Nutrition Program Update - January 2019

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Changes have arrived in our school nutrition program! We have hired a new school chef and a new school nutritionist! Leah Korger (Chef) and Jenny Breen (Nutritionist) . Leah and Jenny each bring years of experience in local food and affordable, healthy ingredients to a revamped menu and food offering starting in February. Our commercial kitchen was finally completed in December and Donna Goodlaxson has been teaching our lower adolescent occupations students in the space - cooking and studying food systems.

So, you may be asking: When does the homemade hot lunch start!?

The wait is getting shorter and shorter until we’re producing delicious, sustainable meals inside our very own, newly licensed commercial kitchen! We’ve been excited to see community members utilizing our coffeeshop space more and more - please stop in for a student-made granola bar and warm beverage soon!

Chef Leah tells us, “We plan to be producing cold sandwiches and other ‘grab-n-go’ food items by the first week of February, moving onto hot lunch and salad bar offerings by February 18th.”

Planned menu items include:
-Taco Tuesday featuring local hot sauces and Minneapolis-made La Perla corn tortillas
-Curries and dals with whole grains
-Herb-roasted chicken and buttermilk mashed potatoes (made with affordably sourced organic potatoes)

…and more! Leah and Jenny tell us “As we settle in and develop efficient systems we will be increasing the variety of options and increasing organic/local purchasing. We’re excited to hear what feedback the school community has once we begin and will be using it to guide the program moving forward!” Jenny Breen will be taking the lead on wellness group meetings and planning family events to welcome us all into the school to eat together and experience good, whole cooking for every family.

Our previous team of Mary Hunn and Renee Havelka have moved on to other employment and we wish them well. Pleas join us in welcoming Leah & Jenny and the wide breadth of experience they both bring. Read their bios below and say hello the next time you’re in the building!

Biographies for Leah and Jenny:


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Leah Korger (pronouns: they/them)
School Chef

Growing up, I was never a stranger to healthy food or how it grew. My grandparents owned a potato farm in Wisconsin and my parents cultivated towering blueberry bushes in our backyard. My interest in food and agriculture grew when I focused on a Human Biology - Nutrition degree from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. After college I have completed apprenticeships on organic farms, served a year connecting kids to healthy food with the FoodCorps, and most recently was managing the commissary kitchen for the Wedge and Linden Hills Coops. I am excited to bring some scratch cooking to a school setting and connect the school community to local farms!

Jenny Breen (pronouns: she/her)
School Nutritionist

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Jenny Breen has been a professional chef and advocate for local food and healthy food systems since the mid 1980’s. She has been working in the field of education for over 25 years, and received a Master’s of Education and visual arts in 1993. After years of working in the food industry in Minneapolis,  she opened and co-ran a farm to table restaurant from 1996-2001, and a local foods catering company until 2009, when she received a Bush Leadership Fellowship to pursue an MPH in Nutrition at the U of Mn. Her vision is to build networks within health and food systems for greater access to food, support for sustainable farming, and to promote cooking as a health and community building strategy. She has worked in and collaborated with numerous food and farming non-profits, and now contracts as a culinary nutrition public health educator with local health departments, school districts, non-profit food and farming organizations and health care institutions as a partner with The Good Acre agricultural food hub. Jenny’s work makes food and cooking relevant to the bigger picture of health for people, communities and the planet. She shares a love of food, learning and well being, and brings a dynamic combination of skills, leadership, passion and experience to her work.

J-Term 2019 Preparation

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Hello Great River Families, 

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Our J-Term performances are quickly approaching! This year the 7th and 8th graders are working very hard to present to you three very different shows. They are:

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  • Deleted Scenes from Fairy Tales by: Briandaniel Oglesby

  Characters with attitude star in a series of fairy tales with modern adaptions.

  • Shuddersome: Tales of Poe by: Lindsay Price

  This dark and haunting show brings to life three works of Edgar Allen Poe  

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  • The One Word Odyssey by: Dwayne Yancey

  This is an abridged version of the Odyssey of Homer, but every line is only one word long. (Chaos ensues.)

Each of the three shows will be performed on two different nights, and it will be possible to buy tickets either for a full night or for only one of the two shows on a given night.

Performances are: 

  • Deleted Scenes and Shuddersome, Thursday, January 31 (evening), 

  • Shuddersome and Odyssey, Friday, February 1 (evening),

  • Deleted Scenes and Odyssey, Saturday, February 2 (matinee),

and will be held in Great River's new Performance Space!

Adult, Full Night: $15 
Student, Full Night: $10
Adult, Individual Show: $8
Student, Individual Show: $6

If buying tickets is a financial hardship for you, please let Holly Bell know at hbell@greatriverschool.org so that we can make sure you can attend.  We would appreciate hearing from you by noon on Thursday, January 18th. 

Children in laps do not need to buy tickets. Student prices include those 18 and under who do not attend Great River.

Thank you so much for your support!

Phoebe Kirchner 
Front of House Manager

Lower Elementary Library Adventures

written by Rachel Cupps, Minnehaha Creek Guide

Great River lower elementary students are able to have off campus days. We use these as an opportunity to extend our classroom environments. One of the wonderful places we have been able to go is the Hamline Midway Library.

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The Saint Paul Public Library has wonderful programing that inspires a new love of books and reading. Minnehaha Creek has “rocked the library scavenger hunt”, heard new and silly stories, and found books to spark research as well as imagination.

Our library trips are also a time to encourage responsibility and independence. The local librarian worked to get each child their very own library card. With their own library card students learn the importance of caring for a borrowed material and returning it on time. Students also feel trustworthy checking out books in their own name. Being a library patron establishes the child as a member of a larger community of both the city and readers.  

Students also find joy in being able to choose books that interest them.  Children are able to find a wider variety of fiction and nonfiction texts at their level. This can spark or renew interest in topics. Library time is an active discovery for lower elementary students.




The intensive, exhausting and exciting process of the IB Extended Essay

From investigating Nigerian feminist fashion to American waste reduction, from the Mexican Revolution and peasant land-reform movements to nihilistic film, Great River senior IB Diploma candidates are curious people! 

IB Diploma candidates from the Class of 2019 finally completed their IB Extended Essays (4,000-word argumentative research essay on a topic of their choice with the support of a GRS mentor) on December 21, delivering the final essays to their mentors on a silver platter. 

Earlier in the autumn, faculty mentors and senior IB Diploma candidates shared tea and cookies as they talked through feedback on drafts of the essays. Alumni regularly report to us that the Extended Essay process prepared them for college writing. As a graduate from last year wrote, "The extended essay is the most valuable skill you will have going into college. I have already written similar style essays and knowing how to approach the writing process has been very helpful."

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On January 9 IB Diploma candidates from the classes of 2019 and 2020 gathered to celebrate and share wisdom about the extended essay at the 75/25 party. (Senior IB Diploma candidates are 75% finished with their pursuit of the IB Diploma, while juniors are 25% completed.)

Read the draft questions from this year's seniors' Extended Essays:

  • ISIS and social media: how terrorists use the internet to their advantage — To what extent does social media help groups with little influence to increase both their hard and soft power? 

  • How effective is humanitarian intervention? 

  • To what extent is there a correlation between agrarian revolution and capitalist modernization in 20th century Mexico? 

  • How can Americans reduce their annual waste output? 

  • To what extent has nihilistic film and television affected the film industry? 

  • How does the depiction of the 'other' in narrative military propaganda film function as validation for both the motivation of the main character as well as the films central ideology? 

  • What role do economic philanthropists play in the feminist fashion movement in Nigeria? 

  • How and in what ways do underground subcultures of music influence mainstream music and music culture?

Algebraic Squaring of a Trinomial

written by Adara Coates and Stella Hudson of Otter Tail River

Greetings from Otter Tail! We would like to share some math we have been doing this winter!

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This is called Algebraic Squaring of a Trinomial. Algebraic notation is when we use a letter to take the place of a number, squaring is when we multiply something by itself. In this case we picked a word to square, we chose GRS, and assigned a value to each of the letters. Then we connected lines to construct a square that represents the values in the equation. We color-coded the squares and rectangles with like values. Using the square as a guide we wrote the equation for an algebraic trinomial. If you would like, you might choose to calculate the total value of the square.

In the future we would like to square the word ‘Montessori’ which would be an algebraic decanomial! It is fun to do this work because we can square any word we would like!

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UA Students attend the Global Minnesota's Great Decisions Conferences

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IB Global Politics students represented Great River School at Global Minnesota's Great Decisions Conference focused on Media and Foreign Policy at Minneapolis Central Library on November 9. We heard lectures by Foreign Service diplomat Tom Hanson, who spoke about foreign policy in an era of Twitter Diplomacy, and professor Susan Moeller, who spoke about media literacy and discussed how statements made by US politicians influence how states use violence in other countries

We also heard from a panel of journalists who discussed press freedom in their home countries of Hong Kong, Ecuador and Venezuela, New Zealand, Nigeria and Albania. One interesting point from the Albanian journalist was that there are 900 portals of media information in Albania yet only 100 of those outlets are controlled by trained journalists. So the three million people of Albania are highly vulnerable to misinformation or false claims since much national information is not vetted by journalistic integrity. Finally, we heard from Mary Stucky, founder of Round Earth Media, which connects foreign and local reporters to gather and share the stories of the "quiet, untidy corners of the world." 

Some of our favorite quotes from the conference:

• John Stuart Mill's warning about the "deep slumber of a decided opinion" (1859)

• "When foreign offices were ruled by autocracies or oligarchies, the danger of war was in sinister purpose. When foreign affairs are ruled by democracies, the danger of war will be in mistaken beliefs. The world will be gainer by the change, for, while there is no human way to prevent a kin from having a bad heart, there is a human way to prevent a people from having an erroneous opinion." - Elihu Root, US Secretary of State (1922)

• "In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world, the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true." - Hannah Arendt The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)

• "We live in a world erected through the stories we tell." - George Gerbner (1998)

• "As tempting as it is for Americans to focus attention inward as American democracy feels like it is imploding, it is vital to remember that the United States is still a power that reaches into lives, and sometimes deals death, around the world. If Chinua Achebe’s famously wise words were right, if evil really does thrive best in 'quiet, untidy corners,' then foreign correspondents must persevere there." - Christina Goldbaum, NYT (2018)

Perspectives on Global Stories and Media Literacy:

Global Voices: Global Voices is an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. Together, they leverage the power of the internet to build understanding across borders. 

World Press Freedom Index 2018: The US just dropped from 43rd to 45th in this press freedom ranking in 2018. Read why.

Blue Feed, Red Feed: Facebook’s role in providing Americans with political news has never been stronger—or more controversial. Scholars worry that the social network can create “echo chambers,” where users see posts only from like-minded friends and media sources. To demonstrate how reality may differ for different Facebook users, The Wall Street Journal created two feeds, one “blue” and the other “red.” If a source appears in the red feed, a majority of the articles shared from the source were classified as “very conservatively aligned” in a large 2015 Facebook study. For the blue feed, a majority of each source’s articles aligned “very liberal.”

GSA Goes to Q-Quest!

written by GSA leadership collective (Stephanie Ballen, Ella Tomlinson, Avery Malenfant)

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The GRS Gender & Sexuality Alliance attended Q-Quest on November 14th, 2018. There we watched dance performances, a comedy routine, and an open mic performance. We were able to attend entertaining workshops with topics including queer puppetry, identities, “How to Survive the Holidays”, and creating supportive relationships. The performances (especially the dancing) were engaging and fun.

As always, Q-Quest strives to create an open and welcoming community for LGBTQ+ and allied students, and gives students the resources to create these spaces at their own schools.

What is GSA?
GSA is Great River School’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance. It is a space for LGBTQ+ and allied students to talk about LGBTQ+ related issues and learn about each other.


Heron's Nest Cafe Update!

The Heron’s Nest cafe will have student-made baked goods in December. On December 20th, from 6:00 - 7:30, the Lower Adolescent Cafe Occupation will sell food and drinks at the Occupation Theatre night event. Parents, students, and any other visitors can stop in the Heron’s Nest cafe for treats and hot beverages. Occupation Night is similar to Odyssey Night, but the focus is on occupations. Students will be sharing info about the occupations they’re in and what they’re doing in them.

Watch for other additions coming soon. In particular, we will be adding Hot Chocolate for the winter season, and maybe some other types of drinks as well!

The cafe construction is coming along well. The walls have been painted, along with sinks and stoves, and other kitchen essentials have been installed. Although we do not know for sure when it will be producing hot lunch, we are thinking possibly after winter break. Stay tuned!


Swan River Students Value Creativity and Literature

written by Emma Williams and Sofie Scholte 

Most would think that a favorite time of day for any fourth-grader would be recess or maybe lunch.   However, in the Swan River classroom, Reading is the top choice closely followed by Art.  

Each day after lunch, students settle into a comfortable reading spot and enjoy their chosen literature book.  Some students are reading Bone by Jeff Smith, Maximum Ride by James Patterson, Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi, and A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett.  Others are reading Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan and one student is reading Brianna DuMont’s, Weird But True Know-It-All: U.S. Presidents .    

Teo Rysavy enjoys his independent reading time each day and says, “It’s fun to read!”  Zoey McGee says, “It feels peaceful and quiet during reading time.”

After students read a book of their choosing, the class comes together to listen to a book they have selected as an all class read-aloud.   Currently the class is reading Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen.  This is a book about a boy and his raven.  They are able to paravolate (merge with one another) and they go on an adventure to rescue his father.  On their journey they share riddles to test that they are not encountering a Valraven!  One of our favorite riddles from the novel states:  What lies at the end of forever?   Answer:  r

So what role does creativity play in our community?  Each week we practice a writing work we call Love of Words.  Many of these assignments integrate Creative Writing and Art.    One of our favorite writing assignments this year brought these two things together in a beautiful way.   The activity was entitled a ‘one-pager’ and the task was to create a piece of art piece that describes a story.  The work that we created was so incredible.   According to Josie, “The one-pager is fun to do, and challenging.”  

Below is an example of one of many amazing final works that the class felt was an exceptional example (artwork design by Onya Vandarci).

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Supporting New Readers -- Do’s, Don’ts & Activities

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Reading is an incredibly complex cognitive task and it may be difficult to relate to your child’s challenges.  Consider something you have recently learned. A couple of years ago, I started to incorporate meditation into my morning routine.  I began by practicing weekly with an experienced teacher, made myself accountable to another student and was very motivated. Two years later, I’m proud to report that I’m now able to sit still with a relatively empty mind for approximately ten minutes most mornings.  Here are some tips to promote joy in your journey!

DO make reading with your child a time for closeness & connection.

DO show that you, as an adult, enjoy reading.

DO practice patience as your child builds stamina in small increments.

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DO include your child in library trips and encourage them to check out books of their choice.

DO trust that your child will become a reader over time.

DO connect reading to your child’s interests -- cookbooks, Pokemon, directions for science experiments, board games, comic books and anything else that has words.

DO sing together (Bonus -- sheet music divides long words into syllables!)

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DO sight word searches in books you are reading together.  

DO practice reading from books with predictable and familiar words.

DO focus on meaning rather than expecting 100% accuracy when your child is reading.  

DO take turns reading with your child - decide with your reader how often to switch.  In some classrooms, we call this time “Partner Reading,” a term coined by Gail Boushey.  You can learn more about this practice at https://www.thedailycafe.com/daily-5/read-someone

DON’T make reading a chore.

DON’T worry if your child isn’t reading fluently yet (like the neighbor’s kid or their cousin).

DON’T require your child to practice reading in the evening when they’re tired.

Writing is the Road to Reading

Label the Environment -- Give your child small slips of paper and tape and together write labels for objects   You help by providing correct spelling. Your child may be very excited to do the writing as this is something that is often done in primary classes.  Label items such as snacks, dirty clothes, library books, socks, shirts, PJs, wash clothes, towels, blocks, games, forks, spoons, etc... This also helps children be more independent at home and supports the organization of their belongings.

A variation on this can be found on this blog:
https://www.mariamontessori.com/2015/11/23/when-reading-is-magic/


Writing Shopping Lists and Lunch Menus -- Your child can copy words from their favorite food packages to ensure the “right” kind of cereal or other items are purchased.  Of course, parents still have veto power!



Heron's Nest Coffeeshop Update

written by Donna Goodlaxon, Coffeeshop Coordinator

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Heron’s Nest Phase I is underway. The Cafe Occupation, a class of 7th and 8th graders, hosted a successful cafe experience at Odyssey Night. They took in over $300 selling home baked cookies, hot chocolate and coffee. This covered the purchase of our used brewer and airpots!

Each day there are two types of coffees available for staff, visitors and our older students. In addition, the class is developing recipes and pricing that will be part of the next cafe phase. Speaking of the next cafe phase - the cafe will move into its permanent space upon completion of the commercial kitchen. Keep fingers crossed that this will happen soon.

The next phase will enable students to be making baked goods and additional beverages to add to the menu. Along with the next phase is the next Wish List. We’ll need a number of items to fully outfit the cafe. The biggest is an espresso machine. Also on the list are mugs, an ice machine, commercial blenders and more customers. Let us know about any connections that might help us get set up.

Watch for updates and plan to come and enjoy the new space and new treats!



Gender & Sexuality Alliance News

Great River’s Gender & Sexuality (GSA) has been busy!

On October 25th, student leaders organized a walk out, protesting the Trump administration’s proposed redefining of gender identity based only on biological sex. Students from GSA took turns speaking and leading their peers in chants. 70+ students chose to walkout, some holding signs, and peacefully gather on the north side of Energy Park Drive.

See below for student organizer Chandler Peters-DuRose’s reflection:

I am Chandler, a ninth grader here at GRS, and one of the leaders of the most recent protest. With the help of Astrid, administration, a few staff members, and a whole lot of support, a protest was organized to protect the trans community. Even though I wrote a speech and helped organize, I have to give a lot of credit to Astrid who made posters, buttons, flags, and really got the word out. To be completely honest, I didn't think this would go as well as it did - maybe 10 people would show up, not even. But in the end we got around 70 students in all grades.  As a trans person who came from a school where trans jokes were made, this was really a large change. People who I didn't even know showed up and that’s a great feeling to see that many people care. After the protest was over I thought “whatever, it is done kids will move on and forget the whole thing happened.” Instead the exact opposite happened: kids came up to me in the hallway and complimented me on my speech. One kid even asked me how to get involved. It's hard not feeling like you belong and it's important that people find their voice and their passion. It is hard to constantly demand that you belong in a space that is meant for everyone. It gets exhausting. I don't really know why it is such a big deal because I am just doing what is right. Isn't that what people are supposed to do? Fight for and with the people who have not found their voice? I believe that everyone has a voice and that it is just a matter of finding it. Everyone is capable of public speaking, but for some people it comes naturally. For others it takes time. This is not about creating different genders. Rather, it is about embracing your identity. Everyone is allowed to identify as they wish and it is important to realize that identity is self-declared and to say a specific community “is not real” or “should be erased” is saying a group of people and their history is invalid and they are not human. By getting rid of basic rights it leaves communities powerless and less human intentionally or unintentionally.

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On October 28th, a group of GSA students went to Monster Drag Brunch!

LUSH, a queer club located in Northeast Minneapolis, hosts a monthly themed all-ages drag brunch and has given generous scholarships for GRS students to attend. GSA members had the opportunity to see the show and meet the drag performers afterwards. Students prepped for this event by learning about the history and etiquette of drag shows in weekly GSA meetings. We’re looking forward to welcoming show director Victoria Deville to one of our meetings soon!

written by GSA leadership collective Ella Tomlinson, Avery Malenfant, and Stephanie Ballen

BIPOC Student Programming

Great River School faculty of color organized and hosted BIPOC-specific (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) programming for students of the global majority the afternoon of October 26th.

written by Jackie Le, class of 2024

The PoC or the People Of Color event last week was a celebration for all the kids in GRS from 12th graders all the way to the elementary. First we had an introductory meeting explaining our schedule for the day and what was going to happen and when it was going to happen. Then we adolescent students went to pick up the elementary kids, and introduced ourselves in our chosen groups, explaining what was our name, pronouns, our race/ethnicity, as well as a few of our favorite things. Soon after that we played games in the recess space and met each other. Overall it was a great experience, and there will be another POC meeting/event on topics and thinking together each month for adolescents who identify as people of color.

6th Grade Bridge - Classroom Pets

written by Rena Curtis and Thea Satre-Pratt, 6th Grade Bridge

Having animals present in a class room encourages skills like responsibility and care for living beings. As a whole school, Great River is a home for many animals. Our part as a class for caring for animals includes; feeding and caring for goats, chickens, class pets Wendell and Paulo (our bunnies) and Dart our Leopard Gecko.

Lucy, Rue, and Oz (our goats) require food, water, shelter and exercise. Some ways we meet our goats needs are saving food scraps, investing in shelter, and redesigning wooden planks for agility. Parents and students are asked to bring in food scraps such as, bread, corn products, fruit, lettuce, chard, carrot tops, dried fruit and vegetables. The goats dietary resrictions are meat, rhubarb, diary, avocado, tomato, potato, eggplant, and oak leaves. If you do not find a food on this list please refrain from sending it into the classroom for safety of the goats.

Our chickens have a similar diet. Bread, corn , fruits, grain, greens, carrots, broccoli, squash, and cucumbers. Sweet, salty, greasy, processed and citrus foods are harmful to the dietary systems of the chickens. We also collect eggs from the chickens to sell at stands and farmers markets.

Wendell and Paulo have a limited diet. Apples, pears, raw carrots, celery, lettuce, and cauliflower are their source of fresh vegetables. They also eat hay that we provide along with rabbit food pellets. We ate planning to build a new hutch with the guidance and assistance of our guides and head of school. Students will also design toys with food inside for training.

Our newest member of the bridge program is Dart the leopard gecko. Her diet consists of crickets… their diets are simple but they are complex creatures. Dart eats about 8 crickets per week so temporarily, we also have crickets chirping in the class.

Bringing in food for the animals as listed contributes to the health of the animals and is appreciated immensely. You can drop food donations at the front desk, labeled for our classroom! Email Cate at cwilliams@greatriverschool.org with any questions.


Odyssey Night

Families were invited to Odyssey Night on October 23rd! Science Odyssey projects allowed student the opportunity to explore and dig deeper into a science related topic that they were exposed to on the trip and also provided a great opportunity for students to complete and share academic work with their peers and school community that they can be proud of. 

2019-20 Enrollment Application Now Available

The application for enrollment next year at Great River School is now available. 

Applications do not carry over year to year, so even if you are currently on our waiting list, you will need to submit an application for next year to be included in the enrollment lottery for 2019-2020. The deadline for inclusion in the lottery is Friday, March 1st. 

Complete the Application to get on the list for next year! 

The 2018-19 waiting list still stands. Should a spot open in any particular grade level mid year, we will offer off the current year's waiting list.

Thank you for you interest in Great River! If you have any questions, please Email enroll@greatriverschool.org.

Great River Enrollment Team

Autumn Leaves: Upper Elementary Update

written by Andrea Galdames and Blue Earth River students

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As the leaves turned color this fall, students in Blue Earth River pioneer classroom (4th grade) were inspired to learn more about leaves and plants. As a class, we collected both deciduous and coniferous specimens outside and learned to use a dichotomous key to identify different tree species. Many students drew beautiful diagrams of leaves and brought in leaves and seeds from home. According to Henry Stumme-Hanson, “The leaf collecting was fun, but the identifying part was kind of hard. It was hard to find the correct tree because sometimes we had dried out samples and they weren’t as good, but with perfect samples it’s super easy to tell.”

One group of students followed up on a lesson about photosynthesis by writing a skit based on the “leaf factory” Montessori chart. This group wrote and revised the script, gave out parts, created props (including water and carbon dioxide particles), and performed the skit for lower elementary students to teach them about the process of photosynthesis. The rest of the students in the class got pulled in and became backstage props managers, audience greeters, and clean up helpers. According to Margo Willis, “I think the play was challenging. We all worked really hard on setting it up. There was a lot to remember. But it was good because I didn’t know people at the beginning of the year and the play made us connect more.” Other students echoed Margo’s remarks. “I enjoyed the play and enjoyed the fact that I was able to do something and be backstage and be part of the play,” said Antonia Sanmartin.

Henry Severtsgaard observed the flexibility and team work of the actors with admiration, “Everyone seemed to keep it together. When someone messed up they would act like it waspart of the play and it was no big deal. I was happy that I got to help.” This project can be summed up in the words of student Morgan Kane, “I thought it was fun.”

UA Reflections on Nobel Conference

On October 3rd, Great River juniors and seniors attended the Nobel Conference 54 (Soil: a Universe Underfoot) at Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter, MN. The conference aimed to invite participants to “consider the vast diversity and complexity of soil and to ponder the challenges we face in protecting this most fundamental resource.”

We’ve collected some student reflections below:

Hayden Cyrus

I think the Nobel Conference taught me that it is important to maintain soil health and make sure we have healthy soil. We need to make sure that farmers should not till their soil so much because it breaks up the ecosystem of plants and crops. I also found it interesting how we were taught to make sure that soil needs to be healthy or it could affect what we eat in the future. Not many people know the importance of soil and how it needs to be healthy. I really hope in the near future more people will know about soil health and how we should maintain it, because I really think that it's important.

Most farmers till their soil, which is fine in most cases but if you continuously and repeatedly it can have a grave affect on your soil. The reason for that is because when you till soil it breaks up its ecosystem and makes it less stable and terrible for the plant or crop. And it's our responsibility for us humans to make sure our soil is plantable and sustainable. So that's why we need to use non-tilled soil so it can keep that ecosystem and sustain itself and also we need to stop using harmful chemicals.

Kieran Aus

There was one key idea brought forward during the Nobel Conference that really stood out to me - there are many downfalls of repeatedly tilling your soil in order to prepare it for new crops and tilling leads to increased erosion. The exposed, uncovered soil easily gets moved around by wind and rain. The goal of tilling is to start your crop in a weed free environment, but an overlooked benefit of weeds is that they hold the soil together. Tilling up healthy soil makes it very easy for a little bit of rain or wind to wash away the nutrients and microorganisms in the soil, and even erode the soil itself. This is what caused the Dust Bowl, winds whipping around dry tilled soil.

Another huge downfall of tilling is its disrupting of microorganism ecosystems in soil. These little microbes to do much to help the soil, they are adapted to their environment and they play crucial roles in maintaining a healthy soil. They help provide nitrogen and water to the plants, are they are primary decomposers of dead plant matter. Most of these ecosystems are in the top few inches of soil, exactly the part that gets torn up by tilling. This displaces the microorganisms, pushing them away or down into deeper portions of the soil where they cannot survive to help the soil. Because of this, come people are adopting a no-till style of farming. This makes the soil much healthier; it absorbs more water, holds more organic matter, and cycles nutrients very well. The dead plants that have been cut from last years crops remain there, covering the soil and keeping in more moisture and making it cooler. No-till also makes the soil much more resilient and able to withstand heavy rains and winds. Over time, it also reduced the costs of running large scale farming operations as there isn’t a need for as much large, expensive machinery. Ray “The Soil Guy” showed a demonstration of him running water through soil, one portion of soil was tilled, the other not tilled. The soil that wasn’t tilled absorbed almost all of the water that contacted it, and almost all of the water applied to the tilled soil ran right through it. Many farmers continue to till their soil because it has been a very common farming practices for decades. Driving down in southern Minnesota, or near any farm land for that matter, tilled soil is everywhere! However, I believe this will change over time as they see the no-till farmers reaping the benefits of letting the natural soil thrive.

Anonymous 11th Grader:

One key idea discussed in the Nobel Conference was biodiversity. Biodiversity is defined as “the variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem.” Biodiversity is often referenced as a measure of an ecosystem’s health, but I hadn’t thought about or understood why until the Nobel Conference. But there are many instances, especially in soil health, that biodiversity is critically important. One such example came up during Ray Archuleta’s talk about sustainable farming practices. On many farms, biodiversity isn’t thought about much. Generally speaking, one crop is planted in one field, and then the field is sprayed with herbicides over and over in order to kill off all unwanted plants. The practice of applying herbicides is thought of as necessary, because those unwanted plants may be taking up nutrients in the soil that the desired crop needs to grow. But scientists like Archuleta have proved that’s not the case. They have created crop mixes designed to mimic prairies that include crops often grown in monoculture (like corn and soybeans). The yields from the crop mixes have been wildly successful, because cover crops, which help to maintain and restore nutrient levels in the soil, are being grown at the same time as the desired crop. This biodiversity not only improves the economic output of farmers, but the health of the soil.

Another example of beneficial biodiversity came up in Suzanne Simard’s talk about the connections that exist within forests. Just like in farming, it was once considered that plants of different species exist in fierce competition with each other. As such, logging companies would remove trees from forests they sourced from that were not the desired species of trees, with the thought that the desired specie would get the nutrients and resources to grow faster. But this was soon found to be untrue. Trees that were planted in those forests were less likely to survive than trees that were planted in forests with high biodiversity levels. Simard’s research provides us with a reason why. Trees connect with each other through fungi that grow on their roots, called mycorrhizae. Through these connections, trees can send nutrients. Some even share nutrients based on seasonal need. In the winter, coniferous trees share much of the sugar they produce with deciduous trees, who are producing very little. In the spring, the coniferous trees are on In this way, biodiversity in forests allows for a strong and resilient ecosystem. The understanding of biodiversity is important because it provides us with a better way to care for the earth. Biodiversity illustrates perfectly the connection that exists between all things in nature, as the lack of it often has dramatic negative consequences. I believe that biodiversity is essential if we wish to create a more sustainable future.

GRS at the Macalester International Roundtable

written by Isabela Alvarez, class of 2019 

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     On Friday, October 12, a group of Upper Adolescent students attended the Macalester International Roundtable. This year's theme was "Beyond Blood and Skin: The Global Production and Consequences of Race and Racisms". We spent our day listening to speeches about biomedical research on genetic health disparities and the impact of technology and memory on post-apartheid freedom. Students were offered a chance to ask questions to the plenary speakers. Our group also sat in on simulcasts of two discussion panels that focused on how politics affect racial identity in the modern day. It was a full and thought-provoking day, and we all went home with new concepts and questions. If you are a rising junior or senior, don't forget to register for next year's International Roundtable!