LE's Day at Buttermilk Falls Farm

written by Jessy Fabel, Spring Brook guide

Our trip to Buttermilk Falls Farm has come and gone once again. After some wrestling with mother nature and some rainy days, we finally got some sunshine and each classroom had the chance to spend a glorious day at the farm.  

With our program growing, we recognized that there will be challenges when planning a trip to a farm with 130 children, but we also recognized that this tradition of going to the farm is something worth holding on to.  Great River has a beautiful partnership with the farmers at Buttermilk Falls Farm out in Osceola, Wisconsin and we find it important to introduce the students to the land and to the farmers - Christina, Carter, and the many eager workers that do residencies at the farm - early on in their experience with Great River.  As they grow and progress into the adolescent program, they will already be familiar with the land and the people that work it and they will also get the chance to live and work on the farm for one of their key experiences.  

We find this trip and partnership valuable for many reasons.  We get to spend some quality time outdoors, hiking in the forest, hearing waterfalls, exploring caves and hallow logs covered in lichen, and see some majestic wildlife.  This trip to the farm also allows us to see our biology curriculum come to life.  The students got to examine different types of seeds and harvest some of the fruit that those seeds become.  They also learned how to care for strawberries and prepare them for winter by covering them in a blanket of straw.  Christina spoke with many of the students about what constitutes an acre and they actually walked the perimeter of an acre.  The students also got the chance to learn about the animals they keep at the farm and how they're cared for.  They especially loved the gentle giant, Almo (the polar-bear-sized Pyrenees) as he wandered freely across the property and often lead the way to each of our activities.  

On our bus ride home, it was wonderful to hear stories about the students favorite memories from the day... picking out gourds, picking corn, balancing on huge tree longs.  We also talked about what it be like to have a farm and how their farm would look ... their responses were so delightful.  Many of the students even fell asleep in their seats (some on top of each other).  We cherish our partnership with Buttermilk Falls Farm and the wonderful people who run it.  It's also important to note that they are open to the public and host a number of activities as they are a CSA and a Folk School.  Please feel free to check out their website at http://www.buttermilkcsa.com/.

Here's to hoping you get the chance to experience this little slice of heaven just an hour away.

6th Grade Bridge Buttermilk Farm Reflection

By Isabella Severt and Rena Curtis, class of 2025

The week of the 24th, forty-one students and four 6B guides traveled to Buttermilk Falls Farm in Osceola, WI for our key experience. We spent three nights in tents, many hours harvesting and went on multiple hikes down to the falls. We separated into cook crews and made phenomenal meals throughout the week that reboosted our energy to partake in many activities. During the week many other staff at GRS made the trek down to teach creative expression classes. Sam O’Brien, our head of school lead a tree harvesting ceremony and Donna Goodlaxson co-taught with our guide Laurax an earth art experience.

Now presenting a story from our trip…

It was after nine and 6th bridge was all fast asleep when a slobbery thief and stole the students shoes and rain gear that had been left out to dry. When the students awoke to no shoes they were puzzled, Then began to realize the beast was in fact the farm dog, Almo.

Our class learned an incredible amount of skills at the farm. We also grew as a community. We inherited gardening skills and cooking skills, basic nature lessons and learned more about our classmates. This was such a wonderful and successful trip and we hope to have many more experiences like it .

9th Grade Buttermilk Farms Reflection

Compiled by Everest, Caleb and Kylie, class of 2022

When we got back from the farm trip we were asked to reflect on the trip by thinking of one thing we struggled with, one thing we learned, and one thing we enjoyed.

These are some of the things our peers wrote:

What did you struggle with?

  • I did not like how wet and cold it got, and my socks got wet.

  • Being wet all the time and continuing to work even when it was raining.

  • Harvesting squash was difficult.

  • Moving all of the pumpkins.

  • Lifting pumpkins.

  • There was too much rain the entire week.

What is a new skill that you learned?

  • I learned that when the weather wasn't the nicest you can still have a good time.

  • I learned how to harvest radishes.

  • To can food, preserve fruits and salsa.

  • to hide in the woods.

  • to make soap.

  • to saw through wood.

  • that working on the farm was not as hard as I thought.

  • how to make Pico and now to spider climb trees.

  • it rains a lot in wisconsin.

  • Cooking and Preparing lunch.

  • That I can cook.

Although we struggled and learned a lot, we also had a bunch of fun and enjoyed our time. Here are some of the things we enjoyed!

  • How to fix a barn.

  • The hike.

  • I enjoyed washing pumpkins and laughing with friends.

  • Playing frisbee with friends during free time.

  • The ride home.

  • My bed.

  • I enjoyed bonding with my friends again.

  • I enjoyed picking pumpkins.

  • I enjoyed the Coffee House that we put up on the trip - there were a lot of cool acts.

  • I enjoyed sitting in the orchard house getting to know people.

  • Carving spoons, and squash harvesting with Sarah Hansen.

  • Sleeping

  • The Bus Ride back home

  • Cleaning The entire house

Upper Elementary Wolf Ridge Reflection

By Sofie Stumme Hanson and Evelyn R. Hugart, Shingobee River Classroom

As you probably know, recently the Upper Elementary went to Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, MN. We traveled  from September Twenty Fourth to September Twenty Eighth. Not only did we go to Wolf Ridge as a bonding experience, but also because the previous place, Widjiwagen, had too little space to support the Upper Elementary community. The head of school, Sam O'Brien, helped put together this trip to Wolf Ridge, (which was built in 1971) with the other adults including Jean Peters and the Upper Elementary staff. We got there by multiple Coach Buses, one bus per two classes, and got to Wolf Ridge around lunch (12:00 pm).  

Over the course of the week, Upper Elementary students explored the North Woods environment around Lake Superior. There were classes on lake study, stream study, forest ecology, animal signs, Ojibwe heritage, indoor rock climbing,  a high ropes course, and more. All of the Upper Elementary classes went to Wolf Ridge, and that includes the Shingobee River, Crow Wing River, Otter Tail River, Little Elk River, Swan River, and Blue Earth River. Here are excerpts from some quotes from three children who went to Wolf Ridge, along with the thoughts of the authors. As with any new experience, there were highlights and things that were not their favorites. Sofie from Shingobee stated, “I loved the animals and the climbing wall, as well as a bunch of other things.” Her co-author Evelyn reflected,  “I loved everything especially the rock wall, but I was sad by how tall the ropes course was.’’ Greta from Little Elk said, “I didn't really like the ropes course, I didn't really like the food either, but I really liked the animals and the rock wall.” Sofie from Swan River explained, “I really liked the ropes course, but I didn't like canoeing.” Have a good day!

Stanford & University of Michigan Visit GRS


A big thank you to the 89 students who joined Stanford University and the University of Michigan on September 21st. Students were able to ask questions, meet with individual admission officers and hear more about the application process.  Over 25 different colleges will be traveling to GRS over the next few months and all juniors and seniors are invited to attend. You can find out more at Great River College Planning on Facebook or look for the list posted outside the College Counselor's office. 

Preparing Thoughtful Spaces and Planning How We Work Together: Success at School and Home

by Nadine McNiff, Rice Creek guide


As October begins, we reflect on how our beautiful spaces and time spent in learning how to work in community leads to the greatest support for children here at school.  Maria Montessori explains what children need from adults; what indeed they might ask from us, “Help me help myself.” Fostering this independence is key and central to how we organize, plan, and use our school and classroom spaces.  

A prepared environment is one that considers carefully the needs and perspective of the child, and the goals for growth and independence we have for them. At school, this looks like wide hallways, plentiful light, a variety of outdoor spaces, a classroom with artwork and furniture at the child’s level, beautiful materials placed in a specific order on open shelves, objects that hold weight and require careful handling, and spaces that clearly define a child’s personal spaces and materials.  

Adults in a Montessori classroom also spend a great amount of time, with children, defining how we will all work together.  This includes discussions on what kind of school and classroom we want to come to each day, how we can do our own unique parts as adults and students, and finalizing this thinking and discussion into belief statements.  Our classroom beliefs guide our work as a community, throughout the year, in peaceful times as well as times of conflict or differing opinions. We take time each week to acknowledge all the beauty we recognize in our work together and address when we are having difficulty in upholding our beliefs or failing to do our perspective jobs.  Spending time preparing environments and agreeing on how we will work together is central to our healthy community. We know this type of investment and work is important in our student’s homes as well.

Preparing your home for independence takes some time, planning and thoughtfulness around the freedoms and responsibilities you understand are right for your child.  Including children in the daily life of your home is one of the most important indicators of their success at school, and in life. This might look like rethinking your routines such that your child has time and space to get ready independently, giving your child special jobs or chores that are their responsibility, asking for their input and perspective in appropriate family decisions, and organizing their sleeping spaces and personal spaces sparsely,   beautifully, and with a goal of independence in mind. Preparing our homes and including children in our family life fosters purposeful work, practical life skills, and builds self-reliance and discipline. Let them show you just how MUCH they can do.

Freedom and independence are vital, but we all know that there are some decisions and rules that are not appropriate for our children to make.  It is our job as adults to set the limits and hold fair and firm boundaries. Moreover, although we often hear them protest these limits, we understand this consistent structure to be comforting and healthy for our children.  It is worth considering what are those parts of your family life that children can make choices about, saying yes as often as is healthy and safe. This way, when we say no, and explain why we are making these decisions, they can trust (even if they don’t understand) that we are doing so, because this is our job as adults.

There is much thought and expertise surrounding these ideas.  We have attached some resources to guide you in planning spaces and designing how you work together in your homes.  We understand that you are the holder of unique insight and knowledge about your child that allows you to make the best decisions about how to create opportunities for independence and healthy boundaries at home.  We also know children are served best when schools and families do this in partnership.


A Parents Role: How it Differs from That of a Guide


7th & 8th Grade Odyssey Reflection

written by Eva Flood, class of 2022

On The Odyssey West we got to go to the Badlands, Bear Butte / Bear Mountain, Oahe Dam, Wind Caves, Pipestone National Monument, Mitchell City  History Museum and we got to view the night skies and hear elk bugling. We learned so much about all these Indigenous peoples lands and their history. We learned about the wind caves creation story. In the  Badlands we got to learn about the rock formations and how they were created. On the Odyssey we got to learn how to cook, work together, and become this beautiful community that we are today. Also we got to become closer and make new friends and learn about each other in the most spectacular ways. People who were new to the school were immediately welcomed, so  were the people who were in the 6th grade bridge or 6th grade. We all made new friends 8th graders and 7th graders alike.

12th Grade Canoe Trip Reflection

For their fall key experience, the 12th grade class traveled to northwest Wisconsin to canoe on the Namekagon river. On the first day of the trip, the students canoed over 16 miles to a campsite where they set up tents, cooked a communal meal, and engaged in rite of passage work, which was the overarching theme of the trip. The next morning was crisp, and students and guides awoke early and after a hot breakfast began to travel down the river again. The second day of paddling was shorter, but went through Trego Lake, where the current became barely noticable and paddling hard was crucial. After crossing the lake, students portaged their canoes across the dam, paddled a short ways to a small campsite, and then hiked half a mile to the Leisure Lake Youth Camp. Though the itinerary planned for more paddling the next two days, due to a forecast of thunderstorms, we remained at the camp and participated in olympic events, did reflective writing, and engaged in other rite of passage curriculum.

11th Grade Northstar Quest Reflection

written by Sean Gleason, class of 2020

The NorthStar Quest was a pretty fun time. We visited some colleges, ate at some cafeterias, ate at some campsites, and strengthened the community. The colleges we visited were the University of Minnesota Duluth, The North House Folk School, Northland College, and on the last day we had the option between Carleton and St Olaf. By the end the bus smelled and it was refreshing to get out of the bus and into the rain shower.

10th Grade Bdote Trip Reflection

written by Ellie Vanderhaar, class of 2021

The Bdote trip was the key experience that the 10th graders had, camping at Fort Snelling State Park for four nights to study about Dakota culture and history. The students researched a few of the historic places known to the Dakota people called Mni Owe Sni, Wakan Tipi, Oheyawahi or Pilot Knob, and Mounds Park. Unfortunately, due to the gloomy and wet weather, only a few of the places named were able to be visited in the short amount of time. Despite not visiting most of the places planned, the students were assigned a packet of homework to complete based off of their reflections from the places they did visit. Although the trip was new for everyone who went through it, most of the students and guides appeared to have a great experience from it, and in conclusion, the trip will be a good key experience for the 10th graders in future years.

Building Construction Update

by Sam O'Brien, Head of School

Construction on the full remodel and finishing of our campus started June 11th, 2018. Since then, we’ve seen our total campus remodeled, rebuilt, re-painted, and finished anew! We have official approvals from the city of St Paul and our major construction is on schedule for the school year. As we welcome returning and new families to our 3.5 acre campus, we look forward to spending the year settling in, learning about our new home, and preparing the best Montessori learning environment possible for our students.

What is happening with the building?
Our 36,000 square foot building from 2004-2017 served our growing school well. We have - through the purchase, remodel, and full integration of two parcels of land - created a 72,000 square foot learning environment for children ages 6 through 18. From the west end of our building to the east wing, we have dedicated Montessori learning environments for 6 lower elementary classrooms, 6 upper elementary classrooms, groups and advisory spaces for students in grades 7/8, 9, and 10-12. Our exterior campus has doubled our space for urban agriculture and quadrupled the space available for recess and outdoor exploration for elementary students

What is it going to look like when we come on September 10th?
The major construction is complete, and on Back to School Night, you’ll see a building that looks like it’s just being moved into :-). Rooms are just being set up starting September 4th by guides and staff, and we’re excited for you to see the early stages of our building move in! We’ll welcome you and you’ll get to see portions of the facility that corresponds to your student age. On September 10th, our classrooms will be fully prepared for students across all ages. Adolescent guides will be ready to prep for key experiences. Elementary guides will have environments ready to engage in great work with our students.

Gym and Kitchen
The Gymnasium and Kitchen are two rooms with technical requirements and equipment that we want to make sure get built the right way, and to specifications matching our needs. The kitchen will likely be serving our first hot meals from scratch the first week of November. Until then, box lunches will be assembled by our Nutrition staff offsite. We look forward to providing nutritious breakfasts and lunches in box form until the kitchen is completed and open, at which point our custom menu will begin, making delicious food onsite. Look for the Nutrition logo and communications to come out later this week!

Thanks to one of the first wonderful milestones being reached by the Great River School Foundation Capital Campaign, we will have maple floors in our gymnasium  scheduled to be installed and finished by mid-November. Our gymnasium is currently the staging site for the kitchen equipment to be constructed, and we have chosen to delay opening the gym to make sure we build it right the first time and have the finishes and equipment we want in the gym before winter sets in. (Also thanks to the Capital Campaign we  have essential equipment needed for hot lunch starting the first week of November!)

We thank all of our community for patience, support, and time pitching in to volunteer with our move this past year, and with our construction. We also thank everyone for the future support and pitching in as we move into and settle our new building into a home for students. Our continued support from the community will allow us to fill and finish the spaces with beautiful learning materials.

Great River & TCA Announce New Mascot

Great River School and Twin Cities Academy have a new mascot for their sports cooperative - the Tigers! Great River and TCA have been partner schools for years, and as we enter a new decade of our partnership for athletics, we are revamping our presence in the athletic conference from "Charter School Cooperative"  to "TCA & GRS Tigers". 


The logo above integrates the Great River Athletic Stars logo into our shared Tiger mascot. Athletic Director Victor Vondracek sees real benefit into a renewed logo and image - he reports "A real identity for the cooperative will generate recognition across the conference of who we are as a partnership."  

The charter cooperative was a vestige from an original 2004 cooperative of 5 schools. Great River's Star emblem - seen on the Great River Ultimate jerseys and in LIST league uniforms - will still be a Great River team name. Victor says "We've also integrated the Great River Star into our cooperative logo. The new 'Tigers' name gives our schools a unified team name and place to get cooperative spirit going!" 

Great River looks forward to our new partnership mascot! Look for spiritwear with our shared logo!

Sam O'Brien
Head of School

School Nutrition Update

by Mary Hunn, RD, School Nutrition Director

In addition to all our students and staff, we look forward to parents and family members, as well as community members, to come eat, drink, and enjoy! We will soon be serving breakfast, lunch, after school and elementary classroom snacks, ala carte choices, and coffee shop foods and beverages. 

Construction of the commercial kitchen and dining hall area has begun and we hope to have it finished by the end of the August! Once everything is set-up and functioning, we'll be serving hot, fair-sourced meals to your students by October 8th.  Our twelve elementary classroom kitchenettes have also begun construction and we hope to start use by the first day of school.

Our brand new coffee shop is being built during the summer and will be slinging beverages in its permanent space by winter break. In the meantime, a temporary coffee shop will function as a pilot program for the school. There will be future work on the final design and layout of the permanent coffee shop with students engaging in the operations, as well as the instructional space for students in the commercial kitchen.  

Curious about what food spaces are open to you or your student? Look below! We hope to share a meal, hot beverage, or snack with you soon. 

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Experiential Learning in May!

Great River seniors participated in the second annual Experiential Learning (ELM) in May, a program designed to keep seniors engaged in their last week of high school, while teaching them valuable life skills. Our twelfth graders learned everything from how to change a tire, to self-defense, to mental health and self-care skills. Click here for a full description of this year's ELM schedule. 

Seniors also helped organize and run the Field Day event for our elementary and still managed to have enough energy to build three beautiful wooden chairs as a gift to the school. 


Field Day at GRS

On the second to last school day of the year, our younger students were treated to a Field Day at McMurray Field, organized by our seniors as part of their Experiential Learning in May (ELM). The older students led activities like a three-legged race, water balloon tosses, parachute games, jumping rope, and egg relay races. This was a great space to get some end-of-year energy out while playing cooperative games! 

Members of the Ultimate team were on hand to teach their younger counterparts proper disc throwing technique and Lower Adolescent students were there to cheer the game participants on. 

Last Day of School Ceremony

The last day of school ceremony at Great River School is a time when we gather as a whole community of students and recognize the passing of a year. Below is a transcript of the ceremony:

“As we face north, our youngest students stand in the very front line. we place our hands upon the shoulders of those in front of us. 

Those in the very front of the line – the youngest among us – have pioneered for another first year at Great River school. As the youngest students  they have bravely found their way here and as members of the community. 

Their pioneering spirit  has reminded us of where we have been and our responsibility to care for those younger – those who follow us in this place.

We now take a deep breath close your eyes and exhale gratitude and thank you to those younger.

As we turn now to the south  we will face the shoulders and backs of those older than us. Standing with no one in front of them are the oldest student among us – the seniors who will graduate. 

We now place our hands on the shoulders of those in front of us -extending a bridge of support from younger to older up until the 12th year, where the seniors look out upon an undefined path forward. 

This next path where they will decide how they carry themselves in the world, with the full memory of where they have been and those who are now holding their shoulders and backs all the way down to the youngest students here at great River school. 

The oldest among us demonstrate how to be, will remind us how to learn from those who have gone before, and serve as an example that inspires us and leads us into a future. 

As we look to the support that was ahead of us, we thank them  for their bravery, for treading a path that we may follow, and for creating trails and a legacy that we may follow into. All that we inherit next year has been cared for by those who are now standing before us. 

We close our eyes now and inhale, saying thank you we exhale a breath of gratitude to those who are older as they depart for their next year.

In graceful courtesy we turn to those next to us and around us, wishing each other well for the coming summer.”

Robotics at GRS


Another first for NoMythic – we qualified for Minnesota State Robotics Championship this year! This was one of the most competitive fields we’ve seen this year. On May 29th, we played hard and had a blast. We ended the day in 9th place. We were selected by the second alliance, and our alliance won second place overall. Nice work!


For younger students with an interest in robotics, Lego Camp is a day camp for 4th-8th-grade students who are interested in learning how to build and program a robot. Click here for more info or to register.