Exemplary Program

Exploratory Class
Rockford Area Schools

From answering how to enhance a message with music and video to pondering, “Would you like fries with that?” Exploratory Class at Rockford Middle School-Center for Environmental Studies has become a highlight of their students’ week.

As a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) magnet school serving students in grades 5-8, RMS- CES established relationships with community groups to ensure students received authentic, relevant learning experiences in its new Exploratory Class program. Partners include the sheriff’s office, a dairy farm, airport, and food shelf.

Each Exploratory class incorporates one or more STEM standard. From fries to fish populations, Exploratory classes are guided by a driving question. Each class meets for 65 minutes every Wednesday, and students rotate every quarter to a new class. Students who attend RMS-CES for four years will be exposed to 16 Exploratory classes over their middle school experience.

RMS completed its second year of Exploratory classes last school year. Students are not pulled out of Exploratory for other classes or services, reducing divisions between grade levels, general and special education, and other characteristics that may detract from a unified school community. Attendance records demonstrated that student attendance was generally the highest on Wednesdays, when Exploratory class was offered, because no one wanted to miss out.

Honorable Mentions

Project SEARCH – Avera Marshall Transition High School
Southwest-West Central Service Cooperative

The Southwest-West Central Service Cooperative formed a partnership with agencies who shared a common desire to enhance transitional high school services for young adults with disabilities who live in southwest Minnesota. Project SEARCH is a high school program for young adults age 18-21 who have a diagnosed disability, have met their academic graduation requirements, and would benefit from attending one more year of high school.

Students spend the last year exclusively at a host business partner site, gaining skills and work experience to support them in obtaining and maintaining competitive community employment. There were six internship opportunities within Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center the first year, which grew to 10 last year, ranging from Material Distribution to Dietary Services.

The first graduating class of 2014 had 100 percent employment gained by the fall of 2014. The graduating class of 2015 already had 2 of its 6 students employed within the first month of graduation.


Functional and Transitions Math
Perham-Dent Public Schools

Perham High School staff has worked together to provide 21st Century Education to its special education students through a Functional Math Course, providing real life math opportunities for students as they transition from high school to the work force. This class was created and implemented by a full-time math teacher who team teaches with Special Education DCD teacher. This program partnered with area businesses to provide math concepts and projects that students would be subjected to in daily job skills at the work place. The unique blended course pairs two professional teachers to teach the desired math skills for daily living skills with assistive technology.


Exemplary Program

Advocacy Groups
Ogilvie Schools

“Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” sums up the motivation for a new initiative implemented in the Ogilvie School District. The goal of the Ogilvie Advocacy Program was to make a sincere effort to let grades 5-12 students know their teachers supported them beyond academics and the classroom. Teachers embraced the program and administrators strongly supported it.

Students benefitted in numerous ways through the 30-minute weekly meetings devoted to the anti-bullying curriculum, team building, community service projects and other special activities developed by the students. At the end of the school year, almost 80 percent of the students completed a survey, with the overwhelming majority citing only positive benefits such as they liked getting to know more kids and they learned their teacher really cared about them. The meetings helped them develop a closer bond with peers and a greater sense of citizenship and civic duty.

Unlike a typical homeroom, the advocacy group size was limited to 10-12 students, and the students and teachers will stay together for several years. Group formation was purposeful, with teachers identifying students with whom they already had a positive connection and considering individual students’ needs, strengths and personalities.

The program cost time and commitment to create schedules, design activities, determine goals and promote the program. But the gains to students cited by teachers – compassion, leadership, reliability, empathy, courage, self-discipline, curiosity, resilience, and enthusiasm – were a successful approach to making a difference for their students.

Honorable Mentions

High Step Academy
St. Clair Schools

St. Clair’s High-STEP Academy is a partnership between secondary and post-secondary education, business, and community to provide high school students with health science coursework and work experiences, preparing them for health science and technology careers.

A regional clinic provides staff, supervision, equipment and clinical settings to foster applied education which cannot be duplicated in a classroom or typical educational setting. St. Clair was the second such program to be developed in the state and has now helped other schools to create their own Academies with emphasis on Agri-Science, Information Technology, and Mechatronics Academy.


Project Lead the Way: K-12 STEM Program
Kingsland Public Schools

Kingsland Public Schools wanted to decrease gaps in their students’ science achievement, particularly in regards to socioeconomic status and gender representation. Before implementing their Project Lead the Way (PLTW) K-12 STEM Program, less than 30 percent of female students were taking advanced science and engineering courses, and more than 90 percent off free- and reduced-lunch students did not have consistent access to technology outside of the classroom. A grant was written in 2010 to implement PLTW education.

After 3 years of hard work, Kingsland last year provided all K-12 students with daily computer device and Internet access. They achieved 100 percent of their female students K-9 engaging in PLTW STEM education last year, and 47 percent of their students (50 percent female) earned college credit.

Kingsland was selected in June 2014 as 1 of 23 schools nationwide to pilot the second set of PLTW’s K-5 STEM curriculum.


Exemplary Program

College Application Week
St. James Public Schools

College Application Week was held last November with the goal to give every graduating senior the opportunity to apply for college. Local volunteers served as mentors, and every student in grades 6-12 listened to motivational messages from college representatives, college students, and community professionals.

Staff created posters featuring their colleges, degrees, and advice, wore college clothing from their alma mater, and posted pictures and other college memorabilia. Students participated in a scavenger hunt to gather answers from the posters to engage them in dialogue with faculty and staff. Seniors had work time and access to staff and community professionals during the school day.

By the end of the week, 65 percent of the students had applied to 145 post- secondary schools, and those not ready to submit an application had made progress researching colleges. The school furthered the impact of the program thanks to students in a video production class who interviewed seniors and created a video for elementary students.

The production students learned valuable skills with a project that showcased the seniors while the elementary students were inspired by watching their role models.



Eagle Achievement Senior Project
Windom Area Schools

Eagle Achievement Senior Project was started as a crowning achievement assignment for graduating seniors to help connect them to the community. Windom seniors chose a community issue, learned about it through multiple disciplines, met with mentors, and then capped their high school career with a meaningful and practical experience.

The three-part project required students to write a research paper documenting cause and effect; apply the information by developing and completing a project demonstrating mastery of the topic; and present their project formally to a judging panel of staff and community members. Students met monthly with a community mentor who counseled them on the project. Project titles included childhood obesity and Fuel Up to Play 60; the arts and a senior mural; and childhood hunger and a school food drive.

Eagle Achievement is unique because students researched a problem in their community, examined its causes and effects, proposed solutions to the problem, and then acted on one of these proposed solutions. The program was purposely made challenging so students would use their talents and make a positive impact on the community.

Honorable Mentions

High School Career Day
Pine River-Backus Schools

Pine River-Backus High School brought in nearly 50 speakers to engage students in meaningful discussion about their education and career paths. Speakers shared their educational journeys, career tracks and advice for students and fielded student questions during the 40-minute sessions and 2 keynote sessions.



Power of ICU
Pinestone Area Schools

Pipestone Area Middle School, grades 5-8, utilized the Power of ICU approach to end student apathy. In one year staff made positive progress in reducing the number of student missing assignments and number of course failures.


Exemplary Program

Project REAL
Little Falls Community Schools

Little Falls Community Schools put iPads in the hands of 1,450 students last year, marking the largest known one-time roll-out for full-time student use in the state of Minnesota. The district first launched a pilot for Project REAL in 2010 by providing an iPad to each fifth grade student before fully launching it last year.

Project REAL has gained the attention of school administrators and teachers statewide and led the district leaders to share how they did it and what the results have been. Much of the project’s success stems from the district’s focus on providing teachers high quality professional development as they worked to incorporate the devices into instruction in the most meaningful ways.

 Project REAL aims to:
  • Increase student engagement in school
  • Provide student and family access to digital content
  • Provide access for students to pursue individual interests
  • Create opportunities for the student to extend the learning day
  • Better prepare students to meet the expectations of higher learning and their future employers

Other Past Recipients

Exemplary Program

Learning to Give
Heron Lake Okabena Schools

The vision for the course, Learning to Give, evolved from a belief that volunteering can be taught. As Albert Schweitzer said, “You must give some time to your fellow men. Even if it’s a little thing, do something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.” Students should understand the significance of doing for their fellow men. They need to know they each can contribute and make a difference as a volunteer, both locally and globally. Students had opportunities to serve and make a difference in the “Learning to Give” class. They were personally empowered as they acquired new skills in the process of giving and serving. Students will be able to take these acquired skills and apply them directly to their lives.

Students planned and carried out a fundraiser for an organization, as selected by the class. Students each read a book about a philanthropist or charity work being done around the globe. Guest speakers spoke of their volunteer work in the community and around the world. In addition, the class looked for chances to serve their community, region and state. This course connected students with life-long volunteer opportunities.

Because students connected with volunteer experiences, they met new people and acquired new skills through volunteering, developed leadership skills and enhanced their sense of self-esteem, learned to organize and implement plans for serving and giving, understood the meaning of altruism and the importance of being life-long volunteers, learned about issues and concerns around the world, in the country, in the state, in the region, and locally, and developed communication and team and management skills.



Elementary RTI Program
Luverne Public Schools

The purpose of the Elementary RTI Program at Luverne Elementary School is to provide students with reading skills assistance to help them read at expected levels determined by established norms. The fluidity of the program allows us to serve a larger number of students. It also assures us that students only receive interventions that are needed.

The program identifies, through screenings, the bottom 20% of readers in kindergarten through fifth grade. Students identified are placed in “Power Hour” groups. These groups work on appropriate interventions in the areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency and/or comprehension skills. Once the groups are established, students meet four times each week for 25 minutes to work on invention skills.

Students in the Power Hour groups are given benchmark assessments each week to track their progress. Once a student meets the benchmark standard for three consecutive weeks, they are moved to a different group or are dismissed from the Power Hour groups. These continuous assessments allow our groups to be flexible and to move students in and out of groups according to their needs.

Through our weekly monitoring, we have found that students have been able to make significant improvements in their reading. The additional support the students receive enable them to perform better in the classroom and on achievement tests. More importantly, the students develop a love of reading that will last a lifetime.

Honorable Mentions

After School Academy
Westbrook Walnut Grove Schools

The purpose of Westbrook Walnut Grove After- School Academy is to build the confidence and skills necessary in each individual student in our building so they can meet or exceed the MCA Math and Reading tests.

We continually try to squeeze more into an eight-hour day because of the ever-looming presence of the MN MCA State Tests. We need to continually improve our best teaching practices and standards and rewrite the curriculum, as test items are continually being moved to a lower grade to be mastered. With that in mind, WWG looked to do more drill and practice after school for students in our Title I and Title III (ELL) programs. We brought both programs together in what we named our After-School Academy. We meet Tuesday and Thursday each week from 3:30-5:30 p.m.

We divided our 1st-6th grade students into 1st-3rd graders and 4th-6th graders. We then ability grouped the students depending on MCA Math and Reading test scores. We have six wonderful staff members who have dedicated themselves to helping student reach higher test scores. Without these 6 individuals our program would not be as far as it is in the first year.

WWG students are benefiting in the fact that they are getting four extra hours of math and reading each week that they may not be getting at home, and in the fact that their After School Academy teacher is also their regular education teacher.



In Stitches
SW/WC Service Cooperative

The Heartland Ranch School works in cooperation with the SW/WC Service Cooperative and the Benson Public Schools to provide education for the residents of the Heartland Girls Ranch, a private non-profit group home licensed by the Department of Corrections. The majority of the students that attend the Heartland Ranch School have been court ordered to complete the program before returning to their homes, find foster care or possibly be adopted. One of the classes that is taught in our school is a Work-based Learning class.

The Work-based Learning class helps to meet the needs of the girls that struggle with the skills to fill out a job application, not to mention the skills necessary to find and keep a job. Many of our students are unable to obtain a job in the community due to their previous court violations. It was important, however, to not only have the girls learn the necessary working skills, but also to be able to put those skills into practice. In 2008 we started an Embroidery Business- In Stitches.

Students enjoy being able to earn the opportunity to work after school and earn money. We have seen great improvement with their school attitudes when we tie their behaviors with the ability to work for the In Stitches business. We have also seen an increase on some of their grades and an increased desire to do well. Some of our students have been able to secure jobs when they left the school using their In Stitches experiences as a resume starter. Girls have used staff as references after they leave the Heartland Girls Ranch, and they have found jobs because of the work ethic they gained while working at In Stitches.