A3 Students Participate in Macalester International Roundtable

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 

Seniors Head North


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.


11th Grade Students Explore Colleges & Careers on Northstarquest

The North Star Quest is a key experience at the beginning of a student's junior year at Great River School. It consists of visits and tours to the following post secondary schools, including: University Of Minnesota Duluth (MDU), the North House Folk School, Northland and a choice between St Olaf and Carleton.


“The purpose of the trip was for us juniors to learn more about what colleges we want to apply for, and to gain a deeper understanding of the college application process.”

-Guthrie Pritchard and Micah Swanson.


Early on Monday morning about fifty, mostly tired, juniors showed up to the Great River parking lot, ready to camp, sweat, and tour colleges. They loaded all their bags and selves on the bus, before John, the bus driver, took off! The trip to Duluth went smoothly, thanks to gorgeous weather and plenty of food.

Two hours and one broken window later (John, the wonderful driver, met his match with a stop light in Duluth), they arrived at UMD. After listening to an info session about the school they dispersed into small groups to go on a self guided tour for an hour, before getting back on the bus.


Finally the juniors, their guides and John arrived in Grand Marais. In groups of three or more, they went out to explore the town, the surrounding beach area, and cook dinner.


In the morning they entered the folk school, splitting into groups and completing different traditional crafts. These included: blacksmithing, wood carving, bread baking, mallet making and felting. As the bread came out of the oven, John and the bus appeared, to whisk the buccaneers and their guides away.

The next day, they took off for Northland. It was almost unanimously agreed that Northland was Great River School reincarnated into a college. Before embarking on their longest journey yet, our weary travelers satisfied their hunger in the Northland cafeteria. A sundae bar made itself available, to the great excitement of the students. Five long hours later, students poured out of the bus into a rustic campsite, buggy and humid, right outside Northfield. In honor of their last night, pizza was provided and devoured for dinner.

The sun rose only an hour or so before they woke up, took down their tents, fueling up once more for the last college tours. Given the time constraint and location of the next two colleges, students had been asked to choose between St. Olaf, a school known throughout the A3 as having the best cafeteria, and Carlton. Half the students got off the bus at St. Olaf, where they received a student led tour and info session. The other half went to Carlton, where they were greeted by crisp autumn leaves, old collegiate buildings and a woman named Carla. Carla gave them a long info session before letting them go wander around campus.

After lunch, everyone met up at a square in downtown Northfield, and loaded onto the bus. An hour later they arrived back at Great River School, where they unpacked the bus, and headed home.

View Full Album here. 

-Guthrie Pritchard, Beatrice Ibes, & Micah Swanson 

Photography by Stacey Kreger

The Purpose of Key Experiences


This week many of our students are participating in Key Experiences.  These experiences are designed to challenge students, take them out of their comfort zone, and to build community amongst students and faculty. 


Students at Great River report a deep connection to the community at the school. We intentionally engage in key experiential learning trips that take students out of their normal learning environment and out into new experiences in the world. We call these expeditions “Key Experiences”. The novel environment and shared sense of discovery among the group creates a key experience of shared vulnerability. This shared vulnerability of self, combined with responsibility for one another and the group, bonds the cohort of students together through overcoming shared challenges. 

Elementary trips include travel to farms and local sites for 1st-3rd grade, and overnight camping for 4th-6th grades. Junior high experiences include extended travel across the country, overnight trips, shared projects of producing a theater production, and essential work of running a real business (bike shop or cafe), as well as biking 100 miles together over the course of 4-5 days. The high school experiences travel overnight and focus on real agricultural work, visits to colleges and postsecondary options, and expeditionary trips focused on leadership. These experiences create a shared sense of responsibility for the group and the community and help to establish a strong foundation of interpersonal connection.

Beyond the classroom, however, our key experience trips provide a model for experiential learning where students are engaged in field trips, real-world experiences, community service, internships with professional settings, expert mentor visits in a discipline of interest, and civic engagement while at the same time working to master state standards through their works. Rather than spending time addressing social-emotional growth and separate time mastering state academic standards, Great River School structures learning to accomplish both at the same time. These settings are an integrated part and anchor for curriculum. 

When a student is both in a real world setting and completing standard-aligned academic content, efficiency and multiple benefits are gained. Our overnight trips, camping, and intensives which formally occupy two dedicated weeks per year, are landmarks of the real word experiences that we seek to integrate into our everyday learning.

We can't wait to share pictures from the fall 2017 Key Experiences! 

Welcome Night brings families together!

"I think nearly all new families to Great River School are here, this is fantastic!” - D.Martinez, PEG Chair


Close to 100 individuals (parents, grandparents, guardians, and siblings of incoming Great River students) attended the annual Welcome Night at Horton Park this past August 10th. Everyone who attended had a color-coded name tag based on their grade level, which made it easier to identify potential classmates. While parents and guardians interacted with each other, students could be seen climbing trees or playing a variety of games provided by the Parent Engagement Group (PEG). Pickle Ball was a crowd favorite, with the final game ending just after 8:15pm.

Midway through the event, David Martinez, PEG Chair, and Sam O’Brien, Head of School, welcomed everyone and encouraged attendees to get to know each other…..which they did! Overall, the event was a tremendous success and the entire PEG team was pleased to see so many new families in attendance. The rain showers just prior to the event had a few event organizers worried, but the sun made it’s way out just minutes prior to the start of Welcome Night.

Welcome Night is PEG’s kickoff event, so everyone was very excited to have such great momentum to kickoff the school year. The Parent Engagement Group consists entirely of parent volunteers and there is always a need for additional support. If you are interested in serving in a leadership role, in a volunteer capacity, or as a general member of Great River School’s Parent Engagement Group, please send an email to peg@greatriverschool.org. For additional information regarding PEG, please visit: http://www.greatriverschool.org/peg/ or contact your grade/level ambassador below:

Lower Elementary:

Upper Elementary:


-David Martinez, PEG Chair

Volunteers Needed at Harvest Fest!

See our Signup Genius page to view all opportunities!

About Harvest Fest

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Harvest Fest is our annual family fall festival. This year it takes place on Saturday, October 7th from 2-5pm. We serve "Stone Soup" where the broth is made by students, and you bring the ingredients! We need face painters, soup servers, bread bringers, and help with setup and takedown. Thanks in advance for helping to make Harvest Fest a success!