What's The Purpose of School

We completed our first set of conferences at Nerstrand.  This is an important point, where teachers, families and students sit down and reflect on the start of the year.  A couple of years ago we changed these beginning conferences and moved them to October.  This has been a good change for us.  Our focus during this first set of conferences was about how students have transitioned to a new year.  Yes, we include information about their first assessments of the school year, but more importantly, what are teachers seeing in their classrooms?  How are children adjusting?  What are their relationships with peers?  What early strengths and struggles are teachers seeing in their students?  
It's so easy for all of us to get so caught up in assessments, that we can forget about the importance of school in the social and emotional life of children.  Students will be surprised when I ask them, " Why do we go to school?"  They always say to learn.  I ask them , "What do you learn at school?"  Invariably they tell me that they are here to learn to read and understand math.  They are surprised when I say that just as important as their academics is their learning about relationships.  Recess is as meaningful as their time in small and large groups listening and learning in their classrooms.  
At Nerstrand School, we have children working together throughout their day.  With so  many technological distractions in our lives, these connections with other people, everyday, is even more necessary.  Classmates are an essential part of our learning.  I see students everyday learning how to negotiate, and compromise.  Showing empathy and encouragement to others.  There's so much emphasis on bullying and parents are fearful of how other children treat their children, but we forget how important contact with other children everyday is in learning to grow up to be a happy and balanced adult that is able to have healthy relationships.  Sometimes exchanges with peers can be messy, not all learning is easy, but it isn't something to be avoided.  It's important work that children are doing all the time. These interactions help them learn how to make friends, keep friends, work with people that are different from themselves and have experiences with others that will bring color and texture to their lives.  This also includes student's interactions with the adults in the building as well.  
At Nerstrand, we have always emphasized the importance of the whole child at our school.  Sometimes all the emphasis on testing and accountability can distract us from this part of our mission.  Conferences are an excellent time for all of us to remember that the students we teach are learning and growing in so many ways, and not all of that learning can be measured.  If we all think back on our time in elementary school, I don't think anyone would remember their favorite test.  We all remember the connections we had that resulted in wonderful learning.  Here's the holding onto the joy of learning in all areas of our lives!

Our First Week of School

Dear Families,

 I hope the beginning of the school year has gone smoothly at your home.  As a parent I know how stressful it can be to get everyone back to school!

Our first week here at school went very well and it feels like we are settling into the routines.  During these first weeks and days, our focus is on getting to know each other again after the long summer break.   We also set about getting to know our new children, parents and staff.  I always struggle a bit getting to know all the new names of students and parents.   There are hundreds of names of children and parents that I've needed to learn now that I've been doing this for 28 years, and that's before I became a Director and all 150 students are in "my class".  

Still, we know that name memorization and recollection is worth all the effort.   Being able to greet each other by name as we move around our building is an essential component of our commitment to know all the children.   Authentically greeting  each other by name is a key building block in the formation of the many trusting relationships that are needed for learning to happen. So how do we set about learning the names of 150 children?   This process is embedded in the social curriculum that takes place in the first weeks of school.  During these first few weeks, in classroom Morning Meetings, teachers are focusing on building community within their classroom.  Knowing each other's name is an essential component in that community building.  Every morning during their meetings each child is greeted by name, using many different greetings that they learn throughout the year.  All of our teachers, and many paras, have been trainied in using Responsive Classroom (RC).  Morning Meeting is an essential component in RC. Building a strong community of respect, kindness and perseverance is an important  part of everyone's classroom and when that is established we see those same attributes through the entire building.   Over the coming weeks, children will learn the names of their friends in other classes in the school as the children are intentionally mixed together during games and play.

At our All School Meeting on September 12th, sped para Nicki Schaefer will present her Spotlight, using this year's Spotlight poster.  She will be modelling for all of our students, what is expected on the day that they present their Spotlight to their own Homerooms.  Next week in Homeroom classrooms teachers will model how to do a spotlight presentation.  The last week of September is when students will begin giving their Spotlights.  Teachers begin with Woodlands students that have the most experience doing their presentations.  All of this modeling is well thought out, so that all of our students feel comfortable when their turn comes up.  Our Spotlight program has been running for over 25 years, giving students opportunities to speak in public and to build connections in their Homerooms and throughout our school. It is a wonderful tradition, that every Tuesday in our Homerooms, one student is in the Spotlight and is able to share facts about themselves.  When students leave Nerstrand they are given a DVD will all of the Spotlights they have done over the years.  I know from personal experience (both my daughters went to Nerstrand) that this is a cherished keepsake of their time here.  

Names matter, they help us to build our community.    So, that work will continue and I will add learning the names of new parents to the list.    Please forgive me if I struggle with names.  I will get there eventually!



The End of the School Year

This picture was drawn by 5th grader Riley

Dear Families,

The final Eagle's Nest is going out, last Monday I had my last Spotlight Luncheon and we scheduled our final activities at our last staff meeting.  It's definitely the end of the school year!  

In my mind the school year always felt like my students and I were boarding a large ship for a 9-month voyage.  Everyone in the classroom was a part of the crew and although I was Captain, all my students had an impact in where our ship would take us.  Everyone was essential and had an impact on the voyage.  As Director I still see the school year as a voyage, but with a much bigger crew.  

This year's voyage took the Savannah to the Island of Animals, with visits from the Como Zoo and to both of our metro zoos.  They loved travelling on the zoo bus!  They also traveled through their Flat Stanleys and the Iditarod Dog Race.  They made beautiful art and they became strong readers, writers, mathematicians and scientists this year.  

The Prairie spent time learning about color science with Linda Bonde.   They spent time with Larry: making corn shocks, examining the dugout canoe, planting bulbs, migrating butterflies and especially loved the tipi experience.  At River Bend Nature Center, they got to experience three different seasons, and the kids still talk about things they learned and did.  Kinders spent a lot of time learning how to make letters, then make words, then write words, then read words!! Wow, lots of growing! It was fun to make 'zoo suitcases': Students learned about 11 different animals, then saw them for real at the Minnesota Zoo. The Prairie learned to 'be kind, be safe, and be helpful' each and every day in their classrooms. Woodlands 5th graders journeyed to Wolf Ridge and learned about team work and environmental science.  They built rockets and blasted them off in the field.  They spent time learning about the properties of water and chemistry and spent a lot of time learning to get along with others.  They wrote their own song about a former teacher whose resilience and positive spirit has helped her through some of life's greatest challenges.  

The year in PE started with much time spent outside on the track and field area getting ready for and running the mile (grades 1-5) and half-mile (kinders) as well as learning some new skills and improving on emerging skills. All classes once again enjoyed a week of the popular "highway" game where they rode scooters safely around a large obstacle course in the gym.  In the spring everyone participated in a Jump Rope for Heart event.  All classes raised funds to help those with heart disease as well as increase their awareness of heart health.  Our school raised an amazing $4712 this year and everyone had fun jumping rope for the week.  

This year in Music was the first year of Drumline.  There was a lot of excitement in the Woodlands about Drumline.  Savannah students started learning to play the ukulele and did Recorder Karate.  Prairie students got to use boom wackers and practice singing for two big concerts.  

Everyone got to go on two big field trips, deliver beautiful May Day flowers that are still in the front of houses around Nerstrand and so many other things that would take too long to name.  It's been an eventful year that seemed to fly by with much learning, laughing and growing.  

I wish your family a safe and happy summer.  I wish the best to all of our graduating fifth graders, and look forward to seeing returning families in the fall.  Thank you for all your support of our school and your students.

Happy Summer Everyone!



Welcome Spring

Dear Families,

Another month has slipped by and it has been a busy one.  Our fifth graders returned from their trip to Wolfridge at the start of the month, and from all accounts it was an amazing trip.  You can read more about it in the Family Update that was sent out earlier this week.

The Savannah team also had their final trip up to Como Zoo as part of the grant they received.  It's been quite a year for the Savannah with their partnership with Como.  I frequently hear it mentioned in my weekly Spotlight Lunches with students as being a highlight of the year.   We are appreciative of our fabulous Savannah team of Tara Vondrasek and Sarah Johnson for making this happen for our students.  In May the entire Prairie and Savannah team will be heading to the Minnesota Zoo for their team field trip, thanks to our incredible PTO.  The Savannah students have learned a great deal about animals during this year.  I am sure they have made memories they will never forget.

MCA testing began this month, and has run very smoothly because of our new high speed internet access.  Next week the Woodlands will complete the reading portion of the assessment and the 3rd grade Savannah students will complete math.  We hope to be finished with all of the state tests by the 14th.  

At our last staff meeting, the teachers scheduled this year's Talent Show.  Mark your calendars for May 30th to see some talented Nerstrand students sing, dance, tell jokes and surprise us with their talent.  This has always been a popular event and more information will be coming home soon.  

Finally, Nerstrand applied for a Reading Corps tutor for the 2017-2018 school year and our application was accepted!  However, we need to hire that tutor.  Flyers will be coming home giving information about being a Reading Corps tutor.  You may be interested in applying for this position, or if you know a retiree,  college student, or high school graduate.  Please let me know if you are interested in finding out more.  These reading tutors work one on one with K-3 graders that need some reading interventions.  Reading Corps is many times referred to as the naitonal Peace Corps.  It's important work, that would really help our students.  Here is a link that gives some more information about being a Reading Corps tutor:

Happy Spring!



From the Desk of Maggie

We started a new tradition this year at Nerstrand School.  Our fifth grade students will be spending a week living and learning at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center.  According to the Wolf Ridge web site, the following is stated as their mission:  

Wolf Ridge is a place where minds open to the joy and wonder of discovery of our natural world. We seek to stimulate a love and understanding of nature by involving children and adults in direct observation of and participation in the outdoors. We promote self-awareness and leadership development in the process.
Activities and classes at Wolf Ridge are nearly all outdoors, typically three hours in length. Over fifty different classes and activities are available. Subjects include environmental science, cultural history, contemporary environmental issues, personal growth, team building and outdoor recreation. 

At the beginning of my career I taught at an international boarding school outside of London England. An integral part of the curriculum involved travel and first hand experiences.  Two weeks a year, once in the fall and again in the winter, the entire campus was closed so that all Middle and Upper School students could take sponsored trips around Europe.  Although, I taught 5th grade, I was able to chaperone some of these trips.  I  got the opportunity to visit Prague, Czechoslovakia just as it was opening up to the West, after many years of Communist leadership.  I also chaperoned to Vienna, Germany and a ski trip to the Swiss Alps.  My 5th graders also had a chance to travel through school.  My 5th grade colleagues and I chaperoned a trip every year to Devon, England, which is a county in Southwest England.  

These experiences taught me so much about the importance of hands on learning for all students.  In our classroom we had studied erosion, tidal pools and rock formations, but in Devon we got to see them and study them with so much depth.  As human beings, learning comes to life when we are able to study something using all of our senses.  I saw the huge impact this had on my students, and I certainly realized the impact it had on me.  So bringing this opportunity to our students makes so much sense.  We are lucky to live close enough to the Boundary Waters so that our students are able to visit this beautiful and uniquely Minnesotan ecosystem. 

Here is another blurb from their web site about their location: 

Located on a ridge overlooking Lake Superior, Wolf Ridge’s 2,000 acre campus is bordered by the Baptism River and features creeks, two lakes, two high peaks, 18-miles of trail and a mixed forest of maple, birch and spruce. Wildlife is abundant and includes pine marten, eagles, moose, black bear, white-tailed deer, fox, wolves, beaver, peregrine falcons and loons. Facilities include four classroom buildings, two dormitories, a dining hall, a raptor aviary, a library, two auditoriums, two rock-climbing walls, two outdoor ropes courses and an administration building.  

Our first annual trip will depart very early on the morning of February 27th, and will return on the afternoon of March 3.  We are so excited to offer this experience to our students as they become 5th graders.  We look forward to hearing about their adventures when they return. 

Maggie Kiley

Winter Is Here

It doesn’t seem as if it can possibly be close to the winter holidays when I look out at the Peace Garden and see grass and not a bit of snow.  We all know how quickly the weather can change here, though, so we’ll be having students bring home all their winter gear over the break, but they’ll need to bring it back in January.  We are no longer sharing any clothing from the lost and found, so it is very important to be sure to send your child to school with snow pants, boots, hats, mittens and coats.

It’s a pleasure to see the first Eagle’s Nest go out.  This school newspaper has been a long standing tradition at our school.  It’s been going on for over 20 years!  It’s been nice seeing all of the writing going on around the building in anticipation of the Eagle’s Nest and for other projects.  One of the projects I have seen is the Savannah students have been working on sending letters back to their Pen Pals at Bridgewater Elementary School in Northfield.  The Savannah students seemed really focused on their writing knowing that they had an audience outside of their classroom that they were writing to.  It’s a very cool project!

I am writing this the day after our Holiday Program which was wonderful.  I have gotten so many positive comments about the performance.  It was special seeing Matthew put together his first program and to pull it off so beautifully.  We are grateful to all our families for the support and effort you put in to make this program a success.  I know from personal experience the morning after a concert can be challenging as a parent!

As we move closer to the winter break we also move into another phase of the school year.   By the end of January we will be half way through this year and the days will be getting longer.  I hope all of the Nerstrand families enjoy the winter break.  Looking forward to seeing you in 2017!



The Beauty of Fall

Dear Families,

It is hard to believe that we are already over 6 weeks into this school year.  It's a beautiful time of year at the Little School in the Big Woods.  Included is another picture by para professional, Cheryl Keller, of our picturesque school.

 Tonight is our first night of conferences for this school year.  They are about a month ahead of when we have traditionally held them, so expect to hear about how your child/children are adjusting to school.  There will also be information about beginning of the year assessments .  Classroom teachers may also discuss some reading interventions that have been begun throughout all of the grade levels.  This is our second year of using a reading intervention program created by the University of Minnesota.  The name of the program is PRESS. The primary goal of PRESS is to work with teachers and administrators to establish school-based systems and practices for all K-5 students to become capable readers.  If your child is in an intervention group then a letter has already been sent home from me.  Please contact me or your child's classroom teacher if you have any questions.

We can experience unpredictable weather this time of year, but before long it will turn cold.  We try very hard to have students play outside each day so snow pants, boots, jackets, hats and mittens will be needed soon.  We do not keep extra clothing at school anymore so if your family needs help with any of these essentials please let us know. 

 Looking ahead, after the MEA break, we have the Halloween parade on October 31st.  We are grateful to the Nerstrand businesses  for participating in this annual tradition.  In November we will have Art Adventures, Tipi Week and report cards going home before the Thanksgiving break. 

 Next week our Savannah classrooms will be headed up to the Como Zoo as part of the grant they received this year.  It's hard to tell who is more excited about this grant, the teachers, Tara Vondrasek and Sarah Johnson, or the students.   Congratulations to Tara and Sarah for bringing this opportunity to their students.  

 I hope you are enjoying the fall weather.


 Maggie Kiley


A Busy First Week

Friday, September 9, 2016

Dear Families,
It has been a busy first week of school and we are off to an exciting start! It is always fun seeing everyone come back after the summer. Lots of familiar faces but plenty of new faces too. Hopefully the sun is going to making more of an appearance over the next few weeks.

Monday, September 12th, we will start having Homeroom. Homeroom is a time when siblings are together in one of our classrooms in a kindergarten through 5th grade experience. A big focus of homeroom is to establish community within our school, and also for children to be in the Spotlight each year. Matthew Keseley will kick off Spotlight on Tuesday, September 13th with an all school meeting. We are grateful to Lori Amy for designing the Spotlight posters each year. This year’s theme is community.

Next week we head to the Prairie on Friday as we study the Prairie flowers. Because of the amount of mosquitos and wet weather we may reschedule it for the following Friday, September 23rd. We will make that decision early next week, so please watch your emails for updates on Prairie Appreciation Day. According to Larry Richie, many of the monarchs on the Prairie have started their migration to Mexico. We may luck out and see some monarchs that have come down from Canada making their way to Mexico. Attached to this letter is more information about Prairie Appreciation Day.

We are very excited to announce that we have a new music program and activity coming to Nerstrand Elementary School this fall. We will be offering a Drumline course for ALL Woodland students. It does not matter your experience with percussion or music, all are welcome to join and learn! This is an optional program and will be treated as an extracurricular activity although it will be held during the school day. Matthew plans to have the program up and running around the beginning of October and he hopes to debut the line at our first program of the year in December.

The Nerstrand Eagles Drumline will consist of four sections or “lines”, Snare line, Bass (Drum) line, Tenor (pitched drums) line, and a Cymbal line. Matthew will teach all of the basic elements of a drumline. Because of the equipment available to our school and the age/size of our students we will be leaving the marching aspect out. Students will learn about rhythm, ensemble playing and proper percussion techniques along with some history around drumlines. With Matthew’s experience as a professional percussionist, the drum line should prove to be an exciting music opportunity for our students.

Looking ahead, please remember that we will be in need for many volunteers for Discovery Day, which is scheduled for October 7th. In order to volunteer you must have completed the paperwork for a background check. If you are interested in volunteering at all this school year we do need to have a background check completed. If you have questions or are wanting to begin a background check, please check with Barb or myself. We rely on volunteers for many of the activities we do throughout the year. Thank you to all the many volunteers to our school.

If you are interested in being a substitute at Nerstrand we are always in need of substitute teachers and paras. If you would like to be put on our substitute list please see our web site about being a substitute teacher and let the office know if you would like to sub as a para. For both of these positions a current background check must be done before we can contact you about being a substitute.

Mark your calendars for another upcoming event, Curriculum Night on Monday, September 26th from 6:00-7:00 pm. This is a parents only event for teachers to discuss curriculum at their level and answer questions about the upcoming school year. I will also be giving information about our World’s Best Workforce Report as part of our annual meeting. I will be meeting with interested parents before Curriculum Night at 5:45 in the media center.

Finally, thank you for your support of your children and this school. Our staff knows the importance of your involvement. We appreciate all that you do and hope that you never hesitate to contact us with questions and comments.
Maggie Kiley

One last blog

Dear Families,


This is always a time for reflection in schools.  The end of the school year brings change and endings for all the children and adults in their lives.  As a teacher, it has always been a time when I looked back over the year to gain new insights into my classroom and make plans for the future. As a Director I am looking back over the year, school wide, and thinking about the things that stand out in my mind, as well as plans for the future. 


I have enjoyed my first year as Director with its highs and lows and feel a renewed appreciation for the families and staff that make up this school.  It's been exciting being able to visit all of our classrooms and see the many things that your children have been involved in over the course of this year.  Kindergartners always grow so much over this first year. it's always amazing to think back on that very first assembly on our first day of school when they practically bounced into the gym and rang the bell for the first time.  Their growth and change is so very apparent but all our other students have grown and changed this year too.  


On Friday morning we will have our fifth grade graduation which is always a time when we look back over the growth of those graduates.  It is a phenomenal growth in child development that they have made in the 6 years they have been attending elementary school.  The Woodlands classes have been watching the fifth graders spotlight videos from their kindergarten years and I think it is always jolting for them to see how little they really were when they started school.   The fifth graders always are surprised by how young they look and sound and are both delighted and embarrassed by the items they brought in and the way they answered the questions on that first poster.  One fifth grader recently said to me that she was remembering the fact that both boys and girls played together back in kindergarten and nobody ever noticed but now it would be a big deal.  She was wishing that her classmates still had some of that 5 year old freedom and acceptance.   That deep reflection is something many of us feel at this time of year. 


In closing I am sharing a poem by Nolan in Tara's class.  Her class created color poems and this one felt very summery to me.  


Green is calm.

Green is the taste of sweet peppers.

Green is the smell

of cut grass.

It blows at my feet.

Green is the feel of

sticky, sappy

pine trees.


One final photograph of a graduating fifth grader to go along with my last blog post of the year.  I hope all our families have a safe and fun summer.  Thank you for all your support of our school.


From the Desk of Maggie

Happy Spring Everyone!
The tulips are in full bloom in the Peace Garden and everything else is coming out.  Unfortunately the temperatures are still unpredictable so we can't put away all the winter gear, yet.
We've had an eventful week here at school.  The Community Celebration is Friday, and rehearsals in the gym are in full swing.  I heard the Woodlands practicing their speaking parts this morning.  I got a chance to hear Mr. Quie's song last week and it sounds great!  Matthew and the Woodland's students have worked very hard on this song and feel very connected to it.  Well done Matthew and 4th and 5th graders for all the thought you have put into making this song!
This week we also brought back a special event that we have not done in quite a few years--Fancy Lunch.  All of the students watched a video on proper table manners and then each of our three levels, Prairie, Savannah, and Woodlands are having a fancy lunch in the lunchroom.  We used gym mats to create a private dining area and ordered white table cloths from Sodexho so that everyone could practice their table manners.  Carmen played ambient music on her speaker system and teachers helped wait on tables.  It was a lot of fun and the students were so polite!  Thank you to Jan Boudreau for bringing back this special event!
As we move into May things get busier around here, but by the end of that first week all state testing will be completed, which is always a relief.  It's hard to believe that we are nearing the end of the school year.  As I write this I am preparing to go to my last Spotlight luncheon of the year-it does not seem possible!
Shout out to former Director Lauren Satrom for encouraging me in my blog posts!