From Blessing Refugees to A Red Carpet Documentary Screening: Core at the Lower School

From Blessing Refugees to A Red Carpet Documentary Screening: Core at the Lower School
Amy Barnard

If you've spent any time around Minnehaha Academy over the past year there's one word you've probably heard many, many times: Core.

Core is more than just a new class at the Lower School or intensive experiences at the Middle and Upper Schools.

Core is the new students are approaching the process of growing in four areas: academic, spiritual, communal, and vocational.

At the Lower School, Core Class is one of the five specialists offerings (Art, Phy-Ed, Music, Innovation Lab, and Core Class). Each year, each grade level will focus on a specific big idea and then undertake research and practical projects that will allow them to engage with that idea through all four of the Core focuses.

To break that down into very practical examples, here are just a few of the Core Class projects that took place this past year.

1. First Grade — The Whole World in His Hands

Five children, some in ethnic costumes, stand in a line holding their palms out to touch their neighbor's palms.

The Goal
Students learned about what it means to our their overflowing blessings onto others. They specifically learned about ways they could bless others in their school, their city, their state, their country and in the world.

The Research
First graders identified that one way they could bless people near and far is by supporting people in and from Ukraine, in light of the current war and refugee crisis. In addition to cultural traditions and historical facts, students learned about the struggles faced by Ukrainian elementary students attending a school still operating in Ukraine and the challenges Ukrainian refugees to Minnesota have encountered. Each student studied and became an "expert" on aspect of Ukraine, so they could share that knowledge with their peers during a school-wide Ukrainian Day.

Expert Advisors
Throughout the year a variety of experts taught the students about Ukraine and answered their questions. This included alumni and current community members of Ukrainian heritage, some of whom have family still living in Ukraine.

Response Projects
First graders initiated and carried out multiple projects in response to their learning. These included:

  • A coat drive for Ukrainian refugees in Minnesota
  • A school-wide Ukrainian Day, where they taught students in the others grades what they were learning
  • A fundraiser that went to support New Generation Family Ministries Elementary School in Kyiv, Ukraine


2. Third Grade — Faithful: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (A Documentary)

Two boys hold video cameras while and instructor leans in to guide them. Three class mates watch.

The Goal
Students learned to watch for evidence of God at work, recognizing his hand both in an institution and in individual lives as they looked through the lens of the history of Minnehaha Academy. They gained knowledge and expertise in filmmaking and working together on a large project. They also gained an understanding of their place in the community and the importance of their dreams for the future of Minnehaha Academy.

The Research
Third graders dove deep into the history of Minnehaha Academy, exploring its foundation by Swedish immigrants and the many changes both in the life of the school and individuals who worked at or attended the school through the decades.

Expert Advisors
Students met with school archivist Ms. Elaine Ekstedt to dig into the history of the school. They explored historical memorabilia at the Upper School, led by MA staff. They learned about key points in the school's history, including the explosion, from individuals with first hand or deeply-researched knowledge. School president, Rev. Dr. Donna Harris also spoke with the students and officially commissioned them to make the documentary. Tim Johnson from Positive Light Media met with students to teach them some basics of camera work and creating visual media.

Field Work
Students traveled to Film North to learn about the ins and outs of creating movies and documentaries.

Response Project
Students produced a film called Day in the Life of a Minnehaha Student Past, Present and Future. They then shared their work with the community and celebrated their hard work through a red carpet premiere event at the Riverview Theater.

See the documentary here:


3. Fifth Grade — Welcoming the Stranger

A student sits at a table with her teacher and mother, using notes from her ipad to conduct an interview

The Goal
For students to learn to express God's love through relationships in unexpected places, and to see opportunities to build community with people they may not otherwise have connected with.

The Research
What do the data show us about the benefits of gathering together for a meal? What insight does the Bible offer into the role of community in our lives? How does sharing our family stories and hearing the stories of others build community? How do immigrants to Minnesota find and experience community? These are just a few of the questions fifth graders explored this year.

Expert Advisors
MA Parent Eden Habtes spoke with students about immigrating from Eritrea. She suggested questions they could ask someone who might be new to the country and shared how it feels to be welcomed in and brought into the community. 

Field Work
Students visited a recreated Minneapolis Institute of Art exhibit from 2018: Your Story, Our Story. The original exhibit was a partnership between the Tenement Museum in New York City and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. They followed this up with a virtual visit to the Tenement Museum where they followed the immigration story of a family from Puerto Rico. 

The Final Project
Students used resources provided by the Minnesota Historical Society to develop interview skills and to learn how to craft questions that facilitate conversation. They worked in groups to invite people from the Minnehaha community to share their immigration stories. Students took video and photos of their interviews and created a gallery showcase to display this coming fall at the Lower School.


Additional Projects

Each grade level at the Lower School went through a similar process for their area of focus. Here is a brief overview of the remaining grade level Core Classes.

Kindergarten — Learn to Love, Love to Learn

A little girl wearing headphones sits in front of a recording microphone while a male teacher also wearing headphones smiles.

Kindergartners worked on projects meant to bless the members of the Minnehaha Community while practicing their growing skills as a learner. One of their projects was the Shine Line, a special call-in service for encouragement. Students recorded themselves sharing a scripture, word of encouragement, or prayer. Community members could call in each week to hear a new message to brighten their day.

Second Grade — Kindness in Common

A young girl stand behind a table and give instructions to students as other children write notes on paper hearts.

Second graders focused on practical ways to show kindness. Students created a traveling Kindness Cafe where they offered hot cocoa and practiced eye contact, warm smiles, and kind words. They photographed examples of kindness and created a display with their work. They also operated a "Kindness Grams" service. Finally, they worked with a publishing company to publish their book, Kindness Is: 265 Ways To Show Kindness.

Fourth Grade — Theatre for All

Five students hold large pumpkin cut-outs and appear to be dancing or cheering.

Students learned about the challenges various individuals in the disability community face when engaging with the arts. This includes everything from sensory overwhelm to physical access to the art. They then learned how medical professionals and experts in child development work with theaters in the Twin Cities to support different learners. Each class had the opportunity to work on a play that would be appropriate in length and interest for kindergarten and preschool audiences. Students took what they learned over the course of the year and workshopped the play to be more accessible to those with a variety of sensory and other challenges.

We are so excited to see how students continue to develop in the 2023-2024 Core Class!

  • Cultivating Potential
  • Distinctively Christian
  • Exceptional Academics
  • Lower School
  • Transformational Learning
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