School Extra- Read all about it August 30, 2017


Above, the New logo by high school office greets students as they arrive each day. (Photos by Bob Zimmerman)

I learned a lot about Irish Pride recently when I talked with school principals Dave Hanson and Andy Sawatzke. I learned a lot more when I was able to chat with three Maple Lake students I chanced upon at Irish Blessings. In our public schools Irish Pride describes a way for teachers, staff and students to think, learn and behave. "Pride - Respect - Responsibility" are the hallmarks of the program in the high school and the elementary school works to "Be Respectful -Be Safe - Be Responsible." My sources had a lot to say about attending school in Maple Lake and the Irish Pride that is part of the experience.
Trinity Hughes is going into the 8th grade and completed her first year in the Maple Lake school system last year. Her positively enthusiastic response to my asking what she thought of Irish Pride quickly outpaced my writing speed, so here is a sampling. "I Love it!" "We are connected and understand each other" 'I'm happy to go to school" "I get to be someone I want to be" "people know who I am and I am part of something." Sisters Alivia and Brianna McClanahan were just as excited and they double-teamed me, so here is my best effort to relay what they think of Irish Pride. Fourth grader Alivia really likes it because "it is very fun and they talk about kindness and not bullying." She was wearing an Irish Pride t-shirt and wants to collect as many as she can and someday make a quilt with them. Seventh grader Brianna has learned to "use kind words, do nice things, include others and to connect with each other." She also said "you can count on getting the help and support you need" and "it makes a good reputation for our school."
High School Principal Dave Hansen gave me some history and details about Irish Pride. About 10 years ago, the Minnesota Department of Education created the Positive Behavioral Intervention System. Maple Lake chose to utilize the optional program that provides guidelines for focusing on positive behaviors and setting clear expectations. Hansen shared an information sheet that lists about 75 ways to show Pride, Respect and Responsibility in all parts of the school from classrooms to restrooms to extracurricular activities. There are no "DO NOT" instructions and teachers reinforce positive behaviors all the time. Irish Pride is ingrained in the daily routines and activities of the school. It is also celebrated each quarter in fun events that honor students who have shown extra pride in their actions. Teachers nominate students for the award and there are usually 15 to 20 recipients.
You may have seen students wearing Irish Pride t-shirts around town and you will be seeing more this year. Last year, teacher Leah Roske took the lead in writing a proposal to the Mn. Dept of Education for a grant that will provide an Irish Pride t-shirt to all students and staff for grades K through 12. There will be a sea of green on the days Irish Pride events happen and everyone is likely to feel a little extra pride in being "part of something." The grant also provides funds for other tools that can be used to reward positive behavior. My favorite; the postcards teachers can use to mail a note home about a student's above and beyond behavior. Quite a different official communication than the "Mrs. Zimmeman, I need to talk to you about Robert's ....... " letter from the Principal my Mom sometimes found in the mailbox.
Over on the Elementary side, Principal Sawatzke told me all students start learning about Irish Pride on the first day of school. For most, it is a reminder, but kindergartners and transfer students will be hearing the information about the school's emphasis on Respect, Safety and Responsibility for the first time. They will learn about the paper shamrocks handed out by teachers for immediate feedback for good behaviors and they will hear about those postcards. There is a monthly Irish Pride celebration where new students are introduced and welcomed. A character word of the month, such as kindness, self control, focusing or humor will be discussed, and the event ends with everyone singing the Irish Pride song.
Sawatzke told me how well the school's Irish Pride meshes with the pride Maple Lake residents have for our town and our schools. He sees Irish Pride as "reinforcing what is at home" and appreciates the community support for the schools. He mentioned that guest speakers are welcome to be part of the monthly elementary school Pride events to share experiences that relate to the values being promoted. (Insider tip from Tiffany, Alivia and Brianna - Someone who served in the Marines could talk about the value of self discipline and someone working with customers could talk about the importance of respectful communication and keeping promises in the business world.) Call Sawatzke at 320-963-3024 to talk about possibilities for sharing your pride with the students.
Hansen described the Irish Pride program as being "really about helping kids do the right thing.” Sawatzke said "it is a proactive way to teach social and emotional skills that are needed to be successful." Three students gave five-star reviews when sharing their Irish Pride with me and mentioned the Golden Rule several times while doing so. It takes hard work and dedication to create and maintain Pride, Respect, Responsibility and Safety in an organization as complex as a school system. Everyone can be Irish Proud of the Irish Pride students and staff at Maple Lake Elementary and Maple Lake High Schools show every day.

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