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Nathan's favorite things: A look back at 2013

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A lot of significant things happened this year in the Farmington School District, not least of which is the discussion that popped up at the end of the year about creating a whole new kind of school. But as much as anything, 2013 will be remembered as the Year of the iPad.

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The popular tablet computers were a really big deal in 2013, with the district putting one in the hands of every student. The idea was to open up new methods of teaching and learning.

The jury is still out on just how successful that plan is or will be. But it was fascinating in February to walk through Farmington High School, where the one-to-one rollout was implemented first, and see how the iPads were being used.

Clearly not all teachers are implementing the new tools at the same pace. But there are already some interesting things happening. Mark Froehling’s science class didn’t look like any class I’d ever seen. There was no teacher lecturing in the front of the room. Students were spread around the room, working alone or in groups. They weren’t all in the same part of the curriculum. They were moving at their own pace, taking tests when they were ready and moving on.

In the choir room, students used their individual iPads to record entries for a vocal music competition. In the past, that process would have taken hours of scheduling and meetings before school.

There is still a lot of work to do before this iPad project reaches its full potential. But watching the district try to get where it wants to go is interesting.

PASS

When a shooter opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School a little more than a year ago, there were plenty of people who had the same thought as Kristy Rhoades. But very few followed through like she and others near her have.

Rhoades decided she had to get to the bottom of why school shootings happen, and she had to make sure nothing like that happened here.

The result is a group called Parents Advocating School Safety, which spent the work figuring out how to make life better in Farmington schools. They spent the next several months meeting with school officials and putting together resources for dealing with bullying, for improving school security and for addressing mental health issues. They are working not because they see glaring problems with their local schools, but because they believe they can make life better for students.

“We need to do anything we can to get to the bottom of why these things happen or keep happening,” Rhoades said.

It’s a big job, but every little effort helps. It’s good to be reminded every once in a while that there are people out there who are willing to put in the work.

Active shooter

Still, for all of the good a group like PASS can do it’s impossible to ignore the reality that school shootings happen, and that if they can happen in a place like Sandy Hook they can happen in Farmington or Rosemount.

In June, I got to see how the Farmington and Rosemount police departments are preparing for that reality.

In a daylong training session held at Rosemount High School, local police officers learned how to handle situations involving active shooters in a school setting. They learned theory, and then with the help of some well-padded local Boy Scouts and some simulated ammunition they put that theory into practice.

I watched as police officers stormed classrooms or the school’s performing arts center. And while it was likely a fraction of the intensity of an actual shooting event, it was still pretty intense. The police officers shouted out instructions. Students playing victims ran for cover. Training officers slapped boards together to simulate the sound of gunfire.

The police officers there that day took the exercise very seriously. Nobody wants to be unprepared if the worst happens.

I can’t imagine the terror of a school shooting. I hope this is the closest I’ll ever have to come to covering one. But seeing the training was still fascinating.

Ron Thomas

One of the first times I talked Ron Thomas, he was showing me plans for something he called Dakota County Technical College’s Field of Dreams. It was a huge athletic complex he hoped to build on property around the school.

The field didn’t happen at the time, although there are reflections of it in the soccer and baseball fields that have gone up in recent years, and in other public play fields that are taking shape with the help of the city of Rosemount. But it was a good indication of the way Thomas, who retired this year as DCTC’s president, looked at things. He wanted good things for his school, and he wasn’t afraid to think big.

There were other people who played roles in getting those things done, obviously. But Thomas was there to push them. To inspire them.

As a result, DCTC has a first-of-its-kind nanotechnology program. It has varsity sports programs and those new fields. It has a vastly expanded student-life organization and a thriving foundation. And, most recently, it has made dramatic renovations to the space dedicated to its automotive and welding programs.

DCTC is a very different place than it was when Thomas took over. It is most definitely a better place.

Guardian angel

On a smaller scale, one Farmington family is making life better for students at North Trail Elementary School.

Known as the school’s guardian angel, they have set up an email hotline teachers and other NTES staff can reach out to when they see a need. They have provided umbrellas, warm clothes and alarm clocks. No need is too small. As of this fall, only one request has been too difficult to fulfill.

Some of the things they have provided seem small, but they make a student’s life just a little bit better. That makes learning a little bit easier. And that’s good for everyone.

I wrote about the guardian angel twice in 2013. The first time was in the spring, recapping the first year of the program at NTES. The second time was in the fall as he looked for people willing to start similar efforts at other local schools.

For the second story I talked to the guardian angel on the phone, but I don’t know who it is. I just know it’s someone who has spent somewhere north of $10,000 on this project. Someone who is willing to go out of his way to make life better for students.

That’s worth noting, and it made for a memorable story in a year full of them.

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Nathan Hansen
Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.
(651) 460-6606
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