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Ryan Vernosh

Maxfield students, teachers wrestle with COVID-19, George Floyd’s murder

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

I Am Somebody

Maxfield Elementary School Principal Ryan Vernosh had just four days to lead Maxfield into a completely different learning environment. AT RIGHT The poem ‘I Am Somebody’ is said each day by Maxfield Elementary students to encourage them through their day. (Photo submitted)

School happening remotely has impacted students and families with more than just technical problems.
Maxfield Elementary School, 380 N Victoria St. in St. Paul, has a food pantry on site for students and families in need. They collaborate with Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, an organization that works with families and students in the Frogtown, Rondo, and Summit-University neighborhoods to support their needs and approach the gap between education and opportunity.
Maxfield provides dental care, extra clothing, counseling, social work and mental health care to students and families. All of these have been greatly impacted by COVID-19.
“Some families lost employment, so access to healthcare became more challenging, access to food became more challenging. We’ve seen the current unemployment crisis that we’ve had in the city and our community, which was just exasperated by the pandemic,” said Maxfield Principal Ryan Vernosh.
During school hours, Maxfield Elementary would normally be bustling with 300 students going in and out of the library, gym and classrooms. Teachers would be preparing for another day of classes. Their rooms filled with colorful banners and encouragement for the students. But, for the last four months of school, the halls were mostly empty. COVID-19 had drastically impacted what Maxfield, and all schools around the state, looked like in their last stretch before summer break.

Four days to restructure
Vernosh has been principal at Maxfield Elementary School for three years now. He’s overseen budgets and paperwork. He supports the students and staff – and makes sure they are doing well socially, emotionally, and academically. He’s never had to deal with something like this before. Maxfield was tasked with changing an entire learning environment in just four days.
“Our staff really rose to it and we did the best that we could to connect with our kids and keep them learning and supported,” Vernosh said.
The staff had meetings on a weekly basis in order to stop and assess how online learning was going, and to make any changes they felt was necessary for their students. St. Paul Public Schools has a one-to-one iPad policy, so everyone had access to online classes. The district provided hot spots for families without high speed internet, although, they still had many technology issues. Professionals came in for classes in order to instruct the teachers on how to use Schoology and Seesaw, two online learning platforms, to their full advantages.
They also had educators’ workshops and presentations. During these workshops, teachers presented what was working and what wasn’t to other educators around the school. Each teacher visited at least three other presentations in order to get ideas about how to better their online classroom. But, it was still difficult to keep students engaged with online learning.
“You just can’t mimic in person instruction,” Vernosh said, “Our teachers did the best they could to carry on instruction, but it’s just not the same.”


I Am Somebody
I am Somebody!
I am capable and loveable.
I am teachable,
therefore I can learn.
I can do anything if I try.
I’ll be the best that I can be.
Each day,
Each day,
Each day,
I will not waste time.
Because it is too valuable
And I am too precious and bright.
I am somebody.
I am somebody.

Cocreating safe places
Vernosh wanted Maxfield to continue being a safe space for both staff and students to come to. Especially after the murder of George Floyd two weeks before school ended, students began to have more questions. The St. Paul Public School District sent out information in order to support teachers, and to help guide them through questions students may have or how to go about explaining the events happening. The staff had many conversations about how best to create a community of support for their students. They needed to keep things grade appropriate, as well. Kindergartners may understand less of the situation than a fifth grader.
“Our kids are aware of what’s going on whether it’s COVID or the murder of George Floyd,” Vernosh said. “Part of our role is to listen and be supportive; to cocreate a safe space for our students and families to be able to process these things.”
Maxfield aimed to never shut down a conversation that brought up any questions about COVID-19 or the murder of George Floyd. In order to fully create this safe space, the school implemented things like a restorative morning circle. This was a time where students could sit and express themselves. It also included guiding questions, activities, or a review of what lessons would be taught that day. The school wanted to focus on community building along with mindfulness for the students. Through the Cultural Wellness Center, an organization that helps communities solve problems that come due to loss of culture, the students take African drumming and dance classes in order to make sure students see their culture in each area of the school.
“If our students don’t feel seen and heard and loved, learning is not going to take place,” Vernosh said.
They have a call-and-response over the intercom each morning to let students know that they are here and being heard. This daily affirmation poem, “I Am Somebody,” is said to remind the students that they are teachable, loveable and capable.

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Eight Como staff members retire

Posted on 09 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Como’s virtual commencement ceremony on June 1 successfully celebrated each of the 248 graduates from the Class of 2020.

Como Park Senior High School

By Eric Erickson
Social studies teacher

The 2019-2020 school year has concluded. Distance learning during the coronavirus became even more challenging following the fear and destruction in the community surrounding the death of George Floyd.
The Class of 2020 endured a teacher strike, global pandemic, economic collapse, a societal tragedy and civil unrest during the spring of their senior year without the ability to process with peers and teachers in person.
As many have suggested, 2020 could be a chapter in future history textbooks all by itself, the scope of which has completely overshadowed the accomplishments of a special and resilient class of high school students.
In that context, it was joyful for graduating students to spend the evening of June 1 viewing the Como virtual commencement ceremony with their loved ones. The pre-recorded video featured pictures of every graduate during the pomp and circumstance processional music, followed by messages from Principal Stacy Theien-Collins, district administration, Como teacher David Stahlman, and student speaker Ridwan Yussuf.
After the inspirational messages from the speakers, each of the 248 Como graduates was featured in their own unique cap and gown photo, alongside their name on the screen for several seconds. Enough time for joyful cheers in each home, and enough time for every student to celebrate their friends and classmates when they appeared in the alphabetical rollout.
The graduation ceremony was shared out in a link to all Como families, can be viewed on spps.eduvison.tv, and will be replayed on St. Paul Cable Channel 16 several times this summer.
With the close of distance learning for underclassmen on June 9, eight longtime Como staff members concluded their careers in education. Each retiree has positively influenced countless students, with their own unique gifts, skills, dedication and service.
Kathy Kahn – teaching for 37 years, including the last 30 at Como as a biology instructor.
Maryclare Bade – health teacher at Como for the past 34.5 years. She has spent 36 total years in education.
Carole Whitney – Como Park choir director and theater director for 26 years.
Lori Belair – 26 years with the St. Paul Public Schools. She has been teaching Family and Consumer Sciences at Como since 2009.
Dave Stahlman – social studies teacher at Como for 25 years.
Walt Lofquist – a math teacher at Como for 20 years, and has 21 total years in St. Paul.
Joy Fausone – worked in the Como cafeteria with nutrition services for 30 years.
Ruth McPhillips – educational assistant for 28 years, with fout years of service at Como.
That’s 229 combined years of service to kids, all concluding with a retirement year of 2020, a time that no one – in education or any walk of life – will ever forget.

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Inside schooling decisions

Posted on 10 February 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Get a glimpse into the lives of local families who are navigating through the many educational choices available today, and forging a path that fits their families.

The Schabert family

Maternity of Mary Saint Andrew Catholic School (MMSA)

Meet Traci Schabert, who currently sends two boys, Alex (grade 8) and Andrew (grade 2) to MMSA, and has two MMSA graduates, Jack (grade 12) and Mary (grade 10).
Why did you select this school?
We joined the school community when our oldest could, at three years old. Jack is almost 18 now. We have had a child at MMSA every year since 2005. We chose MMSA because of the love and passion we received from the teachers and staff. They all truly loved working together, were passionate about the kids and were all dedicated to helping us identify our children’s talents and help with the areas they struggled with.
What do you appreciate most?
All of our children are so different. One of our children truly struggled with some classes. The teachers went above and beyond helping by staying late, coming in early, emailing us, calling and doing what was needed to help her not only get to grade level but to exceed. She is now taking accelerated classes in high school in these subjects. We have another child who was bored at school because it was too easy for him. Mrs. Warden has been working with him and a few other students who need excellent stead math. He will be going to high school in the fall, and he will taking precalculus as a freshman.
What skills do you think are most important for schools to teach kids in 2020?
Skills needed are not just school subjects like math and science. Compassion, understanding, teamwork, community and understanding one another are all things that are greatly needed.
Share your school hacks or tips.
As soon as our kids could crawl I had a plastic laundry basket filled with board books in our living room. They could crawl over, pull, chew, play and look at these books. They learned to love books from this stage on. As kindergartners we made special trips to get their own library cards and made regular trips letting them pile large numbers of books in our book bags.


Yinghua Academy

Meet Starr Eggen Lim, who is married to Albert. Her daughter Lily is now in 11th grade at Highland Park High School, and daughter Magdalena is currently a ninth grader at Highland Park High School. They are at Highland because Yinghua Academy has an agreement that kids can continue their Chinese education at an appropriate level at Highland Park in St. Paul.
Why did you select this school?
Being that our children are Asian and adopted, it was a good fit as they would learn much about their birth culture as well as having Asian role models and influence.
What do you appreciate most?
Having my kids learn to read, write and speak Mandarin has so many advantages. If they ever chose to search for their birth parents, or even wanted to live or experience their birth country, having the language and cultural understanding would help to cross over so many barriers that could inhibit that from happening. I also wanted to give them the opportunity to feel at ease around other kids in college who may be international students from their birth country, whereby they could understand and feel a part of that community. Yinghua Academy not only provided this backdrop for my kids, but also having a second language like Mandarin allows so many doors to be opened for them. When learning a second language at the tender age of five, kids absorb things so much easier. Having the ability to read, write and speak can open potential careers opportunities, as well. The school’s academic expectations are quite rigorous and kids have adapted well into all kinds of high school experiences.
What skills do you think are most important for schools to teach kids in 2020?
As far as the most important skills for kids to learn, I would think preparing them to be global citizens is a priority. Language immersion does help to accomplish this. Critical thinking is probably one of the most important skills for kids to learn as our current administration (in my opinion) has become so harsh on scientific research, facts, and the media in general. Learning how to decipher facts from fiction and how to ask questions is critical to our society’s survival as a democracy.

Career Pathways

Meet Kelina Morgan, whose daughter Nasi is in ninth grade at Career Pathways.
Why did you select this school?
I chose Career Pathways for her because it was close to my employer, and it offered a non-traditional way of learning, with small class sizes.
What do you appreciate most?
Career Pathways also is a welcoming place with diversity of race, culture, religion, and sexual orientation. It’s a place where my daughter feels a sense of belonging. We’ve lived in various cities, including Vadnais Heights and Somerset, Wis. It was important to me that she attended a school where the staff and students welcome diversity.
What skills do you think are most important for schools to teach kids in 2020?
I believe that acceptance and appreciation for differences is a valuable skill to learn, as well as life skills needed to find and maintain a career if college is not the choice.
Share your school hacks or tips.
Because education is important to us and can open many doors, our family hacks on how to help kids learn are 1) read to kids early and daily, 2) require they read at least 20 minutes five days a week, and 3) purchase workbooks for their next grade level that they complete over the summer breaks to continue learning.

Como Park Senior High

Angela Rein is mother to Como Park Senior High School students Eloise (senior), Nicholas, (junior), and teven (freman); and 2018 graduate Maureen. Lucille is a seventh grader at Murray Middle School.
Why did you select this school?
All five children attended Crossroads Elementary, Montessori and then Murray Middle School. We chose Murray and Como because their father, Mark, is an alum. All of the children thus far have benefited from the AP classes offered at Como Park Senior High. I would like to add, that as a parent of five children, all three schools did a fantastic job of recognizing each Rein child as a their own individual. The staff never compared the younger ones to the older ones.
What do you appreciate most?
I love the sense of community at both Murray Middle School and at Como Park High School. Como Park High School has so much diversity. I feel that is so important in learning how to work with people in the adult world. I’ve always liked the leadership at both Murray and Como, along with the dedication of the teachers. The teachers have always been available to work with the kids either before or after school. Communication with the parents has been fantastic at both schools. Crossroads was great with communicating with parents, too.
What are the challenges?
Funding is always an issue with public schools. Class sizes can be quite large at times, although it is better this year.
What skills do you think are most important for schools to teach kids in 2020?
Time management; responsibilities for one’s actions; to feel comfortable to ask for help when needed; how to navigate the internet for reliable sources; and respect for “Everyone.”
Share your school hacks:
My kids need to be self-sufficient. I guide them when asked for help. I receive notifications of missing assignments, but it is up the student to do the work and turn it in. Turning it in seems to be the difficult part for some. You cannot force a child to study, but you can help them understand the end result. Each child is unique and has their own destiny. I cannot determine that, only the child has control over that. Each child has their own pathway. It is important for parents to understand that the pathway belongs to the child, not the parent. I find that to be the hardest thing in regards to parenting.


Carrie Pomeroy is mom to Bridger, grade 11, who has been homeschooled his entire education and is now attending the University of Minnesota for PSEO; and Cassidy, grade 8, who was homeschooled for part of her education and is now attends Edvisions Off-Campus, an online, project-based charter school.
Why did you select these options?
Before I had children, I taught homeschooled students through the Loft Literary Center back in the mid ‘90s and early 2000s. I got to know several families very well over the course of almost a decade of work with them, and I was just really inspired by the freedom and flexibility these families had to learn at their own pace, as well as their freedom to pursue learning in a way that seemed very effective and enjoyable for their kids. I remembered feeling so often when I was in school that I was just watching the clock and counting down the days until the weekend or until vacation, and what I noticed about these homeschooled kids I was working with was that they seemed so happy and engaged in what they were doing; there was a feeling of flow in their endeavors and a self-directedness that was pretty exciting and infectious. I talked to my husband about it, and we both thought homeschooling was worth a try. We asked our kids every year if they wanted to check out school, but my son never did. My daughter’s work at Edvisions Off-Campus for the last two years has been a natural extension of homeschooling. As she hit her middle-school years, she wanted more accountability and structure for her learning, but she didn’t want that accountability from me. She also knew that I’m not that great at providing structure. Now, with input from her EdVisions advisors, she creates projects to learn about subjects that interest her and decides how she’ll demonstrate her learning, whether through a research paper, a slideshow, a timeline, or whatever she and her advisors decide would help her grow in her learning. She also has to manage her own time and make sure she’s putting in the work to get her projects done in a timely way and earn credits in a variety of subjects. It’s a really good fit for her learning style and personality.
What do you appreciate most?
When I waited until they were ready to learn something and genuinely interested, they seemed to retain so much more of what they learned than when I forced learning because of some artificial, imposed timeline for when they “should” learn something.
I especially appreciated that after years of being read out loud to many hours a day, both my kids taught themselves to read using Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield comic books. That was so empowering and pain-free! They learned to read “late” by school standards, around age seven, but went from being pre-readers to fluent readers very, very quickly, and they are now avid, voracious readers and curious, thoughtful writers.
Now that my son is attending college classes at the U for PSEO, my daughter is attending EdVisions, and they are both thriving, I wish I could go back and reassure my past self that things were going to work out OK. There was a lot of anxiety for me about choosing this path, so it feels really good to be on this side of our homeschooling journey rather than just starting out. .
What are the challenges?
Many people think that a drawback of homeschooling is a lack of socialization, but that really hasn’t been a problem for us in the ways that many might think it would be. Both my kids have been able to make friends both in the homeschooling community and outside of it, with people of many different ages. My daughter has learned to work as part of a group as an Irish dancer, a martial artist, and by acting in plays, as well as doing volunteer work in our community. My son has also volunteered locally, something I think is really important.
Share your school hacks or tips.
The biggest one for me is being attentive, noticing what interests my kids, and finding ways to help them learn more, find mentors and resources, and go more deeply into that interest, while also knowing when it’s time to back off and not lean too hard into making everything a teachable moment.
Another really important thing for me has been being aware that sometimes even when they don’t seem like they’re really learning or doing something educational, they may actually be doing something really valuable to their growth. For instance, my son has always loved video games. When he was younger, he got pretty involved on online gaming forums discussing gaming techniques and strategies and helping mediate disputes among other gamers. That really built his writing skills, even though that kind of writing wasn’t a traditionally academic pursuit. Eventually, he also started writing game-inspired fiction. Now, I really think his experiences with writing about video games for an audience of other interested gamers have profoundly shaped his abilities as a writer. He understood from an early age that writing needed to be clear, concise, organized, and interesting to capture and hold other people’s attention; I don’t think we always learn those things from more abstract academic writing assignments that we just do for a grade.

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