Shakopee Excellence in Equity

Newsletter - May 2017

Shakopee High School graduates honored at community celebration

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Twelve Shakopee High School graduates were honored at the Community Graduation Party on May 20 hosted by the Shakopee School District's Excellence in Equity team.

The event was supposed to be held at Lions Park but was moved to Sweeney Elementary because of rain. This is the second year the team has hosted this event for graduates who may not be able to have a graduation party.

"We doubled in size from last year, and moving indoors was a great decision," said Bethany Pearson, EwE equity specialist. "Our students and families had a wonderful time, enjoyed delicious food and cake, and left feeling appreciated and excited for the future."

The school district's Food Services catered the event. Some community members also provided food to share with everyone, including Somali cultural liaison Ibrahim Mohammed who brought sambusas and several Hispanic families who brought chicken, guacamole, and other dishes along with horchata. Shakopee High School chemistry teacher Cassidy Javner baked the cake and cupcakes. There were games for the graduates and their families to play and younger siblings could run and play in the school gym. There were also gifts for graduates donated by individuals and businesses. The graduates presented their post-secondary plan then selected a gift. To recognize parents for supporting their students throughout their school years, they we also invited to play "bags" for chances to win donated gift cards to local restaurants.

Special thanks to the event's donors and sponsors -- Shakopee Alumni Association, Esperanza, Shakopee Robotics, Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Hy-vee, Party City, Shakopee Food Service, Stuart and Erica Lang and family, and Cassidy Javner.

Indian Education hosts first Career and Culture Day

By Dee Buros

American Indian Education coordinator

More than 50 Native American students in grades 6 through 12 participated in the first-ever Shakopee Schools American Indian Education Career and Culture Day at the Shakopee Police Department's conference center April 18.

The Indian Education Workforce Grant allows Shakopee Schools to provide college and career readiness to prepare Native students to make informed post-secondary decisions that will positively influence their lives.

Native professionals served as speakers at the event where they shared their personal stories, educational and career paths, and day-to-day experiences. Bakery owner Christine Welch told students she had always dreamed of being a baker, so she started operating her own baking business from her home. She bakes and decorates cakes and desserts for many small events and celebrations. Before Welch completed her presentation, a Native student asked her if she could bake a cake for the annual Student Recognition Banquet and she accepted the offer.

Kelsey LaRue, who is from Turtle Mountain and a counselor at Shakopee East Junior High School, discussed how she chose a career in the educational field and how many years of college she attended to reach her desired career. When asked what she liked the most about her job, LaRue replied that helping students and making a difference brings her the most joy in her work.

Service dog trainer Marilyn Tokach talked about her path to live her dream by working with animals every day. She encouraged students to find their passion then determine how to get paid for it. Two Minneapolis police officers, Colleen Saunby and Cheryl Leigh-Goodman, shared their stories of breaking down barriers to become a community figure whom many families and youth trust. Through their work, they build relationships with community members to facilitate a strong and healthy alliance between the police force and Native families.

After lunch, Lisa Fulton, a mental health therapist from the Sisseton tribe explained why she has dedicated her life to work with Native youth. She talked about the increasing number of Native teens who commit suicide each year and her fight to impact those students. To improve her skills, Fulton continues to educate herself on new strategies and therapy models. Her latest venture is providing equine therapy, in which some of the students have participated. She plans to eventually return to and work on her reservation to give back to her people.

The day ended with a performance and presentation from Jackie Bird. She traveled from South Dakota to share her unique career as a world class hoop dancer, storyteller, and inspirational speaker. Bird introduced her puppet Wild Flower and together they sang, told stories, and made everyone laugh. Then she told the Creation Story through the beauty and grace of the hoops. She explained that, for her, the dance is healing. Hoop dancing used to be a male-dominated dance, but with the world in need of healing, women like Bird, have now joined in. At the end of her performance, Bird spent time interacting with students and staff.

The students said the event was fun and requested that it be held each year.

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Mercedes Van Cleve and her therapy dog Flynn pose for a photo at the first-ever Shakopee Schools American Indian Education Culture and Career Day.

Students help Shakopee Diversity Alliance, Eagle Creek Elementary

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Three 11th graders in Shakopee High School's Advancement via Individual Determination, or AVID, class (top photo, left to right) Riviera Him, Sonita Nhep, and Jenny Diep-Nguyen, and their friend Eva Lam (far left) volunteered with AVID district director Cristina Oxtra at the Eagle Creek Elementary carnival on May 6. They manned the Shakopee Diversity Alliance's "Food From My Culture" art activity booth. The SDA also hosted two cultural performances in the gym. The first was a Japanese song and dance performed by Shakopee High School Japanese language teacher Naomi Satoh and her students (second photo). The group encouraged audience members to participate in the dance (third photo). The second performance featured a Bollywood dance from India performed by Shakopee High School student Kamala Nair (fourth photo).

Equity team members participate in community discussion

Excellence with Equity team supervisor Ray Betton and AVID district director Cristina Oxtra participated in the Shakopee Diversity Alliance community discussion called, "Tools to Deal with Today's Cultural Realities: Fighting Back Without Fighting Back" at the Shakopee Community Center on April 27. Betton was part of the panel of guest speakers while Oxtra served as the event's moderator.

The discussion focused on the challenges immigrants and individuals of color face.

"In order to foster the supportive and inclusive community Shakopee is striving to be, we must acknowledge the instances of injustice occurring on a daily basis. We hope this event will be a first step to breaking down barriers and addressing problems facing our neighborhoods," said Ibrahim Mohamed, SDA chairperson.

The evening included Shakopee community members sharing their personal experiences and stories followed by an open discussion during which panelists provided their expertise and guidance for moving ahead. Besides Betton, the panel included Okogyeamon (Herbert Perkins) of Racial Equity of Minnesota Project and Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate.

Formed in 2012, the SDA is a non-profit group composed entirely of volunteers and is aimed at celebrating and addressing the needs of Shakopee's diverse community.

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Excellence with Equity team supervisor Ray Betton addresses questions from the audience at the Shakopee Diversity Alliance's "Tools to Deal with Today's Cultural Realities: Fighting Back Without Fighting Back" community discussion April 27.
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Cristina Oxtra, AVID district director, Excellence with Equity team member, and a founding member of the Shakopee Diversity Alliance, read audience members' questions for the panelists and served as the moderator at the SDA's community discussion.

Red Oak hosts first Somali parent meeting

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Red Oak Elementary hosted its first Somali parent meeting recently. The goal of the meeting was to foster parent involvement by having conversations over lunch and discussing what is working and what work needs to be done. Excellence in Equity team equity specialist Juan Mitchell said, "The belief is students' success is a shared interest of both the school and families and we see parents as partners in the learning process. Both parties are trying to identify concrete ways to continue to grow and strengthen that partnership." Pictured in the photo with Somali parents are equity specialist Juan Mitchell, Red Oak assistant principal Ford Rolfsrud, Red Oak principal Mitch Perrine, and Somali cultural liaison Ibrahim Mohammed.

Equity team takes students on college tours

By Bethany Pearson

Equity specialist

The Excellence with Equity team led students on tours of Augsburg College and Dakota County Technical College recently.

This was the first time the team took students to these colleges. Ray Betton, Dee Buros, Juan Mitchell, and I accompanied approximately 30 students to Augsburg College in Minneapolis. The campus tours were led by Augsburg students. Shakopee students visited a variety of campus spots, including the Campus Cupboard that provides free access to food and personal items, the bookstore, tutoring and writing labs, the Multicultural Student Center, and athletic facilities.

The group learned that Augsburg is a very inclusive school, with nearly 50 percent of the current freshman class coming from diverse backgrounds. Augsburg prides itself on helping all students earn their college degree. Although Augsburg is a Lutheran school, there are prayer rooms and services for all religions on campus. There are also more than 50 student clubs and organizations. The college has made it part of its mission to help all students be successful and offers free tutors, free laundry, and a bookstore on campus that will match the price of textbooks found at online retailers.

Students who participate in a college prep program, such as AVID, College Possible, or

Upward Bound for a minimum of two years, automatically earn $13,000 off their tuition. For students who complete the college prep program, maintain at least a 2.5 GPA, and agree to live on campus for two years, the scholarship award can be as much as a full tuition. Students who excel in the arts can earn $3,000, with one full scholarship awarded annually. Augsburg also has a free application process, no set ACT score requirement, and allows student applicants to include an essay with their application explaining why they would be a good fit for the college.

A few days later, Dee Buros and I took 12 students to Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount. The students witnessed the hands-on learning in the college and toured the facilities. They were able to walk through the greenhouses, photography and digital labs, the GM Certified Tech shop, and dental labs.

DCTC students explained to Shakopee students the programs in which they were enrolled and what the college meant for them. One DCTC student said this was the second time he had enrolled in a program at the college and he would never choose another school. He had been through the GM Certified Tech program and was now opening his own automobile repair center. He returned to earn a certificate in business studies so he could be better prepared to run his business. Another DCTC student from Nigeria told students he found a home at DCTC. He could play soccer, receive support from his professors, and knew he could succeed in his career path because of the connections he made in the industry.

Through these college tours, the Shakopee students were excited to learn about the number of courses and degree options available to them and saw college as a possibility. One student said, “Darn it! I just wanted to be a hairdresser. Now I think I’m going to go to college!”

The EwE team will continue to provide Shakopee 10th and 11 graders with college tours to various institutions of higher education in Minnesota in the fall and spring of each year so they can learn about opportunities in colleges, experience a college setting, and help them visualize themselves as college students and future graduates.

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Shakopee students listen to a presenter during a recent college tour conducted by the school district's Excellence with Equity team.

AVID wraps up fourth year, looks toward future

By Cristina Oxtra

AVID district director

AVID wrapped up another great year. We hosted our AVID Family Potluck Picnic at Lions Park on May 11. We had a great turnout. Many AVID students, family members, and staff brought food to share, chat, play games, and enjoy the afternoon with one another. It was like a big family reunion. Each AVID class presented its own awards to students before the last day of school.

One of the best things about being part of AVID is seeing our students grow over the years in so many wonderful ways. Our AVID team has watched students start their first year in AVID nervous to take their first Honors class. Years later, they are taking multiple Honors, AP, Accelerated, and CIS classes, and are choosing which colleges and universities to apply to and deciding their fields of study. They are on the Honor Roll, named Students of the Month or Students of the Week, and earn all kinds of other awards and recognition. We also have students in the National Junior Honor Society and National Honor Society.

We have seen improved grades as well as improved writing, note-taking, and organizational skills. Students have become more confident in their abilities, more willing to speak in public, and better at asking questions and advocating for themselves. With this newfound confidence and encouragement from their AVID teachers, many have taken on leadership roles and have become more involved in extracurricular activities. More importantly, they have set goals for themselves, have a plan to meet these goals, and look forward to a bright future.

Established in California in 1980, AVID’s mission is to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society. It is a college readiness system designed to ensure all students, especially the least served students who are in the academic middle to:

* Succeed in rigorous curriculum
* Complete a rigorous college preparatory path
* Enter mainstream activities of the school
* Enroll in college
* Become educated and responsible participants and leaders in their communities

AVID has been adopted by more than 5,600 schools, including 40 colleges and universities, in 44 states and 16 countries, making a difference in the lives of 1.2 million students. Shakopee began offering AVID in the 8th grade in 2013. Now it is offered in grades 8 through 11. Next year, our 11th graders are moving on to 12th grade and they will be Shakopee's first group of graduating AVID seniors.

AVID is not a remedial program or study hall. The AVID elective class is held five days a week during the school day. AVID students are required to take at least one rigorous course, such as an Honors or AP course, every year. Through AVID they learn valuable skills, such as writing, note-taking, inquiry, collaboration, organization, reading, and critical thinking, all of which will help them succeed in all of their classes. AVID-trained tutors facilitate small group student-led tutorial sessions twice a week during the AVID elective class.

AVID students also visit colleges and universities to learn about academic requirements, expectations, classes and fields of study, programs, and collegiate life. They participate in team building activities, enrichment opportunities, and community service. Guest speakers, who are professionals in various career fields, visit the AVID elective classes to talk about their job, educational background, and what they did to prepare for college and their career. In addition, educational special events are held for AVID students and their families.

AVID students must take responsibility for their learning and apply the skills they are taught in the AVID elective class, as well as do the academically rigorous work required. The students succeed not only because they receive the support they need, but also because they are willing to do the work and work hard. The expectations are high and AVID students must continually meet them to stay in the class. They succeed because they take to heart their education, their future, and the letters “I” and “D” in the AVID acronym. They have Individual Determination.

Students who would like to apply to enroll in the AVID elective class must meet the AVID criteria, submit an application, and be interviewed to be considered for possible selection by the AVID-trained AVID site teams in their school.

Being in AVID is voluntary. AVID students sign the AVID Student Agreement indicating their commitment to the class and to their success. The initial commitment is one year. Students are highly encouraged to continue in AVID as they progress through junior high school and throughout high school. According to studies conducted by AVID, students experience the best results after being in the class for at least three years. AVID students usually choose to stay in AVID until they graduate from high school.

AVID site teams at Shakopee East, West, and High School are made up of administrators, counselors, and teachers in various content areas who are willing to continually train and implement AVID instructional strategies, spread AVID school-wide, and support not just our AVID students, but all students in their schools using their AVID knowledge and expertise. Thanks to their hard work and dedication, our students are achieving great things.

AVID is not just another class. We create a college-going culture and build a close-knit team. Our students know if they need assistance, they can ask anyone on our team. We help one another through the challenging times and we celebrate one another's successes. We, our students, families, site teams, and tutors, are a family and we are on this incredible journey together.

To learn more about AVID, visit, go to the Shakopee AVID page at, or "like" Shakopee AVID on Facebook.

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AVID students, families, and staff celebrate the end of the year at the AVID Family Potluck Picnic at Lions Park on May 11.
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The AVID 11th graders toured Normandale Community College on April 27.

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The AVID 10th and 11th graders toured Minnesota State University Mankato on May 4. They learned about the university's admission requirements, application process, clubs and organizations, as well as fields of study and other opportunities. A current Mankato student and a recent Mankato graduate both led the tour during which the AVID students looked at a dorm, the new dining hall, fitness facilities, and many other areas of the university.

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Shakopee East and West AVID 9th graders learned more about college during a tour of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities on April 26. They were accompanied by their AVID elective teachers along with Shakopee West counselor Amy Gerster and Shakopee East social studies teacher Lee Engstrom, who are both U of M graduates.

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The Shakopee East AVID 8th graders enjoyed their visit to Gustavus Adolphus College on May 5. The photo shows some of the students in the class, which was divided into smaller groups for the tour. They were escorted by Shakopee East AVID site coordinator/AVID elective 9th grade teacher Ted Aleckson and Shakopee East AVID elective 8th grade teacher Dawn Adams. Both are Gustavus graduates.

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Shakopee West AVID 8th graders visited Normandale Community College on April 28.

Everyone invited to attend SDA International Festival

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Excellence in Equity Team

Ray Betton - Excellence with Equity supervisor

Shakopee High School and Pearson 6th Grade Center

Dee Buros - American Indian Education coordinator

at all Shakopee school buildings and

Central Family Center

Gospel Kordah - Equity specialist

Shakopee East and Eagle Creek Elementary

Sean McMoore - Equity specialist

Shakopee West, Sweeney Elementary, and Jackson Elementary

Juan Mitchell - Equity specialist

Shakopee High School and Red Oak Elementary

Cristina Oxtra - AVID district director

AVID at Shakopee East, West, and High School

Bethany Pearson - Equity specialist

Shakopee High School and Sun Path Elementary