Fernbrook Elementary in Maple Grove is one of the larger elementary schools in the Osseo School District. It's larger size is one of the reasons building a sense of community is top priority at this school.
The way Fernbrook Principal Todd Tischer sees it, his elementary school is a big family.
"With 850 students, people sometimes walk in and think, oh my gosh, it's such a big school, but we try and make it a small, connected, warm, caring, family," said Tischer.
850 students, prekindergarten through fifth grade, consider Fernbrook Elementary their home. And as head of this school household, Principal Tischer insists joy and creativity should lead the way in learning not test scores.
"We know that children are more than just test scores, so our focus has been on teaching the whole child and enriching their lives and pushing with creativity and getting them to do their very best work," said Tischer.
Creativity and critical thinking whirl together in the school's Maker Space. It's a room where hands-on exploration and problem solving skills are encouraged, and students have a chance to do a number of different creative activities.
"Every child has an opportunity to come in here at least once during the school year during their recess time," said Kim LeClaire, talented and gifted specialist. "They get to explore and make choices, whether they like to build things, use technology, take apart some technology, play on a Lego wall, build a marble run, pretty much the sky is the limit."
Fourth grade student Sophie Kollodge loves working on the circuit board in the Maker Space. It's a project where troubleshooting skills are required.
"There's always mistakes in this, so we learn by our mistakes and then our goal is eventually finding out what we did wrong," said Kollodge.
There's a joy of reading and learning on display in the school's media center, especially each year when the library is transformed into a book theme that comes to life. One year the theme was "Wizard of Oz," another year it was "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."
"This is a way to celebrate classic literature, and kind of re-immerse our kids in classic literature, and bring it to light," said Kim Haugo, library media specialist. "When they [students] walk in and see the chocolate fountain from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" in the middle of the media center with large candy hanging from the ceiling, they just can't believe it."
Remember the idea of family at this school? Here's a great example: every two years, teachers and staff dress up for a variety show that raises money for Fernbrook families in crisis.
"We've had families who've experience fire, families who have experienced a flood, families who've experienced homelessness, each year it seems to be something different," said Amy Fouquette, school counselor.
Thank you letters to the school's caring committee show how much the emergency funds are appreciated.
"We can now afford food on our table and Christmas for our children" said one note.
"These kids know, they know what community service is," said Carol Joelson, the school's volunteer coordinator.
Each spring, a community service project brings the whole school out to the Maple Grove High School track to walk for a cure. Since 2001, the school has raised a staggering amount for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
"Our grand total is $152,044 and 28 cents," said Joelson.
More than $152,000 in giving. There's no test score for that, but this school believes they're on the right track.
"It's harder to measure compassion and kindness, and caring for one another, but that's essential to developing human beings who are going to contribute to our community in the future," said Tischer.
The school also does cross-grade level activities so students build connections and know the names of kids in different grades. Tischer also believes it's important for every student to know that any adult in the school should be considered a teacher, able to help and support.
Alexandra Renslo reporting
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