A tour worth taking

Derrick Knutson

Elementary, junior high and high school are a lot different now than when I was in school.

And I think that’s a good thing.

I’m not going to harp on my education—I think I’ve been afforded an array of unique learning opportunities during my secondary and post-secondary experience—but during a patron tour of North Branch Area Schools last week, I got to see what students are learning, and I was fairly astounded about how education has changed in the years since I graduated high school.

The patron tours started last year as a way for those curious about NBAPS to get an inside look at the education system in North Branch.

During the tour I attended Friday, myself and a group of parents who either have children in North Branch schools or are soon to enroll some of their progeny in ISD 138’s system got a comprehensive tour of the district’s transportation department, Sunrise River Elementary School, the Brooker Building, North Branch Area Middle School and North Branch Area High School.

The district’s Community Relations Coordinator Pat Tepoorten and Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton lead the tour.

At each location, we met district leaders, including the principals of the elementary, junior high and high school.

Students in Donna Johnson’s fourth grade class at Sunrise River Elementary School were diligently working on multiplication when the patron tour stopped by Friday. Photo by Derrick Knutson

My wife and I don’t yet have children, but if we did, I’d like something like this tour to be available to us if were looking for a school in which to enroll our child. Now I’ll get back to why I was impressed about what educators are doing in North Branch.

The learning structure is so hands-on and much more intuitive than I remember it being when I was in school.

At Sunrise, teachers have SMART Boards that can be used for an array of lessons; kids can answer questions with hand-held devices instead of raising their hands and waiting for a teacher to select them.

How many students got an answer correct is instantaneously relayed to the teacher via the technology, so the teacher can know if he or she is driving a lesson home, or if the lesson needs to be modified because not enough students understand what is being taught.

Students at Sunrise are also learning Spanish and all the traditional subjects like math and science.

The Brooker building is for students 18 to 21 with special education needs. Students there work toward graduation through numerous courses in the Student Transition and Employability Program, some of which focus on job-training skills.

The students at the Brooker building are also active in the community, participating in programs like Kids Against Hunger.

At the middle school, the students work on projects that weren’t even available a few years ago.

Students in the computer lab were using a Google Docs application that allows multiple users to make edits on a Powerpoint-like program when our group walked into the lab.

Students in a sixth-grade science classroom were using laptops to program Lego robots when our group visited.

These kids are bright, and I’ll admit I have no idea how to do what they’re doing.

I’d hazard a guess it would take longer to train me to operate the technology than it takes them to learn how to use the devices.

At the high school, technology like iPads are being used to make learning more interactive for students, and there are also new programs like Link Crew to help freshmen transition to high school.

In Link Crew, upperclassmen serve as mentors to incoming freshmen.

There are also staff members at the high school who can direct students to post-secondary education, even if those students don’t know what they’d like to do after high school.

In the limited space I’m allotted in this column, I’ve only touched on what’s going on at NBAPS.

I thought the patron tour was very informative, and I’d encourage anyone with questions about the NBAPS system to attend one of the four-hour tours.

The upcoming dates for the tours are Jan. 11, April 26 and May 31.

A tasty lunch is available at the end of the tour.

E-mail Pat Tepoorten at ptepoorten@northbranch.k12.mn.us to register for a tour.

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