Welcoming visitors in the front door

Spring Lake Park Schools haven’t just been busy with learning this year, buildings are back to hosting all kinds of visitors. Families, community and industry partners, education leaders from other school districts, and prospective families are coming by to experience and engage in the Spring Lake Park Schools approach to learning.

Families have been invited in for events and engagement opportunities to connect with teachers and experience curriculum and learning. Community and industry partners are in as guest instructors sharing real-world experience with students exploring different career paths. Education leaders from other school districts are stopping by to see how flexible learning environments support personalized learning. Prospective families are checking out our schools and staff.

“After a few years of more restricted access due to the pandemic, it feels really good to be able to open our doors and welcome many more people into our schools in support of student learning and engagement,” says Jeff Ronneberg, superintendent. “It’s also fun to share our learning spaces and approach to learning with other educators.”

Engaging to support student learning

Spring Lake Park Schools has welcomed families, friends and partners back into school buildings in a big way. The year kicked off with Meet and Greet events that filled the halls, there were curriculum engagement events for parents and guardians, conferences, volunteer opportunities and fun PTO events. 

Each school hosted fall curriculum events to intentionally and proactively share with families what their students would be learning. Centerview Elementary’s event was "Passport to Learning." Students guided family members on a journey through the school. Everyone had a chance to experience elements of their student's school day and enjoy a cookie together. 

"We handed out close to 400 passports!” says Mike Callahan, principal. “Students made their way through Centerview with much gusto sharing with family members their learning experience, introducing friends and staff members and enjoying cookies from around the world. It felt good to spend the evening together building community in our school."

Student showcase events, STEM nights, PTO meetings, live concerts and performances have all helped re-establish feelings of connection and community.

Schools have also welcomed community and industry partners as guest instructors and project volunteers. In the Career and College Pathways courses at the high school alone, more than 20 community and industry leaders have engaged as guest instructors in the classroom. 

"Our guest instructors help make what students are learning real,” says Eric Van Brocklin, Career Pathways Lead. “They connect them with real-world career examples that help students explore their own potential career paths as they also learn content and concepts.”

While phone, online meetings, and virtual visits have been helpful for providing flexibility and connection, having the opportunity to develop relationships in person is important.

“Nothing can really replace those in-person connections in creating that collective sense of belonging and community,” says Jeff.

Sharing our spaces, approach to learning

Schools have also hosted a variety of outside visitors who have come to see flexible learning spaces and how these spaces contribute to the SLP approach to personalized learning. It is not unusual for Spring Lake Park Schools to host 15-20 outside groups of educators each year. They come because of the reputation of the facilities, but it’s the learning that hooks them.

“Many of the visitors are in the process of building or refurbishing schools and are here to see what we’ve done with flexible learning spaces,” says Hope Rahn, Executive Director of Learning and Innovation, who leads many of the tours. “What we emphasize is that we start with the learner and the learning before considering space. That’s often an ah-ha for people.”

Hope is up front with visitors that she doesn't prep people or put on a show.. Visitors may see a more traditional approach – with a teacher standing in front of a class. Visitors may also observe learning experiences with students in smalls groups working all over the place.

“We very often see examples of our vision in action – different ways of grouping learners and adults, different ways of using time – and yes, using space,” says Hope. “I often tell groups ‘You can design whatever you want for spaces and furniture but if you're not talking about meeting learners where they're at and next steps in learning . . . then it won't matter.’”

This year, schools have hosted visitors from several metro-area school districts as well as Iowa. Sometimes, the visiting groups leave acknowledging that they aren’t ready for this approach. Others leave inspired. It’s always a good conversation.

“Sometimes when you're in the work, it's hard to see the progress you've made,” says Hope. “It's fun when other districts come in and say - oh my gosh - you are doing this. One recent visitor said - you made me realize my dream can come true.”

Hope and Jeff both acknowledge the work that remains – that this is a journey and there is still a long way to go. The fact that the facilities have a reputation encourages next steps. While personalized learning isn’t all about flexible learning environments, it is one of the critical components. It’s also impresses prospective students and families as they stop by for Tour and Talk events to learn more about Spring Lake Park Schools.

It’s gratifying that our district residents supported the renovation and refurbishment of our schools to support this personalized approach to learning. Our spaces are supporting our vision in coming to life and it’s a pleasure to share them – and most importantly, the learning, with everyone who comes for a visit. Jeff Ronneberg, superintendent