On May 4th, during National Charter School Week, the Minnesota Association of Charter schools (MACS) honored four Minnesota charter schools at the 2nd Annual Minnesota Charter School Innovation Awards program. The schools were chosen for their innovative practices in one of the following categories:
- Increased learning opportunities for all pupils
- Different and innovative teaching methods
- Different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes
- New forms of accountability for schools
The categories come from the purposes of chartering that are described in state statute (124E.01). There was another award category, New professional opportunities for teachers, but no charter schools applied for it this round.
Increase learning Opportunities for All Pupils
The Natural Science Academy (NSA), a K-5 charter school in St. Paul Park, was recognized for their innovative curriculum, which focuses on giving students an early start to science literacy. A few features of NSA’s science program include:
- Daily science instruction begins in kindergarten, with science and nature concepts interwoven throughout the curriculum.
- Inquiry-based science learning driven by the belief that children build science literacy by exploring, raising questions, and actively constructing knowledge.
- Emphasis on hands-on/minds-on “learning by doing”. Students gain science process skills and content knowledge as they progress through the grade levels.
Laura Ferguson and Kendra Hunding, lead teachers at NSA, accepted the award on behalf of the school, indicating that “The future of our nation depends on a scientifically literate population.”
Different and Innovative Teaching Methods
Northwest Passage High School (NWPHS), located in Coon Rapids, won for their innovative teaching methods that get their students outdoors, into nature, and into the community. According to Peter Wieczorek, the school’s director, “One of the things we have really been dedicated to is getting our students outside of the four walls of the classroom.” Some of the innovative things NWPHS does for their students are:
- Expeditions: NWPHS students are required to complete four expeditions before graduation. A few examples of student expeditions are trips to Canyon Lands National Park, Grand Isle in Louisiana, Washington DC, and Guatemala.
- M-Term: Students participate in two-week “M-term” activities which include, but are not limited to, Media team, Roller Coaster Physics, Art Tour, and Wilderness Backpacking Trip.
- 3 Rivers Parks District Partnership: NWPHS’ partnership with 3 Rivers Parks District and Eastman Nature Center allows students to conduct scientific research on several different species.
Wiecnorzek explained that their program is unique because, for many schools, they “get so focused on standards and testing that we forget about all of the other opportunities that students have to learn.” Wiecnorzek went on to explain that, through their innovative teaching methods, they have worked hard to give students something to look forward to and keep them in school. The teachers’ goal is for students develop a better sense of their own self worth and how they learn.
Different and Innovative Forms of Measuring Outcomes
Yinghua Academy, a K-8 charter school in Northeast Minneapolis, was recognized for their innovative measurement of outcomes through their annual Academic Performances program, which was developed in 2007 by their Academic Director, Dr. Luyi Lien. During these classroom-based events, which take place in the spring of each year, students show and share what they have learned through performances that integrate Chinese, math, science, and social studies topics.
New Forms of Accountability for Schools
The Minnesota Online High School (MNOHS), a 9-12 teacher-powered charter school, won for the innovative way in which they intensively collaborate to understand individual student needs. Kim Breeden, a MNOHS mathematics teacher, described how the teachers have invested a lot of time in creating a low student to teacher and student to counselor ratio, as well as how the school has worked really hard to integrate data into their student’s weekly profile so they can be a high-tech, high-touch school. Breeden has explained that they have done this because they have found that “there is no substitute for the professional judgement of a teacher who knows their students.”
The third Innovation Award applications will be available on the MACS website on on November 1, 2017, with the winners announced in January 2018.
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