Bring your sleds and join your GRS buddies at this sledding party. If you have questions, please email peg@greatriverschool.org. We will meet at the main building near the ski rental shop. If you cannot find the group once you arrive, or if you arrive late, please call David Martinez at 612-860-9536.

AuthorCharlie Zieke

Great River Community - a message below from Sam O'Brien, Head of School: 

January 5th, 2018


First, the obvious accomplishments: our new walls are up! The concrete foundation is literally poured for the facility expansion that will connect our two campus buildings into a unified 3.5 acre site. Exterior walls of the new facility are erected, the full west campus building remodel is underway to hold our fully realized elementary program.  

January 2018 marks the start of a culminating year for Great River School. Currently in our 14th school year, we will be celebrating our 15th anniversary starting in September. Also, as we are sure you've noticed, the construction of our unified 3.5 acre campus is fully underway. 2018 is also the closing year of a strategic planning cycle for the school.

We made an ambitious 3 year plan in 2014, and we are seeing the fruition of our work. What was clear in 2014 was that our innovative upstart school had become a promising institution serving families and children for 12 years of education. Our 2015-2018 strategic plan emphasized addressing immediate challenges to the school - facility, finances, and defining the overarching and long-term outcomes for our program. Our first elementary classroom opened in 2012, and we are now one of three Montessori programs nationally serving students age 6-18. As we look at the successes of our work these past three years, it is clear that we can achieve our goals and execute well on plans. The opportunity that lies before us now is to endeavor upon plans that serve the deepening roots and clarity of purpose that our students and family community seek.

Our current state as a school is one of success - we are a model for stable and transparent operation within the Charter School community. We operate an innovative educational program with a stable financial outlook. Our current firm foundation is the result of immense work and action over the past three years at every level of the school - from classrooms to the school board.

And yet, I will be the first to invite us to look critically at the ways we are responsible to address the challenges of the culture and society we live within. Adults in society (especially in the news these past two years) repeatedly demonstrate an inability to act with grace and courtesy. Social inequities - economic and political - are a pervasive challenge for schools to address, as we work to build fair and just relationships among students.

Great River faces these pervasive challenges with an opportunity to make actionable progress, but only if we are able to develop tools within our own school and community that are uncommon. An uncommon approach to resolving conflict with respect. An uncommon approach to addressing inequity with generosity, letting go, and offering of partnership. An uncommon understanding of how we will raise children with the tools to have integrity in their relationships, and that their success will not be at the cost of their peers or neighbors. I say these are uncommon because they are not simple, but they are possible. Inequity, social aggresssion, and status-caused problems among adults are pervasive challenges. I believe our next strategic plan as a school will need to articulate the concrete tools our school will use to address those challenges. 

Now that we have succeeded in addressing our immediate challenges, we aim to look toward the next 5 school years with a critical question: 'How do we take responsibility to model grace, courtesy, and high standards of responsibility and freedom for students

The class of 2029 is in first grade at Great River School. As we look at our foundations built over the first 14 years of the school, I'll be encouraging families and staff - new and old - to see the deeply successful program that has developed, found a niche, and thrived at Great River. The exceptional program we are all a part of is a result of persistence, humane relationships, and a dedication to our mission. We aim to prepare each student for their unique role and contributions in the world. In future newsletters this spring, you'll see school founders and contributors through the last 14 years deliver their thoughts and reflections on the school's purpose and role in the world now.

Thank you for being a part of this foundational time in the history and future of the school. Thank your child for the work they are doing to build a more peaceful society within the walls of the school, and thank yourself and your peer parents for proceeding in this endeavor to support whole children and a humane world. I look forward to seeing the fruits of our investment arise and show up between now and 2029 in the walls and on the ground of the campus we are seeing built today! 


AuthorSam O'Brien

Hello, Great River Students, Faculty, and Families,

The Urban Farming Occupation created a farm goods mini shop located in the front entryway of the main campus. Families are free to stop by and buy student made and farm goods. All products are made with care.

We are selling:

A Dozen Eggs……………………………….$5.00

Half a Dozen Eggs………………………….$2.50



Vermicompost per pound …………………..$2.50

Vermicompost 5 pounds…………………...$10.00

There is a mini fridge located in the front entryway with some products inside it and other products nearby. Pricing will be on the board above, and you can pay in the black money box. Please note that our supply fluctuates based on what our farm produces, so availability fluctuates . Please support our Urban Farm and stop by when you can!  Suggestions are welcome!

                        Thanks, A1 Urban Farming Occupation

AuthorCharlie Zieke

Our goats are so appreciative of the Christmas tree donations that have been rolling in. If you have an extra tree lying around, bring it to the GRS garden and the goats will happily recycle/munch it for you! 

Please, no trees that have been treated with fire retardants - we want to keep Lucy, Oz, & Rue safe and healthy in the new year! 

AuthorCharlie Zieke

The J-term marketing team is looking for local businesses to buy ad space in our programs, which will be given out at our three j-term performances.  Buy a full page for $50, a ½ page for $25 or a ¼ page for $10.  Please submit a pdf of your ad and your payment by January 15th to have your ad included in the program. Email us at  jtermmarketing@greatriverschool.org for more information.  Thanks!

AuthorCharlie Zieke
A1 students Annika and Shannon read through their scripts in the first week of rehearsals for Hairspray Jr. 

A1 students Annika and Shannon read through their scripts in the first week of rehearsals for Hairspray Jr. 

J Term is here! 

Each January, our Lower Adolescent program adjusts their focus and schedule in order to put on a theatrical production. This year two shows will be presented: Shakespeare's MacBeth, and the musical Hairspray. By Mid-January we will be sending out a link for purchasing  tickets online. The J-Term performances will take place this season at the Wellstone Theater January 25th-27th. 

Below is an email about the significance of J-Term, written by Tami Limberg, A1 program coordinator. 


Many of you know already, but most of what i do in my work and home life stems from the hope of a more peaceful society.  MacBeth and Hairspray depict major issues on the minds of our adolescents and give the students a chance to understand more about the background of these plays and the ability to see things from multiple perspectives.  

  Adolescence is the beginning of the third plane of development - a time of rapid development and an emergence of the adolescent beginning to understand and try on roles of who they are in society.   During this time, what better way for students to start forming their view of themselves and others than through dramatic work, creative experience, and cooperative building.  This is such beautiful work.

  Hairspray and MacBeth tackle big issues that many students are going through - I'm so excited to be a part of their expression of these plays.  We do this work to challenge the students - it's called a Key Experience because it will push all the students in one way or another.  This is really heavy content and work for the students- sleep and stability will go a long way and Julie Kesti's humanities curriculum will help the students grapple with these concepts and feelings but so will conversations with the people they trust the most.

Rehearsals will begin on Wednesday.  Students in the cast of MacBeth will report to the art room and the cast of Hairspray will report to the Dining Hall at 8:30am sharp where they will receive an orientation to their schedule for the month.  


Students should bring their binders, pens and pencils, and planners everyday - humanities and math classes will take place everyday but Wednesday and students will be writing down reminders for their play/musical too.  Winter gear is also essential - they still go outside during Jterm for recess if the weather is safe.  In the event of extreme cold, students will stay inside so bringing card games, books, travel sized games, drawing materials, etc is encouraged (but should be stowed in lockers until recess).

A reminder that we have many slots open for volunteers - it's a way to be engaged in the process of J-term and help shoulder the work load.  Sign up here (a huge thank you to PEG for setting this up).  There are many slots to come in during the day and help for an hour or two with sewing, dancing, or building - you don't need to have expertise just a willingness to help.  There are also slots during the week at the Wellstone and opportunities to support the potluck on Thursday January 25th.  I encourage all families to support and help as they are able.

And, as always, please let me know if you have concerns, need support, or are sending accolades...always here for you.

AuthorCharlie Zieke

Mark your calendars! The biggest fundraiser of the year is here! The Soiree is a fun, adults-only evening of good conversation, mini-golf and arcade games, friendly bidding competition, appetizers and craft cocktails. 

Wednesday March 14, 6-9 pm, at Can Can Wonderland. Tickets are available now:  https://www.tix4cause.com/donations/tickets/4662/

This is the day before spring conferences, and we look forward to a stellar turnout! Book your calendars and find some sitters for the kids - the chic Can Can Wonderland will be fully reserved for Great River supporters! 


Contact soiree@greatriverschool.org with questions or to volunteer. 

AuthorCharlie Zieke

Rachel Damiani - our communications and events coordinator -  is taking a short-term leave from GRS. She is safe and healthy and should be returning to her post early March. While Rachel is away, we have organized internally for communications, volunteerism and events to be facilitated by Charlie Zieke, Anne Parker, and other staff. 

Any questions about communications or events can be sent to our admin team at info@greatriverschool.org

We look forward to Rachel's return later this spring! 

Help us welcome Annmarie Manuntag to the front office! She will be helping greet visitors and fulfill the duties of the GRS front desk. Annmarie is coming to us from Metropolitan State University Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship (ICES) and holds a degree in Human Services. We are thrilled that Annmarie is joining our admin team. 

Messages for Rachel can be sent to  rdamiani@greatriverschool.org

Annmarie can be reached at amanuntag@greatriverschool.org 

AuthorCharlie Zieke

THANK YOU for giving your time, energy, resources and support to nourish and appreciate our amazing teachers at the Conference Potluck last week! 

Hawa Jama making her very popular pumpkin spice pancakes

Hawa Jama making her very popular pumpkin spice pancakes

I want you to know that teachers were BLOWN AWAY by the support! Mary Hallman, guide from Platte River class said she has never felt so appreciated as a teacher before. Michael Flood and Andrea Christensen, adolescent guides who've been at the school many years said this was the best potluck food they've ever had. The spreads were INCREDIBLE. It was like professional catering, and what a treat for our teachers! 

I wish you could have all been there to see the way 52 faculty filled their plates to the brims at each meal, and how they relished in the opportunity to sit and connect with each other while being completely cared for. Every one of you--whether you volunteered or contributed one simple item to the pot--made this possible! 

Thank you for all you do to support our community! 

-Rachel Damiani, Events Coordinator

Thursday dinner potluck spread

Thursday dinner potluck spread

Harry going pancake crazy

Harry going pancake crazy

AuthorRachel Damiani

By Anthony Wilson - Thieroff

On October 9th and 10th, 2017, the A1 students went to the Raptor Center. This was a new experience for most of the students. The atmosphere was one of excitement and also a little bit sleepy because we went in the morning.

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While there, we toured the outside bird aviaries, looked at some bird exhibits inside, and learnt about features of raptors. (Did you know that raptors have a little notch in their beak called a Tomial Tooth?!) We saw multiple raptors including owls, falcons, eagles and merlin.

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Raptors are different from other birds because they have talons, a hooked beak, and forward facing eyes. They are found almost everywhere in the world except for the Arctic and Antarctica. Most of the raptors at the Raptor Center are there because they have been injured, hit by cars, have gotten lead poisoning or have gotten trapped in fishing line or traps.

I have a special connection to the Raptor Center. I love birds (specifically raptors!), and I am volunteering at the Center in the Raptor Corps. This is a program that helps educate people about raptors, their environment and how to protect them. If you are interested in learning more about raptors, I encourage you to visit the Raptor Center with your family and/or join the Raptor Corps.

AuthorRachel Damiani
CategoriesA1, Trips

by Annika Fischer

This year I hosted (and performed at) Coffee House.  It was terrifying.  Before that I had neither hosted or performed at Coffee house or any school event without just students attending.  It went to my surprise really well and I hope you enjoy my article.

So first of all let us start with how I came to host Coffee House.  So I was practicing drums, because that was my first time playing drums (it wasn’t the actual drums to the song but it went well), and I was helping set up and Zack asks me “Do you want to host Coffee House?” and I was like sure why not what could go wrong, well a few things went wrong but that’s fine it was still fun.

Now let’s get into actually hosting Coffee House.  Ok When we first started I was like what could go wrong and then Zack started talk and I was like SO MANY THINGS COULD GO WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!  Then Zack introduced me and everything was fine.  We introduced the first few acts and we had to skip a few because they were either not there or missed their act and had to be bumped to a new spot.  There were six musicianship acts but we only did four or five but that’s fine we all had fun.  Severin played drums and did amazing the final act left me still feeling the sound waves travel through me. The final act was this band of four and they play three REALLY LOUD SONGS and the crowed was blown away by each one.  All of the acts went really well and were all amazing! Everyone had a great time and I hope to host again.

Now we we will get to the part where me and my friend performed.  Honestly I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just banging on to drums that my friend told me to for the whole song and singing if you didn’t know what the piece of paper i was holding was you probably just guessed it was the performance slip and I it had it on the drums so I could have it when I needed it but no it actually was the lyrics to the song because me and my friend had two days, TWO DAYS to finish the song. It turned out pretty great and I had fun and I you hope you people that didn’t come to Coffee House come to the next one this spring.

-Annika Fischer

Coffee House Host

AuthorRachel Damiani

This past week, A3 students attended the annual Macalester College roundtable. The Macalester Roundtable's theme this year was centered around "Empathy and Its Discontents." Great River students had the chance to attend a multitude of Macalester student-led workshops and campus-wide activities that were designed to engage audiences in discussions in the concept of empathy.

Every October since 1994, Macalester’s International Roundtable has brought diverse communities together to dialogue around a single theme. It’s a community-wide and globally-focused forum exploring critical issues from a variety of perspectives. Highlights from the event included a talk from renowned author and speaker, Aminatta Forna, who spoke about empathy in storytelling. In addition, students had the opportunity to tour Macalester College, and think about pursuing a college education within the Twin Cities. The Roundtable was an incredible experience that really added context to the studies of empathy that A3 students are engaging in at Great River. This truly was an incredible experience that A3 students surely won't want to miss next year. 

-Great River Gazette 

AuthorRachel Damiani
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Thank you so much to everyone who came out for Harvest Fest this weekend! After a morning of setting up in the rain, the sun came out just in time for the festival to begin. Kids of all ages eagerly gobbled up multiple helpings of popcorn and caramel apples, while families gathered to connect at the first all-school event of the year. A1 students sold homemade candles, pumpkins, gourds, maple syrup and crafts. The bluegrass band, put together by Clayton Shanilec, put the "fest" in Harvest Fest, and this event proved you can never have too many bouncy houses! 


Harvest Fest would not have been possible without the generous support of Great River Families who donated for and volunteered at the event. Andrew Palahniuk and Mary Pumphrey arrived at 9am on Harvest Fest day and used 2 stoves and 4 giant pots to create the soup broth, tending to it for more than 3 hours (even though they had signed up for 2 hour shifts). Nicole Palahniuk arrived later but stuck it out through the second batch of soup, while everyone outside was already enjoying the festivities.

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Asako Hirabayashi signed up for an hour of face painting but gave 3 hours of her time without a break because she didn’t want to disappoint the long line of excited kids. Katie Cashel, who facilitated the bread and fruit donations from the Hallie Q. Brown Food Shelf, lobbied for every last loaf of bread to find its way home with a family. Our setup and cleanup teams were amazing, stayed until the bitter end, and brought some serious muscle to the table to boot! 


Some of my most valiant and eager helpers came in a small size; the first to arrive and jump in were Rowann, Piper, and Turi Coburn. They couldn’t have been more excited to be a part of things. Each time they would finish a task they would eagerly ask, “what’s next? What’s next?” I admit I hadn’t anticipated the aspect of volunteer coordination that involved having jobs ready for all ages. But I should have expected no less from a Montessori school! My trusty team sturdied poles to help move a 10x20 tent from the hill to the parking lot. I would have thought we needed only adults to pull this off. They quickly opened my mind!

I want to thank Clayton Shanilec and his wonderful band, who gave the event the joyous atmosphere it deserved. And Scott Brown, CPA with the Anton Group, who generously sponsored the band. Heather Thomas, a longstanding member of the Parent Engagement Group, helped with much of the planning and made it possible to have the games, popcorn and photo booth. Judging from all the photos I'd say it was a hit! 


Thank you so much to all the volunteers who gave food, supplies, time, energy, sweat and more. You guys are the heart and soul of our community and we thank you! 

See the full Harvest Fest photo album HERE

Our next all-school event is the Conferences and the Conference Potluck, coming up on November 16-17. The Potluck is all about teacher appreciation!! If you want to show some support for GRS teachers, please join us in this effort. Sign up here to volunteer or donate toward teachers' meals! 

-Rachel Damiani, Events Coordinator

AuthorRachel Damiani
CategoriesEvents, PEG

There’s nothing 21st century about the YMCA’s Camp Widjiwagan. You can’t even rely on getting a simple snapchat. You eat in a dining hall without a single screen hanging from a wall. You hardly ever hear a beep. To experience Widji, as it is commonly known, is to step foot in the 1970s, when Montessori schools in Minnesota first started heading to Ely for a week of outdoor education (Okay true, we didn’t have Gore-tex back then. You get the point).


This was Great River’s fourth year at Camp Widji, the fourth year eating healthy, home-cooked meals in Kirby Hall and starting a fire in the woods and roasting marshmallows during Wilderness Survival class. A fourth year where getting wet is somehow something to be prized instead of avoided.

Widji’s academic-year program, started in 1973, allows schools to send students to the camp for a week of environmental education, including studying wilderness survival, plant and tree identification, basic hiking and canoeing skills, and opportunities to read the night sky. More than anything, it allows urban/suburban children who are increasingly detached from the natural world a chance to play in it. At Widji you study nature, as in, you walk outside and there it is. And then you stay there for awhile.


The Widji excursion is what Great River calls a “key experience” for elementary children.  “It’s definitely a learning experience,” said Greta McCann (Grade 4). “We learn how not to disrespect nature.” Vivian Turbak (5) calls it “a camp where you do a lot of hiking… I’ve gone two years. Last year we didn’t jump in the lake with all your clothes on, but we did this year. My boots. My socks. My clothes.” Her trailing voice transmits some discomfort.

I asked several students what stood out from their four days at Widji. For Greta, it was the Eco-Hike, an all-day jaunt through the Burntside State Forest routinely taken on the last full day of camp. Widji’s 400 acres contains almost 50 miles of trails, which enables each of the study group (comprising 8 students and 1 counselor) plenty of room to wander without bumping into another group. “We hiked through a bog and we picked cranberries,” said Greta. “We made a cranberry and blueberry sauce. We also started a fire and roasted marshmallows.”


Scarlett Goetzman (4) recounts a moment from her group’s Eco-Hike. “There was a huge rocky outcropping and we climbed down the cliff. At the bottom there was a clear pool of water. And a waterfall going [makes swooshing sound]. On the ground there was fuzzy moss and it was surrounded by Jack Pines. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”   

Another perennial highlight is the mass role-playing game called Predator and Prey. Vivian describes it as “a game where voles try to hide from their predators. Weasels have to hide from their predators and catch their prey at the same time. Owls have to catch their prey and stay away from diseases. It’s fun,” she continued, “because I started a vole but I turned into a weasel. A weasel caught me, so technically I’d be dead. But in the game I turned into a weasel. I had to hide and chase.”  In other words, if you are on one end of the food chain you only hunt. If you are on the other, you only escape. If you are in the middle, all bets are off. Vivian prefers being in the middle of the food chain.

For Harper O’Dowd (5), the high-octane strategy game was also a highlight. As a vole this year, Harper enjoyed “amassing vole power.” He and his cadre of four-foot rodents could be heard chanting, “We will stand our ground” or “Chapel Point is our land.” We found that “if we all met at Chapel Point,” he said, we could “leverage” our strength “by spreading out in all directions and confuse the weasels and the owls. They only have 10 seconds to chase us, so we could separate them from their brains [the adult in their group].” This is what Great River rodentia refer to as “The Battle at Chapel Point.” I’m not simply reporting this.

I know. I was there.


Harper learned that games can ben re-invented. Vivian learned how to identify different kinds of trees.  Mino Whitley-Mott (6) learned “how to make tea from different kinds of leaves: wintergreen, white pine and sweet fern.” Greta learned “that you should always wear rain boots when going into a bog.” Vivian also learned that she could take a 6-hour hike and enjoy it. “If you think about how hungry you are and how tired you are, then you start complaining about your sore legs and being hungry.”

Getting to learn from seasoned Widji staff is also a big take-away for most students. Scarlett thought that her Group Leader, Leah, was inspiring.“She was pretty awesome,” she said. “She let us climb cliffs. We climbed Sky Trail at night so we couldn’t see the rocks and we kept slipping. People were asking if we could turn on our flashlights, but she kept us going and confident. She said, ‘You can do it! You’ve got it!’”

-John Albright, Little Elk Classroom Guide

See the full Widji trip photo album here! 

AuthorRachel Damiani

Buttermilk Falls Farm is one of the first Community Supported Agriculture programs in the midwest. 14-16 year old students travel to Buttermilk Falls Farm in Osceola Wisconsin to participate in stewardship and trail activities on the farm and in the wilderness preserve. Students also engage in micro-economies of photography, candle making, woodworking, and agriculture.


Students harvest the produce planted by their peers in the spring of 2017. Students also train in leadership and facilitation programs that serve CAS back at Great River throughout the year.

We have a quite a treat! Below is the compilation of photos taken by the photography micro-economy group at the Buttermilk Falls Farm trip visited by A2 Students this past month.Many of the trip photos will be sold at Harvest Fest as photo cards so don't miss it! Check out the full photo album here. 

AuthorRachel Damiani

What picture should we use to introduce “GRS Senior Canoe Trip?" This expedition contained some perfectly picturesque moments. Fifty students huddle around the fire. The light polishing bright faces as they sing “I’ll follow you into the dark” from memory. Slowly, students pull themselves away and to bed. Earlier that morning, half a dozen hammocks hung silhouetted against the dewy lake. The bundles of human inside stretched and murmured conversation. But if we’re trying to shove the message of community of our readers, we better use a story-like, quirky image. A stand-up poetry compaction lead to students throwing around the phrase “Omnipotent Sam O’Brian”.


The next camp site’s water source was across the river. Harry and Donovan, two guides, ventured across the river in a canoe filled with empty coolers, pots, and jugs. On their way back, the pair tipped spectacularly. But if you want a picture of the real community building, try these on for size. Slowly forming paddle blisters. Adrenaline dictating encounters with rapids. Sunscreen layering over bug spray, grime, and sore muscles. Tipping gloriously. Oatmeal defaced with hot chocolate mix and raisins. Bags sagging, growing heavier and wetter. These moments, these pictures, hold real community. They provide that mild irradiation that gives classmates the space to complain together, laugh together and share mess kits. The canoe trip sported not only picture-perfect poses, but measured grit to find the real community.

AuthorRachel Damiani
CategoriesA3, Trips
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On September 7th, 2 busses traveling in parallel routes departed Great River School on September 7th, 2017 for the A1 Odyssey. Students through the sand dunes of Indiana, the city of Detroit, and the upper peninsula of Michigan to learn the history of the industrial revolution and build community. 

A1 Odyssey Off to a Good Start

Odyssey Update #2 From Feneti Mohamed

View the full trip album here! 

AuthorRachel Damiani
CategoriesA1, Trips