Shakopee Excellence in Equity

Newsletter - March 2017

Equality or Equity: Where does it fit in education?

By Bethany Pearson

Equity specialist

Many times, equality and equity are used interchangeably. We think that if we are treating everyone the same, regardless of their differences, that we are doing the right thing. What if that way of thinking is flawed? What if fair is not equal and being treated the same is not what our students need?

Bradley Stevenson is the executive director of the Childcare Council of Kentucky and founder of Kids Matter. His blog “Life One Blog at a Time” focuses on leadership, early childhood issues, and more. In a 2015 blog post at, Stevenson shares a quote from his wife, “Equal is every child having a pair of shoes. Equitable is every child having a pair of shoes that fits.”

Let’s run with that metaphor (pun intended) and apply it to your classroom. Every child in your class has a pair of shoes. In this case, the shoes are access to the curriculum, books, technology, school supplies, your expertise, etc. The question can then be asked, “Does every child have a pair of shoes that fits?” Can they access the curriculum, read the books, use the technology, replenish the school supplies, and take advantage of your expertise? For many of our students, the answer is no, at least not to the fullest.

There are many reasons why a student doesn’t have a pair of shoes that fits: resources at home, their feet are two different sizes, their dress shoes fit but their sneakers are worn out and too small. As educators, we need to be like the old shoe salesman, who kneels down, pulls out the metal Brannock sizer, and finds the right fit, for each customer. Sometimes, we will need to call another store to find the right pair, or we may need to look at a different style. Our students come to us in much the same way -- different resources at home, disparate developmental progress, worn down from working so hard to live up to expectations. We may need to call on our colleagues for interventions and strategies to help meet the student’s needs.

Throughout the rest of this school year, members of the Excellence in Equity team will visit our schools and lead discussions around equality, equity, and the barriers that prevent us from being the right fit for all of our students. We won’t provide the answers. Truthfully, we don’t’ have the proverbial magic pill. There is no one size, fits all answer. However, we will guide discussions through prompting questions and activities to help each educator self-reflect and the staff to critically think about what is and is not working in ensuring equality and equity at their school and decide what changes they can make together. In addition, as part of our continued efforts to provide opportunities for our students, we will take groups of students in grades 10 and 11 to visit Augsburg College on March 21 and Dakota County Technical College on March 22.

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Equity vs. Equality photo from American Journal of Education

Shakopee staff, families participate in Reimagine Minnesota

Shakopee School District assistant superintendent John Bezek, members of the Excellence in Equity team, cultural liaisions, and Shakopee families attended the Reimagine Minnesota world cafe community conversation in Prior Lake on Feb. 9.

Here is a link to an article that was published in the local newspapers about the event.

School districts across the metro area have come together to develop a collective education plan to address integration, access, equity, and excellence in education. During February and March, community conversations with students, parents, policy makers, and community and education stakeholders were held at various schools. The information gathered through the collective dialogue will inform a superintendent committee as they forge a path and build a collective education plan that ensures success for all students.

For more details, visit The Association of Metropolitan School Districts' Web site at

Families learn about technology use at Tech Night

The district's digital learning coaches, technology staff, and Excellence in Equity joined forces to host Tech Night at Shakopee East on Feb. 28. The event was open to all Shakopee families with students in grades 6 through 12. Families were able to receive one-on-one assistance to learn more about Infinite Campus and Canvas, monitoring their children's technology use, and other aspects of technology.
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Digital learning coach Zach Eidelbes talks to a parent about technology use in our schools during Tech Night at Shakopee East on Feb. 28.

Equine program provides learning opportunities for Native students

By Dee Buros

American Indian Education coordinator

Shakopee’s Native students are participating in a new program called Equine Assisted Growth and Learning. It is offered through the district’s American Indian Education and is paid for by the Indian Education Workforce Grant. It is a collaborative effort between mental health professionals Lisa Fulton and Sisseton Tribe and horse professionals, like myself. This trained and certified team works together with the students and horses to achieve learning goals.

The work is based on the Eagala Model, a distinct experience-based, team-approach framework designed to empower participants to analyze their situations, make connections, and find their own solutions through personal and physical experiences. Students learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with horses, and then processing or discussing their thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.

The horses are an integral part of the team. Horses can influence people in incredibly powerful ways. Developing relationships, training, horsemanship instructions, and caring for the horses naturally affects those involved in a meaningful way. For example, horses are large and powerful, which creates an opportunity for students to overcome fear and develop confidence. The size and power of a horse can be intimidating to many people. Accomplishing a task involving a horse, in spite of these fears, instills confidence and provides connections to dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life.

The Eagala Model that Lisa and I use with students contains the following elements:

* The Team Approach - The equine specialist develops the horse-assisted activities to help meet the learning goals. The process is done as a team with the mental health specialists. The team discusses the student’s needs, the process, and possibilities.

* Focus on the Ground - This work is conducted on the ground with the horses.

* Solution-Oriented - Eagala emphasizes that students can find their own best solutions if given the opportunity to discover them.

* Code of Ethics - Each team member is expected to maintain professionalism and work toward the overall health and wellness of the student participants.

Throughout this year, small groups of Native students from Shakopee have been travelling to a small horse ranch to experience the program. The students’ learning goals vary, raning from academic goals, such as attendance and assignment completion, to personal goals, like setting boundaries and establishing or maintaining healthy relationships. Sometimes, students arrive at the ranch tired, unmotivated, and feeling low. However, after working with the horses, they leave feeling energized, motivated, and happy.

The equine work continues this summer through Sunka Wakan, which will include a mentorship aspect in which high school students will work with younger students, sharing the experience and knowledge they have gained throughout the year. Sunka Wakan in the Dakota language means holy dog. Native elders, music, and values will also be incorporated so students can find continuity and a connection between Equine Assisted Learning and their culture. For more information about Eagala, go to

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A student brushes a horse during a visit to a horse ranch coordinated by the American Indian Education's Equine Assisted Growth and Learning program.
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The equine program will continue this summer with Sunka Wakan.

Equity Club for students offered at Shakopee West

Shakopee West students participating in the after-school Saber Squad activities can volunteer to be part of the Equity Club, which was established this past fall.

According to equity specialist Sean McMoore, who leads the 10-member Equity Club, its objective is to help mold future leaders of the community and give them the skills needed to be successful in any career they decide to pursue. He said students in the club learn a great deal while being part of a fun and supportive environment.

"The objective will be reached by raising awareness about equity in education and the community, building more confidence academically and socially in each student member, as well as learning how to successfully work individually and as a team, how to productively manage their time, and how to set short-term and long-term goals," McMoore said.

After school every Thursday, Equity Club students meet to spend part of their time discussing various topics, such as time management, goal setting, school climate, building positive relationships with teachers and peers, equity in the school and community, current events, the value of an education, and other topics they want to talk about.

"The purpose of having these conversations is to help heighten the students’ knowledge on these important topics and to give them an opportunity to speak on their perspective about school and the community," McMoore explained.

Besides having conversations, the Equity Club also work on projects that can be displayed in the school and community.

"These projects are focused on spreading the word about the importance of equity in education and in our everyday lives. These projects also encourage students to be themselves, excel in school, and help build upon an already welcoming school climate at West," McMoore said.

Recently, Equity Club students wrote encouraging words on Post-It notes and placed them on students' lockers and teachers' and other staff members' classroom or office doors.

"This project gave students a chance to show their appreciation for their teachers and peers and help positively build on their existing relationships," McMoore said.

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Equity specialist Sean McMoore, paraprofessional Keith Malone, and two of 10 Equity Club members get ready to play a game at Shakopee West.

AVID event teaches students, families importance of reading

By Cristina Oxtra

AVID district director

AVID’s learning support structure for middle and high school students is known as WICOR. It incorporates teaching and learning methodologies in writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization and reading. Recently, Shakopee AVID hosted an event to highlight the reading part of WICOR.

More than 200 AVID Shakopee East, West, and High School students and their families attended the AVID Family Night Winter Booktacular. They enjoyed a meal and listened to Shakopee West reading specialist Mary Wilfahrt's presentation on the importance of reading. Afterward, the families enjoyed cookies and hot cocoa and students "shopped" for free books from a big selection of new and gently-used books donated by public libraries, Shakopee High School library, charitable organizations, and individuals. Some students also won reading-related door prizes provided by Shakopee West media specialist Bruce Finke. The students could take home as many books as they wanted and many left with large gift bags filled with books. A representative from the Shakopee Public Library was at the event to help students and family members sign up for a library card and learn about the free services, activities, and events offered at the library.

During the event, before Mary's presentation, I read a speech to share my story and encourage students to read more. Here is an abbreviated version of that speech.

I read a quote that said, “A journey of a lifetime starts with the turning of a page.” I can prove to you this is true.

I was born in the Philippines. My family and I immigrated to the United States years later. When I started attending school in the United States, I felt like a fish out of water. The only things about America I was familiar with was whatever I saw on TV shows, like “Sesame Street,” “The Price is Right,” and “Little House on the Prairie.” I knew English but it was formal, textbook English I learned in school. I didn’t know much about aspects of daily, informal conversation, like slang. For example, I was confused when a girl in the cafeteria kept telling me to “scoot over.” I was sitting at a table about to eat lunch when she stood next to me and waved her arms while saying, “Scoot over.” I didn’t learn the word “scoot.” Other students were looking at me. I was embarrassed. Eventually, when the girl moved my tray further down the table, I figured she wanted me to follow it and move myself. The day-to-day challenges of communication made me miss my friends at my old school, where everyone understood me and I understood everyone.

One day, I discovered a magical place in school -- the library. I met a nice lady there -- the librarian. She greeted me and told me all about the library. I was surprised to learn how many books were on the shelves and that I could borrow any of them anytime. I don’t know whether my school in the Philippines had a library. I don’t remember visiting it. I don’t recall my town having a public library. If it did, I never went to it. My family didn’t have a car to drive to it. I had textbooks from school, but they weren’t exactly fun to read. Books were expensive and a luxury. No one in my family was an avid reader.

Choosing a book from such a huge selection was overwhelming. I didn’t even know what kind of books I liked. I managed to pick one book -- Nancy Drew. I took it home on a Friday and finished reading it by Monday. The following week, I borrowed another Nancy Drew book. Then another and another. I may have read every book in the Nancy Drew series. I adored Nancy. She was a strong, independent, smart, brave girl, who solved every mystery she encountered, and she never gave up in the face of any challenge.

Now that I had access to so many books, I wanted to read them all. I read about the life of Louis Armstrong, Anne Frank, and Amelia Earhart, Native American history, Sherlock Holmes, and so much more. Besides borrowing books, I often helped the librarian re-shelve books, assist other students, and decorate for the changing seasons. The library was my sanctuary, my happy place for peace, quiet, learning, and dreaming. I didn’t need to fit in at the library. The librarian always welcomed me with a smile and the books didn’t care whether or not I knew the meaning of words like “scoot.” If I didn’t understand a word I read, I looked it up in a dictionary; thus, I improved my vocabulary.

I found the more I read, the more my writing skills improved. So much so that I came to enjoy writing. Through reading, I learned there is power in words. The right words can make others think, cry, or laugh, expand their minds, encourage and inspire them, change their perspectives, compel them to take action, or just let them know they’re not alone. This made me think. If the books I’ve read could teach me so much and shape my world, maybe I could do the same for others.

Years later, I became a journalist. I wrote articles to inform, educate, and make readers think about ideas they may never have considered. Later, I became a public affairs officer in the U.S. Air Force writing materials to support the Air Force’s mission and its military members and families. In 2011, I wrote and self-published a children’s book. I'm currently pursuing a master's degree in creative writing for children and young adults. I want to write books that will spark young readers’ minds and take them on journeys of learning and discovery. I want to write stories that provide comfort, smiles, wonderment, and hope. Just like the books I read.

I’m thankful for all of the opportunities I’ve had in life, and it all started with a book. And a kind librarian. You never know what you might find in the pages of a book. It may lead you to things you never thought possible, maybe even to find and fulfill your dreams. Books and reading changed my life for the better. Maybe, if you give it a chance, if you keep an open mind and turn a page, it might change yours.

Resources for diverse books
Green Card Youth Voices =
We Need Diverse Books =

American Library Association =

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Shakopee AVID students show some of the free books they chose at the recent AVID Family Night Winter Booktacular. Their siblings also took home books for themselves. Books for younger readers that were not selected at the event were donated to Eagle Creek Elementary's book swap in February.

Students share their culture

The 8th graders in Chris Adams' AVID class at Shakopee West and in Dawn Adams' AVID class at Shakopee East presented their culture projects recently. They shared how individuals in their culture greet each other and learn as well as the foods, movies, and music that are important or representative of their culture. At Shakopee West, the projects are displayed on the school's AVID bulletin board on the second floor and another bulletin board in the hallway near the main office. At Shakopee East, the projects are displayed outside Dawn Adams' classroom.
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An AVID 8th grader presents her culture project in Chris Adams' AVID class at Shakopee West.
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Two examples of the AVID 8th graders' culture projects displayed outside Dawn Adam's classroom at Shakopee East.

Helping students apply for jobs

By Juan Mitchell

Equity specialist

I have been assisting students with finding a job and completing applications. I have put together these tips that can be shared with students.

Things you need to have to complete a job application

* Identification

* Each past employers’ information

--- Name

--- Complete address

--- Phone number

--- Supervisor’s name and contact information

--- Employment start and end dates

--- Beginning and end salaries

* Resume

The basics - The application is a reflection of you.

* Take a few minutes to review the entire application before you start completing it.

* Read and follow instructions carefully.

* Complete the application as neatly as possible.

--- Neatness and legibility counts.

--- Use a black or blue pen.

* Don’t leave any blanks. If there are questions that do not apply to you, write “not applicable” or “N/A.”

* Don’t bend or fold your application.

* Always answer questions truthfully.

* Do not include specific salary requirements. The best answer is to say “open” or “negotiable.”

* Provide references. Ask employers whether they are willing to be a reference before listing them in an application. Good references can include past employers and teachers.

How to handle harder questions

* Include information about yourself when you don’t yet have work experience for the job you want. Include activities that demonstrate responsibility, reliability, and/or leadership to demonstrate that you would be a good employee.

--- Volunteer work

--- Extracurricular activities

--- Tutoring

--- Internships

--- Babysitting

--- Religious roles (i.e. church greeter, serving food, clean up, yard work, etc.)

--- School projects, academic achievement awards, and good grades

* Don’t provide negative information. Your goal is to get an interview.

Submitting your application and following up

* Be sure to sign and date the application.

* Proofread your application before submitting it.

* When submitting your application, get the hiring manager’s name and phone number to follow up with that manager.

* If you have not heard from the employer within a week, follow up with a phone call, or stop by to speak with the manager.

Strategies for applying in person

* Dress appropriately.

* Arrive prepared with the information you need.

* Have time to complete an application.

* Plan to speak with a hiring manager. You may not be able to, but be prepared.

--- Find out and avoid the busy time for the business.

--- Anticipate that you may be interviewed on the spot.

* Download a sample application and practice filling it out before you arrive. Bring it with you to use on site.

University of St. Thomas to offer two-year college

The University of St. Thomas is creating a two-year college for low-income students. The program was approved by the university’s board of trustees. The cost to individual students will be as low as $1,000 a year. The new Dougherty Family College is designed to be a pathway for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who dream of a four-year degree but need extra help to get there, said Julie Sullivan, president of St. Thomas. Here is an article about this opportunity published in the Star Tribune.

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