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LW Graduation, or To See the Class of 2015 as a Field of Flowers


The Class of 2015 as a Field of Flowers

by LW alum and SYP teacher Addie W.

The Class of 2015 gathers in their new LW swag

The Class of 2015 gathers in their new LW swag

From the top of the sunny courtyard stairs, I could see the new 2015 LearningWorks graduates joking and lining up for foursquare with their friends. In their red sweatshirts, they reminded me of poppies scattered throughout the prairie of families and teachers. They started out as 6th grade seedlings at L-Dub and had blossomed into flowers through dedication, hard work and support! Is my metaphor too cheesy? Probably, but it was an emotional day.

Earlier, students and families had gathered in the auditorium to watch videos of 2nd years sharing their goals for life after LearningWorks. The graduates clustered together in the first few rows, cheering for each peer that appeared on the screen. All of the 8th graders saw themselves enrolling in college or taking a gap year 5 years from now. I was proud and inspired as I heard them speak with passion about their desire to become doctors, teachers, neuroscientists, music educators, directors, astronauts and travelers.

Natalie Owens-Pike, Executive Director, spoke of the accomplishments of the graduates through sock analogies. Minneapolis School Board member and former LW parent Kim Ellison delivered a powerful speech on change, a concept relevant to the graduates’ nearing transition to high school. The crowd was honored to hear Shelly Griffin, a former teacher and alum of the program, perform a spoken word piece about her deeply-rooted love for LearningWorks. Teachers shared individual words that summed up their experience, such as “inspiring,” “promising” and “home.” Finally, Student Services Director Asma Mohammed presented certificates to the well-deserving (and well-rehearsed) class of 2015. The day wasn’t complete without an impromptu student-led spirit check!

I love LearningWorks for the enthusiasm and generosity that radiates through the program. The staff works tirelessly to foster a community like this, so it was a bittersweet moment when Noam announced his transition out of his position as Director to a job at Breakthrough Twin Cities. Noam, thank you from everyone at L-Dub. We continue to benefit from your invaluable work and will miss you.

Of course, the same farewell and congratulations goes to the class of 2015. But many graduates want you to hold back your tears, because they’re coming back for a 3rd year at Leadership Academy. “I’m not crying yet,” one student told me. “I still have Celebration next summer!”

The Class of 2015 Looks to the Future!

The Class of 2015 Looks to the Future!

LearningWorks’ annual visit to St. Olaf College! by teacher Greg L.

LearningWorks second-year students pose in the St. Olaf Student Center

LearningWorks second-year students pose in the St. Olaf Student Center

by Greg L.

It was a sunny day as we marched through the tundras of Northfield, MN. Sunlight reflected off the pristine snow to illuminate the foggy exhales of students and faculty making their way in between buildings at St. Olaf. Students marveled at the opportunities and amenities on St. Olaf’s hilly campus, some of whom were braving winter winds on their first college tour ever.

Students full of questions found new experiences around every corner- one building in particular contained a treasure chest of contemporary and vintage art! The students couldn’t help but exclaim appreciation in their ooohs and ahhhs. One piece in particular was a rubber band ball made out of metal. While it looked heavy, students discovered that it was incredibly light. Current St. Olaf students answered our group’s many college questions about art and what to major in, and took us to explore the highlights of the campus.
While touring the dorm rooms, a second-year student asked questions about his interest in Chemical Engineering. Once inside the concert hall, first-year students found common ground as they struck up a conversation with current St. Olaf students about the college’s dedication to the arts and music!
Though students acquired new knowledge about what St. Olaf offers to students from near and far, the highlight of the day was discovering one benefit of a small, liberal arts school: all-you-can-eat food in a cafeteria designed so you can catch up with all your friends. Students and faculty alike feasted their eyes and stomachs on St. Olaf’s five star cuisine. From pizza to eggs to tiramisu, students from all backgrounds found food to fill appetites worked up on the chilly, winter tour.
On our way to the busses at the end of the day, the students in our family group started to picture themselves on campus, talking excitedly about the opportunities they could see at a college like St. Olaf. One first-year student in particular explained how he looked forward to an independence where he could pursue the wide range of his academic interests to his heart’s content. He truly applied the motto, “it’s cool to be smart, it’s cool to be you, and it’s cool to care” to our time at St. Olaf.

Happy New Year from LearningWorks! 


Though the first School Year Program session won’t be until January 31st, we are ringing in the New Year by thinking about what went well at LearningWorks SYP in 2014.

LearningWorks students explore Minneapolis during SYP!

LearningWorks students explore Minneapolis during SYP!

Here are shout-outs to SYP 2014 from Allison H., SYP mentor and 2014 summer faculty member: 

At 8:00am the Saturday before finals, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere besides LearningWorks. The energy boost that our incredible students provide from the moment the first bus arrives is non-stop until the moment the last bus pulls out of sight. As a mentor for the School Year Program (SYP), I am able to participate in the program I love from a whole new perspective. I still see the students smile when they see their friends from other schools; I still see students think, ask questions, and think some more while they study new math skills or practice writing during class; and I still see students call their own lines in four square. I still see so many wonderful things, but now I also see High School students invest their time and energy in the production of an hour long lesson. I love observing the natural interaction between students and teachers, especially when the young teachers utilize kinesthetic learning because, “that’s how I learn best.” Students teaching students is a remarkable motto. This mindset allows for innovation and creativity in the classroom, for students, from the mind of a student. There is never a dull moment during a day in the life at LearningWorks. The energy never falls, the fun never fades, and the learning never stops. And we run after each bus in December as if it were the middle of July!

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LearningWorks Executive Director and Admin Team News!

LearningWorks students at ASM!

LearningWorks students at ASM!

Former Executive Director Scott Flemming visited us at School-Year Program this Saturday, representing his new role as Director of the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at Blake. As our liaison to the Blake community, he visited ASM to shout-out our administrative team as we move forward with a new LearningWorks Executive Director. We are fortunate to have an outstanding group of administrators poised to lead LearningWorks to great places as we celebrate our 15th year of operations in 2015!

Executive Director. Natalie Owens-Pike has accepted our offer to serve as the fifth executive director of LearningWorks, filling the vacancy left by Max Delgado in July. Before returning to LearningWorks in 2013 as the alumni director, Natalie spent two years teaching Spanish at Humphreys County High School in Belzoni, Mississippi as a Teach for America corps member in the Mississippi Delta. As alumni director, Natalie drew on her experience as a former LW teacher to redesign Leadership Academy with a more direct focus on high school readiness, and create dynamic networking opportunities for our teaching alumni with leading local and national organizations.

Curriculum and Instruction Director. Noam Wiggs will continue to lead LearningWorks efforts in curriculum and instruction, with core responsibilities for recruiting, hiring and training the faculty and developing curriculum that aligns with Minneapolis Public Schools standards. Under Noam’s direction, LearningWorks has grown the pool of quality teaching candidates who aspire to join our faculty and delivered the highest gains on the algebra pre-and post testing in the Breakthrough Collaborative.

Student Services Director. Zer Vang will continue to lead LearningWorks student services work, which entails recruiting, selecting and supporting students and their families during the Summer Program and the School Year Program. During her tenure, Zer has done stellar work expanding the scope of LearningWorks student recruitment to a record 18 different Minneapolis Public Schools. Zer’s tireless efforts ensure that LW students are highly motivated, hard working middle schoolers who represent every neighborhood and every story in the district.

Join us in celebrating the strengths of this team in our fifteenth year!

Leadership Academy Leads the Way! by teacher Amy J.

Students search for Minneapolis neighborhood knowledge at SYP!

Students search for Minneapolis neighborhood knowledge at the Walker Art Center!

After three weeks of waiting since the last SYP, I felt like it was the first day of LearningWorks again. I remember that first day quite vividly; it was my first day ever being a teacher at LearningWorks, and the night before I received news of a mono-infected teaching partner! I felt like a deer in the headlights, stressed and clueless walking through the doors. But walking in the building, I felt like I was thrown into an amazing community of classmates, excited to learn, and striving to assume teacher responsibilities. Seeing my classmates jump into their new teacher roles was eye opening. I was an amazed to be in the sea of kids, smiling and stomping to the Legacy cheer ready to start the day.

Fast forward to last SYP, our third session of this year. I still didn’t quite know what to expect. I was told to bring warm clothes for our outdoor scavenger hunt with the second years. The Leadership Academy students had planned out different activity stations for us to learn about the neighborhoods of LearningWorks students in Minneapolis. We also competed in families to take the best family photos throughout the day. Even though some of the student leaders at my scavenger hunt station were absent, I remembered my classmates who jumped into their teaching roles, and I knew that I somehow needed to fill the students’ shoes and improvise.

I was armed with instructions from the missing students, and another Learning Works teacher joined me eagerly on an adventure in the forty degree Minnesotan outdoors. We taught students about the Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood which prides itself on their art culture and their food trucks. Together, we made food truck re-enactments with our students and even included workout regimen to keep them from worrying about the cold.

Students launch and learn at School-Year Program!

Students launch and learn at School-Year Program!

Every time I go to LearningWorks I gain more respect for my teachers as they have to adapt to all situations. Despite the biting cold, the kids engaged in re-creating the mechanics and responsibilities of running a food truck. There were tacos, steak and fries, and unicorn horns being made. The day was a fun, organized, chilly adventure that continued to fuel my ever growing love for LearningWorks. At the end of the day, a student I had met that very day surprised me with a quick hug as she boarded the bus. Those few seconds of connecting with a new student made my day, and reinforced the importance of each student participation and presence in our School-Year Program.

Thriving at School-Year Program by teacher Gozong L.

Leadership Students work together at SYP!

Leadership Students work together at SYP!

by Gozong Lor, SYP Teacher and Macalester College student

It’s the first day of actual classes for students. The doors are wide open for anything to happen–Literally. As soon as the buses roll in at 9 AM, teachers and mentors fling open the doors to stand at the steps of the Blake School, giving high-fives to all the students who braved this chilly Saturday morning!

Any uncertainty is immediately dispelled by seeing familiar faces. Pretty soon, students run into their friends from summer, and there’s the chatter of a hundred simultaneous conversations. As I weave in and out of the crowd, I realize the diversity of the ages, grade levels and academics of our students. SYP reaches out to all sorts of young people at their own unique experiences, and I plan to keep this in mind for all the SYP sessions to come. After today, I came back wondering, “How can I be more inclusive in my lesson plan, while also highlighting the importance of the ‘differences’ in each young person’s identity?”

After preparing our curriculum at teacher orientation, the SYP faculty finally got to test out our English and Math lessons in a class of 8-10 students. There are fun ways we each use to reinforce and strengthen the relationships between friends, teachers, students, and LearningWorks. I know for sure I want to keep music in my lesson plans, because one thing that makes everybody belong at SYP is the singing. As my class began, students and their classmates were belting out “Classic,” the song from their summer performance, while working.

At Learning Works, we say, “It’s cool to be you, it’s cool to be smart, it’s cool to care.” This is what makes SYP work. The students experience a different kind of pressure here than while in school. Here, they are empowered and encouraged to learn and be themselves by other, older students. Simple acts like singing and cheering create a safe, positive community where students can be curious and silly, actively participate, and challenge themselves. Students at LW show a lot of insight and bring up good points that I personally would have overlooked. Now I’m stuck wondering, “How can I challenge them more?”

High Energy SYP Means Higher Attendance, More Engagement, More LW Magic.


by Michael D., LearningWorks alum and SYP Teacher

Students high-five students! (Photo by Chris Polydoroff)

Students high-five students! (Photo by Chris Polydoroff)

It was a warm, sunny Saturday, and all the aspiring teachers gathered outside Blake, ready to greet the yellow busses full of students. As the students filed off their bus to a tunnel of high fives, LearningWorks School Year Program had officially begun!

Things have drastically changed since my first SYP 6 years ago. Each year, the program only picks up more steam to improve the School Year Program, and I can objectively say that as a LearningWorks alum, I’m excited by this year’s momentum. This most recent SYP was indisputably the strongest first SYP in the modern history of LearningWorks! With such a strong student presence at our first SYP, students were very engaged and brought lots of high energy. They participated in engaging activities, as teachers each created classes with curriculum that is applicable to their daily lives.

For our amazing students, School-Year Program isn’t just another school day; it’s a chance to connect with the enthusiasm, the people and the traditions of the LearningWorks community. From my point of view as a former LearningWorks student, and a current LearningWorks teacher, I can see that staff and faculty successfully bridge together the energy of summer and the focus of the School-Year Program. The fact that students are keeping their high energy from the summer is dramatic, and will only lead to an even stronger community. This weekend, we’ll all come back together again to give high fives, learn Math and English, and re-connect over four-square. And we can’t wait!