Brooke Sheehy, sophomore
The Bdote Seminar at Fort Snelling State Park gives Edina High School (EHS) students the opportunity to learn about Native American culture and history in Minnesota during their colonization unit in Pre-AP English 10. The seminar featured poets Heid E. Erdrich and Gwen Westerman, and Dakota language teacher Glenn Wasicuna. Each of them taught students an important part of Native American culture including Ojibwe art and Dakota language, as well as the importance of nature in each culture. I was initially reluctant to sign the permission slip when my English teacher Jackie Roehl handed it to me saying that I would miss two full days of school, but chose to do so in the end because when life gives an opportunity to enrich your education, it is a wise decision to see where it will take you.
Going into the first day of the seminar, I expected to hear long lectures about Native American culture, and how the Europeans stripped them of their culture during the colonization period of the late 1800s. The most important thing I knew walking into the seminar is what my history teacher said, “history is written by the winners.” We only ever hear one side to the story, and that story comes from the person who won that specific conflict. In school, the Native American culture is only taught through white people’s eyes, but attending this seminar educated me on the missing half of the story.
The two major points from the seminar that I took back with me and will strive to apply in my life include “Where there is death there is life” and “Never say sorry.” On the silent nature walk I took with Westerman, the one thing that stood out the most to me was this park sign that read “Buried Electric Cables,” except “Electric Cables” was struck through with white paint. Underneath written in the same paint was “Dakota Women and Children.” Behind the sign deeper in the forest were hundreds of red flags planted in ground as a memorial for all the people who died at the Dakota internment camp located at Fort Snelling State Park. However, even with all of the death surrounding me, I could not help but notice the birds chirping, trees budding, turkeys squawking, coyote footprints in the snow, squirrels climbing up the living trees, and all the life that surrounded this place of death.
During my Dakota language lessons with Wasicuna, a peer of mine asked, “Dakota ia sorry toked eyapi he?” which translates, “How do you say ‘sorry’ in Dakota?” Wasicuna replied, “Before contact with the Europeans, there was no word for sorry in the Dakota language because you are supposed to conduct yourself and live your life so that you never have to be sorry.” Another peer questioned, “But what if you accidentally bump into someone? What do you say then?” Wasicuna responded, “You laugh it off.” I absolutely loved that part of the seminar because it made me look at my own life, and I realized that I say “sorry” at least five times per day. In the English language, the word “sorry” has truly lost its meaning because it is used all the time for no reason at all. While I still believe there are necessary times when saying sorry is appropriate and called for, I also like the idea of living my life by thinking through every decision I make so that I never have the need to feel sorry about anything.
The Bdote Seminar was a wonderful experience that I was fortunate to be able to attend due to a generous grant from the state, and I believe that every student should be given the opportunity to attend this event at least once during high school. It is an eye opening experience I hope never to forget.
Lillie Westbrook, senior
I returned to the Bdote seminar hosted at Fort Snelling State Park this year as a senior mentor after going for the first time when I was a sophomore. My sophomore year, I struggled with the decision to miss two days of school to attend the retreat. However, this year I jumped at the chance to go again. I remembered the lessons I had learned from the guests, the joy I felt from being outside at the start of spring, and the progress I made as a writer. I hoped to have similar experiences as I mentor, and I was not disappointed.
Mentoring the sophomores was easy; facilitating conversations felt more like talking between friends rather than coaching someone younger than myself. The time spent writing and walking outside was especially rewarding. How often is it that a student may take time in the middle of the weekday to enjoy the outdoors and relax in silence? At the end of the second day, the whole group sat around the memorial for the Dakota 38 who were executed in Mankato at the end of the Dakota War of 1862 and reflected on our time at the retreat. Everyone expressed feelings of gratitude for the chance to be somewhere so sacred and have such knowledgeable and inspirational guest speakers.
I, along with many of my peers, expressed a wish that someday everyone at school would have the chance to go on this retreat. The lessons I learned and memories I made as a sophomore and senior will stay with me. I am incredibly thankful to have had a chance to return on this wonderful retreat.
Earlier this year, two Edina High School students received the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing award. Maylat Kassa and Vanessa Wang were two of just 14 award recipients for the state of Minnesota.
We spoke to Maylat (pictured right) and Vanessa (pictured below) about the award, their passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), and their advice for girls with an interest in it.
Why were you interested in pursuing the award?
Maylat: I first heard of the award in my Computer Science class from my teacher, Ms. Johnson. I felt it would grant me the ability to represent women in STEM, a field where a large gender discrepancy exists. I also became enticed by the internship and job opportunities offered to award winners afterward.
Vanessa: I wanted to pursue the award to give myself confidence about my knowledge in computing. For most of the questions, I found that I was able to talk about my experiences more than I thought I could. For example, when the application asked what I’ve done with computing, I wrote about how I do programming tutorials outside of class, and how I use computing and technology in my science classes as well as in robotics. The application also asked me about how I promote computing in my community, so I spoke about my experiences with volunteering for programs such as “Hour of Code” and “Girls Who Code.”
What does winning the award mean to you?
Maylat: Winning the award and receiving recognition means I’m helping change the norm, something I’m very humbled to be able to do. I’m helping alter the gender disparity that exists in STEM, giving women interested in science encouragement to pursue any STEM field they love. Science and technology offer such a wide variety of fascinating jobs and experiences that girls should feel encouraged to pursue--I’m glad I get to help provide that push.
Vanessa: It gives me confidence to know that I have the skills to succeed in a STEM career. I thought that I would never win the award because I’ve never published an app or researched at a lab (though those things are on my to-do list!). But, it turns out you don’t have to have a long list of achievements to show your enthusiasm for computing. Just taking STEM classes at your school, you are showing interest in STEM and willingness to learn about it. Especially since I applied last year but won an award this year, it tells me that I can improve myself by a lot in only a year; it lets me think about how much more I can achieve in college and beyond.
How did you first become interested in science?
Vanessa: I have always liked doing math, and science was a way to apply my math skills to hands-on and real world situations. For example, I liked building and programming Lego robots in First Lego League back in 5th grade, and I didn’t know that what I was doing was engineering at that time. I knew that I wanted to do something with science or technology, but I wasn’t exactly sure what until I explored more in high school.
What are some of the ways you have fostered that interest at EHS?
Maylat: In 9th grade, I took Intro to Engineering Design, which served as the foundation on which I’d further explore what science and technology have to offer. Within EHS, I’m a member of Medical Club, where I get hands-on experience with Medtronic’s medical devices such as spinal implants, pacemakers, and heart monitors. In 10th grade, I enjoyed Digital Electronics and by 11th grade, I engaged in Principles of Engineering, where I bolstered my computing capabilities by getting some experience coding in RobotC and solidified my knowledge of mechanics.
Through Civil Engineering & Architecture, a class I’m taking this year, I got to engage in an eight-week internship at Starkey Hearing Technologies. At Starkey, I got to work with engineers of various fields to learn about the intricacies of hearing aid design. I grew fascinated by the way technology functioned with the human body; the experience thus ignited my passion for biotechnology.
Last summer I volunteered at the VA Medical Center in the hospital’s radiology department, where I truly felt my passion for biomedical technology solidify. I got to shadow radiologists in their examination of the human body through various imaging machines. During my summer stay at the VA, I got to work with anesthesiologists and radiologists, who demonstrated how to use and analyze imaging equipment and brain monitors. The sum of my experiences has affirmed my interests in science and technology.
What is some advice you have for younger girls who may be interested in science?
Maylat: My biggest piece of advice for girls interested in science is that it’s crucial that they do lots of exploring. STEM fields offer so much and are incredibly fascinating, so it’s important for girls to take advantage of opportunities to learn. Girls who are interested should be driven to get involved in science and technology (even if a STEM class has only a handful of girls!). The smaller number of women currently in STEM fields is something that will change, and when it does, girls who pursue their passions in science and technology will be both proud they helped make that change and glad they pursued what they’re truly passionate about.
Vanessa: Keep exploring and creating things! I wish I knew about computer science at an earlier age, which is why I volunteer for programs like “Girls Who Code” to share my excitement about programming. In general, I think that if girls try out a science club, a robotics team, or a summer coding camp like they might try out a new instrument or sport, they will find out how much fun it is. Science doesn’t just rely on math and numbers. For example, we need a lot of creativity to come up with a design for our robot on the robotics team, and communication skills to share our ideas with other teammates. Don’t be worried if you aren’t “skilled” enough for STEM activities. Instead, focus on exploring, creating, and having fun with others who are also excited about STEM.
What are your current plans for after high school?
Maylat: I’ll be attending the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. There, I plan to study pre-med, with a major in biomedical engineering, allowing my passions for technology and biology to coalesce in physics, math, and computer science courses. During my first four years, I plan to take on more internship opportunities in order to discover all that biomedical technology has to offer. I hope to find opportunities in companies like Medtronic and learn alongside engineers in medical labs. In graduate school, I plan to pursue radiology through medical school. Currently, I hope to become a radiologist, capable of utilizing my knowledge of computers and technology to develop diagnoses, analyze, and hopefully improve the effectiveness of imaging devices and machines.
Vanessa: I plan on pursuing a degree in computer science. There are a lot of subfields within computer science and I don’t know if I can explore them all! But, I’m currently interested in creating software for computers because I liked learning about computers in Digital Electronics. After high school, I hope to pursue an internship or a job shadow for software engineering to see how companies are using computing in their businesses.
Last summer, I took a two-week long camp called the “Summer Computing Academy for Female Students” at the University of Minnesota. We learned the programming language Python in the mornings, but we also had an opportunity to meet a variety of professors who utilized programming in their research. I also want to participate in research labs to see how computing can be applied in research. Though I’m not sure what I’ll end up exactly studying, pursuing a computer science degree will allow me to do what I love: thinking and solving problems in an innovative way.
It’s National School Counselor Week, so we talked to Edina High School’s newest school counselor, Dylan Hackbarth, about the job.
Why is the role of a school counselor important, not just at the high school but at every academic level?
The role of the school counselor is unique within any school setting. School counselors are distinctively positioned to act as a conduit for students, families, teachers, administrators and outside agencies. We help connect the many moving pieces of a school and constantly look at our work and how it impacts the daily lives of young scholars. We support the academic, social/emotional and post-secondary readiness development of all students and constantly ask ourselves, “How are students different because of the work we do?” We help connect the dots and provide necessary supports so students can set goals and achieve them!
I love my job. Sometimes, we see students dealing with significant struggles – it is an honor to work with those students to face their issue, support them as they devise a strategy to move forward. It is also an honor to support students as they develop goals for their futures, whether it is college, military or some other plan – we get to help them reach and attain goals. I also appreciate the opportunity to support student mental health. Being in high school can be a difficult time for a myriad of reasons – it is essential that our students know the support that is here for them. Those are some of the reasons I love being a counselor, here is a brief video our department made to share why some of the other EHS counselors love what they do:
Sometimes we get asked why we go by the title School Counselor versus the more antiquated term, “guidance counselor.” Guidance counselor is a bit of an old-school term that does not necessarily capture the multifaceted nature of the current School Counselor’s role within a school. In the past, “guidance counselors” worked in isolation within a school and focused on vocational guidance. In today’s K-12 educational world, professional school counselors focus on academic, career/post-secondary and social/emotional development of all students. We work collaboratively with all stakeholders (parents, teachers, administrators, outside agencies) to best support students in their specific needs. While “guidance counselors” did not have set standards for practice, today’s School Counselors implement the American School Counseling Association’s framework for counseling practices to orient our work with students and families.
This is your first year at Edina High School. What were you doing before joining the high school?
This is my fourth year as a school counselor. I am originally from Appleton, Wisc., but attended the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. During that time, I met my now-wife (who is an elementary school music teacher in another school district). She had cousins who attended Edina High School, so the school has been on my radar for several years. I even attended the Pops Concert about six years ago.
After my undergrad at the UofM, I had a unique opportunity to work for Oscar Mayer as a “Hotdogger” or Wienermobile Driver/Goodwill Ambassador for one year. Annually, Oscar Mayer hires twelve first-year college graduates to drive their fleet for one year. I learned unique skills related to driving large food-shaped vehicles, using hotdog-related puns and meeting people who love the Wienermobile in almost 40 different states. I actually had to defer my graduate studies to hit the hotdog highways with the “big dog.”
I later attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. I was a part of the third cohort of JHU’s unique counselor education program called the School Counseling Fellows. Throughout the data-driven, equity-focused graduate school program, I worked in and around Baltimore. After completing graduate school, I began working at a large high school in Fairfax County Public Schools, just outside of Washington, D.C. My wife and I moved to Capitol Hill in D.C. and worked in surrounding school systems for several years before transitioning back to the Midwest in the summer 2015. I worked as a school counselor in St. Paul Public Schools for a year and feel so excited to have joined the Edina Public Schools community this year!
The week of January 23-27, 2017 has been officially proclaimed Paraprofessional Recognition Week by the Minnesota Department of Education and Governor Mark Dayton, recognizing the "important role that paraprofessionals play in ensuring educational success."
One such paraprofessional is Anne Braun at Countryside Elementary School. Braun is an instructional assistant for the Continuous Progress program and has been part of the Countryside family for quite a while.
"The most rewarding part of my job are the wonderful kids who make every day a little different."
By Christopher Minge, Edina High School student
Did you know that, according to the United Nations, more than 1.2 billion people lack access to clean drinking water? This results in health issues (often mortality), educational issues (due to missed school time), and economic issues (due to missed work time).
I've been aware of the water crisis for several years, on account of my family's relationship with Haiti Outreach. I also knew that the organization was beginning a project to map Haitian water points, using software customized by mWater.
Before this mapping effort, nobody could really identify the thousands of wells in Haiti, the status of those wells (functional, broken, contaminated, clean, etc.), and the distance a given household needed to travel to reach a well. In the past, even when people did create partial lists, the information was very hard to visualize. However, in the present--on account of Haiti Outreach's efforts, and the mWater data platform--it is possible to look at "live" realtime maps for a completed region. Each map shows hundreds of wells, marked in green, yellow or red, based on functionality. Households are marked with dots. At a glance, a person can see if there is a problematic (red) region, or a group of households that is far from clean water. From there, Haiti Outreach and other organizations, can work together with targeted communities in their well-drilling efforts. Yet there is still a very long way to go in this undertaking, as only a few regions have been mapped, and hundreds more remain.
When I heard from a Haiti Outreach employee that--although he loved the mWater software--it would be very useful to have an iPhone app, I realized that this might be my chance to do something truly useful. Before then, I had coded Tetris, Asteroids and other games, but these had done nothing to address any problems in the world. The fact that I also needed an Eagle Scout project for Boy Scouts made the news about the app seem especially serendipitous.
That same evening, I googled "mWater," and found their website. I filled out a contact form, and wondered if anyone would actually read it. It was a bit of a shot in the dark. Yet to my excitement, and a bit of surprise, I soon heard back from Annie Feighery (mWater's CEO) and Clayton Grassick (mWater's CTO). They had actually been looking into adding the iOS platform, and they were willing to let me make the necessary adaptations.
I'm really grateful to the people at mWater for letting me do a project like this, and I’m looking forward to future opportunities to make a difference.
In a short amount of time, Melissa Seeley has become a familiar face in the lunchrooms at Edina elementary schools. She is technically a Lunch Room Supervisor, but hers is a new position that is entirely focused on educating students and staff about proper recycling practices. The part-time position is paid for by a school recycling grant from Hennepin County.
This is not Seeley’s first gig at the school recycling centers. In 2007, she and two other parents joined forces to start the district’s recycling program. At that time, recycling bins were few and far between in the district. The group worked with district custodians to outfit all of the lunchrooms with bins and then they stationed themselves at the trash and recycling areas of school lunchrooms to give hands-on guidance to help students learn. Now she is back on duty.
“Overall, the kids do a great job,” Seeley said. “The younger ones especially want to do the right thing. For the older kids, lunchtime is more social and they are in a hurry and don’t pay as much attention.”
Seeley can at times be found near the recycling station, and at other times she is wandering the lunchroom talking with students and quizzing them about what they will do with different packaging materials when they get to the recycling station: “Where do you think this will go – in recycling or trash?”
“I encourage them to think ahead and even rearrange the items on their tray before they come up. Then they can just dump into the appropriate bin and go,” she said.
Last year, money from the Hennepin County Grant was used to purchase bins as needed so that all of the lunchroom recycling centers have the standard, color-coded bins – blue for recycling, green for compostable, and gray for trash. To help students know what goes in which bin, the recycling centers also have a rack over the bins where actual packaging items are hung to demonstrate appropriate disposal.
Seeley works the lunch shift four days a week, rotating between elementary schools. She “dabbles” at the middle schools, too, to reinforce the recycling habit so that the program does not lose momentum as students progress through the grades. At the beginning of the year, she visited kindergarten classrooms to explain how the recycling works in the lunchroom for students who may never have had a lunchroom experience before.
“If we teach them early and make it easy to do, and easy to remember, these will be their habits for life,” Seeley said.
Aisha Malim already knows what she wants her life’s work to be about and this fall she got a head start. The Edina High School (EHS) senior was one of 10 metro area students to serve on U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s Congressional Student Advisory Council.
She applied to be on the council at the suggestion of a volunteer in the EHS College and Career Access Program, whom she has known for awhile. The application consisted of answering five questions – what do you bring to the table? Why choose you among other students? “They were questions that required a lot of thinking,” Aisha said. She sent it in one day before the deadline and learned a week or so later that she had been chosen.
The advisory council met every other Wednesday for two hours, beginning in late September through Nov. 2. Each year, the students select a topic on which to focus their work. This year it was immigration and refugees – areas of personal interest to Aisha and that align with her goal to pursue a career in humanitarian efforts and human rights work. She is an American-born daughter of Somali refugees who wants to shed light on the immigrant experience while at the same time try to understand her own family’s story.
“My parents don’t speak about their refugee experience,” she said. “I hear stories from my uncles. In fact over, the summer was the first time I heard the actual story of my parents’ immigration, but not from them. They have a right to not speak about it. It affected them deeply.”
The students on the advisory council each researched and created a presentation on one aspect of the chosen topic. This fall, students researched the health concerns of immigrants and refugees, xenophobia, and deportation and its effects on families (presented by a student whose father had been deported). Aisha’s focus was on fear – the kind that families face when they must uproot and flee to escape violence in their own homeland.
Ellison met with the council in person several times. “He told us about the work he has done, he explained how immigrants become citizens, and he wanted to hear what we had to say,” Aisha said. “He always took notes.”
When he was not able to be present, Aisha said Ellison’s secretary brought messages from him and work for them to do. Sometimes there were videos or guest speakers. It was one of those speakers whose story touched Aisha most. “He was the husband of a family from Mexico who had lived in family detention centers when they first came here,” she said. “I had never heard that story before and it was eye-opening.” She said his description of their dire living conditions was shocking to her. “I never expected our country to do that,” she said. “I never expected immigration to be smooth – I expected it to be rough. But not that rough.”
The culmination of the student advisory council’s work was a presentation to Ellison and other guests. Part of Aisha’s presentation was to read a poem that she wrote a year ago, describing the pain of leaving one’s home country to venture into the unknown. (Read Aisha’s poem, Somalia it's been a long time.) The Student Advisory Council also prepared a resolution that they presented to Ellison that would provide funding for an awareness campaign about immigrant rights in the U.S.
Aisha is just getting started on her humanitarian efforts. “I plan to attend college and perhaps double major in political science and journalism,” she said. “I want to study something that will help me do a lot of human rights work.” Inspired by her work with Ellison, she mentioned a possible run for congress some day or maybe finding a job with the United Nations.
For now, she offers this guidance for others: “Be tolerant. If you haven’t had an immigrant experience yourself you can’t understand how deeply it has affected a lot of people,” Aisha said. “Some people act like immigrants and refugees are here to destroy the country. In fact, they are here to escape violence.”
Students at Cornelia Elementary School came together to write letters of support and thanks for veteran in their community. The letters were delivered to Donn Latourell during his Honor Flight on Oct. 29.
Honor Flight is a non-profit organization “dedicated to providing veterans with honor and closure.” On an Honor Flight, veterans travel to Washington, D.C. to visit memorials “dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends.”
On the flights, veterans are accompanied by guardians. These volunteers travel with the veterans and surprise them with a “Mail Call.” Liz Scheurer, a principal clinical research scientist by day, volunteered as Latourell’s Guardian for his Honor Flight.
As a guardian, she was charged with coordinating the “Mail Call” and was encouraged to find a personal connection. After some brainstorming, Scheurer noticed that Latourell lived close to Cornelia – only a couple blocks away, in fact. She approached Principal Lisa Masica about having students write letters, who immediately agreed. “It is such a cool way to honor someone,” she said. “It is great to make that personal connection.”
Students in Janice Laven’s fourth grade class, Kathy Powers’ fifth grade class and Kristine Maher’s special education students wrote cards and letters to Latourell. Below is a letter from Jack:
Dear, Mr Latourell,
It’s really cool to be able to write this letter to you.
I would like to thank you for everything you have done for not only me, but for the whole country. Sometimes when I go to a Twin’s game and they raise the flag during the national anthem, I think of people like you who served our country so everyone could be free.
I hope when you get to Washington, D.C. everyone welcomes you like the hero you are.
Thank you, Mr Latourell for serving our country.
Sincerely, Jack E from Cornelia Elementary
On the plane, Latourell was given more than 100 letters from kids at Cornelia, other neighbors, and members of the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport fire and police departments, where his daughter, who attended Cornelia, works.
Veterans return from Washington, D.C. the same day as their departure. When they return, family and friends are waiting to give them the fanfare they deserve. “We don’t have a very big family,” said Latourell’s daughter, Linda Rasmussen, “which made the letters even more special.”
Summer break is a time that many Edina High School students spend relaxing, hanging out with friends, or going to the lake; however, senior Ben Brandt is an exception to that trend. Brandt spent two weeks of his summer in Africa with his mother and aunt, seven of those days climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
At 19,341 feet, Kilimanjaro is the highest freestanding mountain in the world– meaning that there are no other mountains surrounding it. It is also the highest point in all of Africa, making it one of the Seven Summits, the seven highest points on each continent.In order to prepare for his journey, Brandt said he ran roughly five miles every day for several months leading up to his departure. He also went to Hyland Lake Preserve, hiking the hills there in order to get himself in shape for climbing.
Brandt’s group hired four guides to assist them during their ascent of Kilimanjaro, all of whom were natives of the nearby town of Moshi. Once at the base of Kilimanjaro, Brandt began the weeklong journey on the Machame Route. This route covers about 25 miles and 14,000 vertical feet of climbing. Brandt commented on the expedition’s length: “It wasn’t that far, it was about 8-10 kilometers a day [including descent distance], which would take about 6-8 hours because it was so steep.”
Due to the high altitude of Kilimanjaro, there are many health risks involved in climbing the massive peak. One of the most dangerous issues is high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). The life-threatening condition occurs when the heart cannot pump blood as efficiently as it can at lower altitudes, leaving blood backed up in the veins. As the pressure in the veins rises due to the increased presence of blood, fluid is pushed into the air spaces in the lungs, making it harder to breathe. A member in Brandt’s group unfortunately contracted HAPE, and had to make an emergency descent down Kilimanjaro to a nearby hospital. Brandt’s aunt also got hypothermia due to the extremely frigid temperatures on the mountain.
Finally, after five days of endless climbing, Brandt and his group prepared for a final summit push. Brandt said “You start climbing at about 10pm hiking until 8am, so you hike the entire night, and get to the top at sunrise. It’s really difficult, super long. We spent maybe ten minutes at the top; we waited in line for a picture. You feel really sick from the altitude, you don’t feel great.”, said Brandt.
Kilimanjaro, as stated before, is one of the Seven Summits, and is the fourth highest. The others are Elbrus (18,513 ft.) in Europe (Russia), Aconcagua (22,902 ft.) in South America (Argentina), Everest (29,035 ft.) in Asia (Nepal/China), Denali (20,310 ft.) in North America (United States), Carstensz Pyramid (16,023 ft.) in Oceania (Indonesia), and finally Vinson (16,067 ft.) in Antarctica. During some discussion of the Seven Summits, Brandt commented “[I don’t want to climb] Everest,… maybe the one in Oceania because it’s just a little mountain. No, Kilimanjaro was pretty tough, I don’t know if I want to do something like that again.”
This story was originally published at www.edinazephyrus.com on Sept. 29, 2016.
For students at Normandale Elementary School, a furry friend brings comfort and excitement to the school day. His name is Oscar, an English Cream Golden Retriever and certified therapy dog. He works part-time at Normandale for three hours on Mondays and Wednesdays. It’s his first job.
Oscar received his certification this spring from Therapy Dog International after eight weeks of classes that provided training in obedience, adapting to different settings and working with children, followed by a one-hour evaluation.
Oscar currently works with three different classes, as well as the reading specialist. Students take turns coming into the hallway to read to Oscar, sometimes one at a time, sometimes in groups. In another class, pairs of students do math with Oscar, which was a surprise to his owner, Leigh Strauss. “It definitely makes sense,” she said. “Dogs can be very comforting to people. They increase confidence and self esteem in students as well as reading skills and, apparently, math skills.”
Oscar is Strauss’ second therapy dog. Her first worked in a nursing home about 10 years ago. She always had the idea of owning one again but was waiting for the right dog. With a second grader in Normandale, she thought that working in a school setting would be fun. “Oscar is always sweet and mellow with a hint of goofball,” she said. “I knew he would be great at this.”
While Oscar is new to the school this year, he isn’t the first therapy dog to visit Normandale. Once a week before school, Phil, also from Therapy Dog International, visits kids in the Success Center program. Phil is in his fourth year working at Normandale. Strauss thought it would be fun to expand the program to the school day. The idea has been very well received. “Many staff like having him around, too,” she said. Strauss recalled one teacher who spotted Oscar in the hallway and said, “I haven’t had my coffee yet, can I just give him a hug?”
“There is a very special connection between people and animals,” said Strauss. “I love seeing the joy when kids come into the hall to see Oscar and are instantly comfortable.”