention what they would’ve been raised to had the referendum failed. Hunter said exorbitant participation fees limit who can afford to participate in extracurriculars, including her tennis team. “We’ve had a really strong team for the last three years,” Hunter said, “and advancing to state wouldn’t have been possible without the entire team.” While not old enough to cast a vote in the 2011 referendum, Hunter said she was well aware and informed of the issue, having both parents working as educators in the district. Believing in the importance of the referendum’s passage, Hunter did what she could to promote the “Vote Yes Yes” campaign by participating in a video, talking about the impact the dollars would have on her education and future. In addition to extracurricular activities, Hunter said she participates in College in the Schools courses, offerings where students receive both high school and college credit. While the course might not have been cut due to a failed referendum, Hunter said class sizes could have been an issue, as college-level math classes require more individualized attention.

“I have lots of friends in fine arts and band who were affected by the failure of the last referendum,” Hunter said. “Even with the passing of this one, there aren’t a lot of those arts that are back in the schools, including certain foreign language classes.” Hunter echoes the sentiment of many BHS students who recognized the importance of a referendum that was hard for many in the community to get behind. “I know, in Brainerd, lots of people are older and don’t have kids involved in the district. For me, all the sports and extracurriculars are part of the high school experience. High school is about more than just going to class and going home. It’s about developing interests — like playing tennis in college. If the referendum hadn’t passed, I may not have had that opportunity. These are things I can do for the rest of my life. It means a lot to me and others that this stuff is kept with us and the Warrior Spirit is something we take pride in as students.”

Jenny Holmes is a former reporter with the Brainerd Dispatch and currently owns a public relations and communication firms. She lives in Nisswa with husband, Tim and their two school-aged children.

We Are 181 • Spring 2012


Streamlining Enrollment for Parents


nrolling your child in a new school can be a daunting and exhausting experience, but a new Centralized Enrollment Center in District 181 now makes it as easy as “one-stop shopping.” In the past, a parent was expected to visit each new school that their children would attend to complete the enrollment process. With children from early childhood preschool and special needs to grade school, middle school and/or high school; parents filled out forms including transportation and food service, often duplicating their efforts. Each school would then place the information into the school data system so it could be forwarded to parents and district services, potentially causing delays of a week or more for needed services. This was a process daunting for parents as well as the staff responsible


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not only for coordinating services but collecting state-required data. To find a better system, staff researched other school districts, visiting Bemidji, Eden Prairie and St. Cloud, among others, to learn how the Brainerd School District could streamline its “Welcome/Enrollment” process. From this research the district staff created the Centralized Enrollment Center, at the Washington Educational Services Building (WESB), 804 Oak Street. The center will continue to be a paper process for parents, though forms are accessible on-line. Parents may simply walk in to enroll all their children at one location as there is no need for an appointment. Once the paperwork is completed, staff input the data into the district computer system. As in the past after enrollment, the parents with middle and/or high school students will have



a scheduled face-to-face meeting with the counselor to select elective classes and to register for required courses toward graduation. There are many benefits to a centralized enrollment center: eliminating duplication of forms, easing the information/time delays and making better use of the district staff and resources. As you can imagine, mid-July through September is a rush of activity to get all students enrolled and assigned to classrooms and appropriate services. To reach this goal the enrollment center will not need extra staff as the existing staff will be shifted to the enrollment center as demand dictates. The decision of school placement is determined by grade and address. For example, a school bus that picks up students in the Fort Ripley area would arrive in Brainerd then make

by Cynthia Bachman stops at the high school, Forestview Middle School and Riverside Elementary School. As all of the grade school children of that address attend Riverside. For bus transport, the student is issued a bus card that is to be with the child throughout the school year. There are 62 regular buses, as well as 12 contracted and 10 district special education buses that cover 720 square miles. The transportation department has up to 30 changes per week due to new students, address changes, etc. Families are allowed one pick-up and one drop-off location, home or daycare only, within their attendance boundary. Those are a few of the challenges of maintaining such a large group of

students. There are always transfer students and students moving within the district therefore there is a constant flow of information that needs to be communicated among parents, schools, and other districts. A centralized enrollment center will provide consistency and appropriate placement within the school district. Young children need kindergarten screenings for which parents must bring copies of birth certificates and immunization records. These facts/ forms are needed by the state of Minnesota and to provide a healthy atmosphere for classmates/community. Upon enrollment of their children, parents receive a packet of information including a calendar of the school year events, registration guides, how to access

The Brainerd district is making enrollment easier for parents and staff with a new Centralized Enrollment Center at Washington Educational Services Building.

the software of District 181 which provides parents with information such as, grades, attendance, disciple, test scores, fees and how to make deposits into the meal account. There will continue to be computers in the cafeteria, as the student’s meal system is accessed by their PIN number. The computerized ticket system is for the ease of students to access their meal. The centralized enrollment center at the Washington Educational Services Building will streamline the flow of information through District 181 and enrollment as easy as “one stop shopping” for parents. Cynthia Bachman lives in Pillager with her husband, Brian, and commutes to the University of Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis to work as registered nurse. She is a member of the writer’s group at the Brainerd senior center.

We Are 181 • Spring 2012



We Are 181 • Spring 2012

We Are 181 • Spring 2012




by Karen Ogdahl

Now a graduate, Carlie Thompson, Area Education Center student, took several tries to pass the GRAD test, but with teacher support finally achieved her goal.


ost of us have faced the anxiety of high-stakes testing. Maybe it was the quest for that coveted driver’s license or a high score on the college entrance exam. For Minnesota students, the Graduation Required Assessments for Diploma (GRAD) in reading, writing and math have a lot riding on them. Success on these tests can lead to a ticket to graduation. Brainerd students do well on the GRAD tests; the majority of them pass on their first attempts. But what happens to those who miss the bar? For some, just another few months of learning is enough, but for others, the school district offers a safety net in the form of coaching and remedial classes.


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Most students, after some concentrated work, can pass the tests on the second or third try. This improvement doesn’t happen by chance. It requires effort for teachers and students alike. No one knows this better than Carlie Thompson, a student at the Area Education Center (AEC). “I had trouble with the reading test,” Carlie said. “I knew it was going to be hard, and I tried to learn. I felt so bad for the teachers, too, because we were all working hard. I like to read – I read a lot – but when it came to the test, I just wasn’t very good. Sometimes I had seen the vocabulary words before, but I really didn’t know the meanings. I tried to read around the word and figure it out, maybe not the

exact meaning but the basic idea. After the third time, I just felt so stupid, but I didn’t give up.” Her teachers didn’t give up either, and Carlie is appreciative. “They gave me a lot of encouragement. Sometimes I get nervous, especially when I’m around a lot of other kids. The teachers took me into another room where I was more comfortable and helped me study. They took me through examples of what I might find on the test. Most of the time, they made it pretty clear. They’re good people. They don’t mind repeating something if I’ve forgotten it,” she said.

Case ques tests


Casey Miller, AEC math teacher, says teachers work on sample questions and practice test-taking strategies to help students take tests. All that effort paid off for Carlie on the fifth test. “ When I heard I passed that test, I was so excited! I think my teachers were just as happy as I was,”

she recalled. Carlie advises other students who have struggled to be proactive and not get discouraged, “Talk to your

teachers. They can help you learn what you need to know. It will be hard, but you have to keep working. Don’t give up!” Math teacher Casey Miller describes that remediation process, “The math test requires number sense, algebra, statistics and geometry. As teachers we have to figure out how to move students up two or three grade levels in a limited time. We focus on their previous tests, show them where their weaknesses are and tailor curriculum to

We Are 181 • Spring 2012


The majority of Brainerd students do well on the GRAD tests.

improve those areas. We also work on sample questions and practice tests and help kids learn test-taking strategies. Brainerd students are not falling through the cracks.” Statistics compiled by Area Education Center (AEC) teacher Casey Miller support Brainerd’s remediation success. When the 2010 graduating class took the reading test for the first time in 2008, 77 percent met the graduation standard. By the time they graduated, 93 percent met the standard. When the 2011 graduating class took the reading test for the first time in 2009, 84 percent met the standard. By the time they graduated, 96 percent passed. In math, the district reports similar results. When the 2010 graduating class took the math test for the first time in 2009, 58% met the graduation standard. By the time they graduated, 69 percent met the standard. When the 2011 graduating class took the math test in 2010, 67 percent met the standard, but by the time they graduated, 77 percent succeeded. Mary Tollas, AEC English teacher, echoes Miller’s opinion. She prepares students for the GRAD tests in reading and writing through the regular curriculum and with the use of a computer-learning program called PLATO.


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students who have taken those classes. Our district has one of the most rigorous remediation programs that “We work on the basic I’ve seen in the state. Even if students reading skills: main idea, have earned all the math credits they determining fact or opinion, need for graduation, if they haven’t author’s intent, cause and effect and passed the GRAD test, we require drawing conclusions. We also focus on them to take another full year of math vocabulary building and using prefixes, as part of their remediation.” Depending on their cognitive root words, suffixes and context clues to determine word meanings. Because abilities, the majority of students who many of the reading receive special education services take passages are non-fiction, we have the GRAD tests as well. “We are very students read more of that type of proud of that,” Rusk said. “We hold high standards for those students, too. writing,” Tollas said. Encouragement also plays a large It’s harder for some kids, but they are role. “When kids have to retest more so proud of achieving success on the than once, it’s easy to lose confidence. graduation tests.” Is all the testing necessary? Rusk We have to figure out ways to believes it is, “Sometimes people feel keep them positive,” Tollas said. “Sometimes they get so worried. We we are testing students too much, but try to make the testing environment as I would disagree. I think we are raising comfortable as possible. Some kids test the bar for all students. In the past, better when they’re in a room with we had some students who graduated people; others do better when they are without the necessary basic skills in in a quiet room alone. Sometimes kids reading, writing and math. It gave have trouble working at a computer education a black eye. It’s important for an hour, so we encourage those for kids to have the skills they need students to get up regularly during and for all of us – parents, teachers and the test and move around and then go students – to be held accountable.” Although these tests can be back to work. The tests are untimed, daunting for some students, the so students can work as long as they want. We encourage them to go back Brainerd schools are finding paths that lead to success. “Our kids are bright into the reading and reread.” Students at Brainerd High School and capable, and the tests demonstrate follow a similar path. Andrea Rusk, how much they’ve learned,” Rusk Brainerd High School principal, said, said. “We need to celebrate their “Most of our students do very well the accomplishments.” first time they take the GRAD tests, Karen Ogdahl is a retired but for those students who need help, teacher who spent 30 years helping we provide test preparation courses, Brainerd kids hone their reading and and we’ve had very good success with writing skills.

by Mary Aalgaard




in in Music Music M

any young musicians covet careers in the music industry, but don’t find opportunities. Kristen Doyscher Williams is the exception. Graduating in 1998 from Brainerd High School, Williams is the director of national promotion with Warner Music Nashville, currently working with Blake Shelton, Hunter Hayes, The Dirt Drifters and the JaneDear girls, to name a few. For up and coming artists, she is the liaison between the record label and the radio stations. In 2003, Williams began her career with Warner Music Nashville and worked her way up in the company to her current position. In February, she attended the Country Radio Seminar where people from the label

side mingle with radio program and music directors. The purpose of the seminar is to build relationships, hear new music, and bring new artists and ideas to light. “It’s fun, but exhausting,” Williams said. Her job takes her all over the country, promoting the artists, meeting radio programmers and on-air talent, setting up meet and greets at radio stations and back stage during concerts. A few of her clients are headliners, and others are the opening act. New artists need to be heard, their songs played, their names recognized, and their personalities brought to light. Kristen’s job is to make that happen. William’s world is certainly filled with glitz and glamour. People on the

From top to bottom: At a young age Kristen showed an interest in music, joining school choir and choral productions. Brainerd teachers praise Kristen’s leadership abilities during her school years as well as her musical ability. After graduating from BHS in 1998, Kristen transferred from the College of St. Benedict to Belmont University, in Nashville, TN, with music on her mind. We Are 181 • Spring 2012


Director of national promotion at Warner Music Nashville, Kristen Williams joined Blake Shelton (middle) and her husband Bo at the 2010 Country Music Awards. Shelton won the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year.

Kristen with Hunter Hayes during the 2012 Country Radio Seminar. outside look at her and think, “What an exciting life.” And, it is. She loves what she does and hopes to keep growing in the business. As a young girl in Brainerd, music was important in her life. She joined Windows choir for fourth through sixth grades and loved being part of choral productions. Diane Hauen, her choir director in eighth and ninth grade, was one of the most influential teachers in William’s life. Ms. Hauen helped her realize her full potential as a singer and draw out not only her talents, but her leadership skills as well. Ms. Hauen said that Williams was one of her best students. She always worked hard, was a good leader and didn’t bring all her teen drama to rehearsals. “She was just a stellar young lady,” says Ms. Hauen. “You hope that your students succeed and do what they want to do and Kristen is a fine example of that success.” Ms. Hauen lives by the motto: If you make music fun, it will be lifelong and in William’s case that is absolutely true. She also enjoyed choir and numerous small groups in high school under the 20

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direction of Michael Smith. After graduating from high school, Williams enrolled in the College of Saint Benedict with plans of going into education. However, she still felt pulled in the direction of music, but wasn’t sure how she was going to use it in her career. She transferred to Belmont University in Nashville, TN, which is known for its offerings for musicians and people interested in careers in the music industry. It didn’t take her long to realize that she was better suited for the business end of music. A person needs to be willing to be over-exposed as a celebrity and they need a good team behind them to help build their career. Williams wanted to be part of that team. She interned at a small record label called Dream Catcher where she worked with Kenny Rogers. Although it was exciting and inspiring to be at Belmont University and living in the capital of country music, Williams still wasn’t sure if that was the right place for her. She missed her family and Minnesota terribly and came back home for a while to get to

know her newly adopted brother and stay connected. She’s the oldest of six children and the first to attempt moving away, and that’s not an easy thing to do, especially when you have a loving and supportive family. So, she stayed in Minnesota and finished her education at the College of St. Benedict with a degree in accounting. After a year of working at an accounting firm in the Twin Cities, Williams was called back to Nashville, literally and figuratively, by someone who had been at Dream Catchers, but was now at Warner Music Nashville. She turned to her parents for guidance, and they encouraged her to follow her heart. They, and she, knew that what she was doing wasn’t the right fit. She needed to use her gifts and talents as a musician and a strong businesswoman and that job was in Nashville. So, she packed up her belongings, again, and headed to the land of rhinestone cowboys, coal miner’s daughters, and the songs that tell their stories. Williams’ next big event is attending the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas where she’ll

interact with the legends of country music and help to promote the up and coming artists. There is a tremendous amount of pressure in this career, too. How well she does her job directly affects the success of the artist she works to promote. And, at the end of the day, she’d still put family first and feels grateful for their overwhelming support. Williams married Bo Williams in 2005, a local Nashville boy who is owner-operator of his family’s concrete construction company. The two met while attending Belmont University. They have two children, a daughter who is 4 and a 2-year-old son. This is where her musical side comes to life. She enjoys sharing music with her kids, especially her daughter who has a wide variety of songs on her play list. They crank the tunes, sing along and dance. Music is the heartbeat of her home, life and church.

Life is busy, on the road and off. Kristen says she couldn’t do it without the love and support of her husband who is very willing and capable of caring for their children when she needs to be away. Warner Music Nashville is also a great place to work where the executives understand the needs of a working parent and that sometimes family comes first. As any working parent knows, balancing work and family is always a challenge. Kristen racks up the frequent flyer miles as she travels with artists to various cities around the country. When she’s not doing that, she and her family hop a flight to Minnesota for a trip back home. It is important to her that her kids have a relationship with their Minnesota grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives. The best advice Kristen has for anyone considering their future is to look inside to where your passions lie.

What you end up doing for a career might not be exactly what you set out to do. You might experience a few twists and turns along the way, but the right path for you will come to light as you pursue your dreams. Don’t be afraid to take risks or be the first one to move away from home. In the end, what matters is faith, family and following your heart. Mary Aalgaard is a freelance writer in the Brainerd lakes area. She also writes an inspirational blog, www.maryaalgaard.blogspot. com, “Play off the Page,” and entertainment reviews on her blog and on the website for the Brainerd Dispatch. Mary is also a playwright working with both children and adults. Her first original full-length play, “Coffee Shop Confessions,” was performed, locally, this spring. Mary lives in the Brainerd lakes area with her four sons and cat named Leo.

We Are 181 • Spring 2012


by Judy Kuusisto


arning t Make the o

Pros & Cons Argument I of an

f a debate is not an argument, then why do members of a debate team prepare arguments for debates? The answers to these questions (and many more) can be found by speaking with members of the Forestview Middle School Debate Team and their coaches. Not only will one learn a lot about how a debate team operates and how students prepare for competitions; one’s questions will be answered thoughtfully, precisely and enthusiastically. Debate begins with the school year. Students may participate from middle school through senior high. Dave Pritschet, who coaches the team along with Dave Borash, stresses that while it is open to all students who have an interest, there is a great deal of hard work involved in preparing for a successful debate. Participants in debate learn far more than they might expect from an after-school activity. Students learn skills that improve their academics and provide opportunities for critical


We Are 181 • Spring 2012

thinking. Debate topics are chosen by the National Forensic League (NFL). According to the league’s website, since its founding in 1926, the NFL has grown in membership to 1.3 million members in all 50 states, U. S. possessions and several foreign countries. There are currently over 112,000 high school enrollees who participate in competitions on the local, state and national level. Brainerd has competed in state tournaments for the past 12 years. In the past four years, more than eight team members have gone on to national competition. According to recruitment literature sent to parents of prospective debaters, “Debate utilizes students’ skills to their utmost. To argue requires students to research issues, organize and analyze data, synthesize different kinds of data,

evaluate the conclusion drawn from the data, understand how to reason the conclusions, recognize and critique different methods of reasoning, and comprehend the logic of decision making. “It is the whole nine yards,” Pritschet said. Three members of the seventh grade team agree wholeheartedly with these statements. Kyle Hensel, Patrick Meyer and Daniel Stokes explained how debate has helped them this year. They all emphasize that a sense of discipline and the ability to organize both time and thought processes are vital. Students work with partners and also on their own as they prepare cases. All three of the students said that careful research, through unimpeachable sources is one of the

things a good debater must be able to do. There are all too many places on the Internet to find information in which one’s opponents can poke holes at a contest. “You try to have a credible source,” Hensel said. All of the

students said they enjoy the teamwork as well as individual preparation. Stokes said he enjoyed the “time we spend writing cases, forming rebuttals and joking around.” Improvement in writing essays was mentioned as one of the best things each of the Members of the Forestview Middle students had gained. School Debate Team learn both acaDebate involves public demic and critical thinking skills in this speaking, something even the after-school activity. most extroverted may prefer to avoid. In competition, the team members must learn to make their cases in front of another team and a judge. Debaters learn to speak confidently and clearly with good eye contact. Making one’s point quickly is important, according to the students. Debate encourages “thinking on the fly, trying to counteract opponent’s contentions that you have never heard before,” Meyer said

The emphasis on knowing exactly what words mean is another learning experience cited by both Hensel and Stokes. “If we don’t understand what we are talking about then we can’t argue a case,” Stokes states emphatically. Tournaments are formal events where good manners and proper dress are important. Although the topics are purposely complicated, the team members are expected to remain neutral even if they see the merit of one side over the other and make both pro and con arguments. Debate tournaments are not a place where hot tempers or excess emotion is tolerated. “Everyone wants to win,” Stokes said, “but, in the end it’s a friendly thing, you know.” When asked if they want to be on the debate team next year, all three students said yes! Judy Kuusisto is an artist, illustrator and writer.

We Are 181 • Spring 2012


by Jodie Tweed

ENGINEERS Today’s Middle Schoolers are Tomorrow’s


sk Rachel Cleveland about the preengineering courses she’s taken the last two years and her face lights up. Cleveland has known for a long time that she wants to be an engineer someday. She hopes to work in alternative energies. She says her courses have given her more confidence and made her realize she has strong leadership and project management skills. But preengineering can be tough even for a student who excels academically like Cleveland. It’s hard to believe, but Cleveland is an eighth-grader at Forestview Middle School. She’s already using computeraided design software that engineering professionals use on a daily basis. So are all of her classmates. They may not all become engineers but the lessons learned in their required preengineering courses will help make them highly employable in whatever field they may choose. “Some days I go home and think, ‘Why do I like this,’” Cleveland recalled, laughing at the frustration 24

We Are 181 • Spring 2012

she’s felt when working on complex design projects. “But I think my way through it.” She’ll be an engineer — the world needs more engineers like her — but she has to finish middle school first. For the past six years, Brainerd public schools’ middle school program has partnered with Project Lead the Way (PLTW), an intensive, hands-on educational program grounded in the core areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Middle school students are learning valuable problem-solving skills, critical thinking, creative and innovative reasoning and, the hope is, a love of learning. Deb Lechner, director of teaching and learning for Brainerd Public Schools, wrote and received a $65,000 Kern Foundation grant for the program, a partnership with Central Lakes College. The pre-engineering

courses are required in the middle school while those offered at the high school are electives. High school students may earn college credit as early as in ninth grade if they choose to take “Introduction to Engineering Design.” At Forestview, all fifth-graders participate in a robotics unit as part of the science curriculum. When they reach seventh grade, they dig deeper into the PLTW Gateway to Technology program with a 12-week design and modeling course offered by Forestview technology teacher Cory Olson. In eighth-grade, students build on their engineering experience by taking two 12-week engineering courses from technology teachers Joe Pohlkamp and Grant Haglin, which cover all phases of engineering and engineering principles in a rigorous,


hands-on way. “My main job is to get them pumped up about going into Joe’s and Grant’s classes,” said Olson. “Then they get excited about taking (pre-engineering) classes at the high school.” Olson said that some of the curriculum, such as building rockets, has been part of the science curriculum for middle school students for many years. However, the difference is that PLTW curriculum is more rigorous and focuses on scientific and mathematical concepts. “These courses give to them somewhat of a break out of their core classes, where they can take their creative side and use their math and science skills and build something of their own,” Olson explained. Students initially learn mechanical drawing by hand. Then they are introduced to computer-aided design software, which they use to illustrate their inventions. This is the same computer software used by engineers at companies like Lockheed Martin, Intel and Sprint, according to Project Lead The Way. One of the popular projects in Pohlkamp’s eighth-grade class involves each student studying, designing and building a wooden race car, powered by CO2 cartridges. Then they race each other. Not only are students competitive, but they grow deeply invested in the project. Often students stop in before and after school to ask questions and work on their cars. “The neat thing about our class is that kids come in and say, ‘Can we get to work?’” Pohlkamp said with a smile. “You’re letting kids use their imagination. You’re letting them use their skills.” “The kids are really actively learning with this curriculum,” explained Haglin. “The most rewarding thing is watching kids digest the information and then problem solve on their own.” Haglin teaches an automation and robotics unit where students get hands-on learning with gears, robotics and simple motors. Olson said middle school is the perfect time to introduce students to this type of curriculum. The key is making it fun and interesting. One of his projects requires students to build an automated launch ball machine using specific materials, including, but not limited to, a mousetrap, a small vehicle with wheels and axles, gears, levers, pulleys, rubber bands, string and a ping pong ball. The students are asked to design a “transportation system” that is mechanically powered. It is required to travel on its own eight lineal feet and launch the pingpong ball over a “wall.” After this, their vehicles must reverse a minimum of one foot to complete the three-step automated challenge. “They come up with unbelievably great ideas and I think, ‘How did they think of that?’ ” said Olson. “If there was a way to have seventh- and eighth-grade kids to design the next revolutionary Forestview Technology teacher, Cory Olson, works with Project Lead the Way, an intensive hands-on program incorporating science, technology, engineering and math concepts. One of the popular projects for eighth graders includes designing and building a wooden race car powered by CO2 cartridges. We Are 181 • Spring 2012


product, they probably could do it. They don’t have the restraints that adults do. They are able to think outside the box and use their imaginations to solve rather complex problems and most importantly, they are not afraid to be creative.” The instructor training was rigorous. All three middle school technology teachers, as well as those trained at the high school, spent two consecutive weeks attending morning until night courses learning the curriculum in order to be certified to teach it to their students. They had to complete the same projects they are assigning to their students. Instructors also attend annual conferences to stay updated on trends and technology. “Our goal is to expose them to the field of engineering through handson learning,” said Pohlkamp. “The cognitive abilities they get from this class are transferable to any field,” added Haglin. Next year the middle school technology teachers plan to incorporate another unit on energy and the environment into their coursework. Ryan Frank, a Forestview eighth-grader, said he enjoys designing projects on CAD software and hopes to one day become an engineer. One of his favorite projects was building the automated launch ball machine in Olson’s class last year. “I’ve learned I’m good at problem solving,” Frank said, as a result of taking PLTW classes. “It’s fun. It’s challenging in a good way.” Olson reminds his students that the best engineers and inventors are failures. They keep working through the problems, offering up solutions when they hit roadblocks, until they are successful. Students have developed such an interest in science and technology that the middle school now has an after school engineering club. Olson and Jim Reed, Forestview seventh-grade multimedia teacher, serve as advisers for the club, called the High Altitude Balloon Club. “We are catching kids who wouldn’t have considered engineering,” said Pohlkamp. Lechner said the PLTW curriculum strongly supports national science and math standards. The curriculum is updated every three years, so students and their teachers are kept up to date with trends in the engineering industry. This not only prepares Brainerd students for whatever post-secondary schooling they may chose after BHS, but it allows them to compete in the high-tech, high-skill global economy. Another aspect of the PLTW program, popular with students, is designing an automated launch ball machine on CAD software.


We Are 181 • Spring 2012

Jodie Tweed is a freelance writer who lives in Pequot Lakes with her husband and three daughters. A Brainerd Dispatch staff writer for nearly 15 years, she recently left news reporting for her toughest assignment yet: being a stay-at-home mom to her girls.

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We Are 181 - Spring 2012  

• FRED - Read about FRED, not a person but a program that jumpstarts the reading habits of young children. • When Your Future Depends on the...

We Are 181 - Spring 2012  

• FRED - Read about FRED, not a person but a program that jumpstarts the reading habits of young children. • When Your Future Depends on the...