Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Flexible Learning


By: Ryan Bergeron
October 12, 2016 issue of The Tribune (Greenbush, Minn.)




Some lay back in a banana-shaped chair, others sit on square-shaped pillows, mats, or milk totes topped with cushions, in a corner with their backs against a pillow and their bottoms atop pink or blue tires topped by cushions, or in a large green bean bag chair called “Big Joe”. Some stand at desks heightened by black bed lifts. All the students are quiet, reading or working on different subjects without sitting at their chair and desk. This describes a scene in Greenbush-Middle River teacher Robin Waage’s fifth grade classroom in Greenbush.

Thanks to a Greenbush Area Community grant, Waage purchased furniture for a “Flexible Seating” environment, similar, she said, to Starbucks-style seating, but without the coffee.  She pursued this idea to allow students to not only move, but also choose a learning environment that fits their leaning style.

“I was excited about movement for kids because I’m not a traditional teacher. I think our kids have different learning styles now and so I think it was good to kind of foster to the change in learning styles, the generation of kids we have now,” Waage said. “I think active is good. I think having them moving, involved in stuff, making their own choices, (being) critical thinkers (is a positive).”

Excited when she heard the community fund was going to fund this proposal, she knew she had to now put the funds to work. She ordered different classroom furniture on amazon.com. While working on the grant proposal, she implemented the expertise of occupational therapist Erin Eeg, assisting her on the medical side of the classroom setup choices, including helping find high quality products that worked certain parts of students’ bodies and engaged certain parts of their brains. Eeg actually came up with the idea to put bed lifts on the bottom of the desk legs.



Specifically, the fund helped the class purchase pillows, rugs, crate cushions, wobble chairs, and the cycles. In the second quarter, students will get to “read and ride”, using these cycles, that Waage hopes improve engagement and alertness. Students would sit in a chair and scoot back to a comfortable distance from the cycle pedals, allowing one to sit back and read their book while pushing the pedals. The cycles have timers and allow one to set the tension.

“It’s kind of my way of encouraging movement and exercise just to help the whole cause of child obesity, all those issues that we have in today’s world,” Waage said. “I wanted to kind of try to engage them.”

Introduced to this classroom setup by former GMR High School and Greenbush site Principal Eldon Sparby, Waage pursued it to provide students the chance to do more than move, seeing it as an opportunity providing them with both physical and mental benefits. For example, when putting together the grant proposal, she found that research showed that having this type of environment improved circulation and, more specifically, the wobble chairs helped work the core muscles. The more circulation going to the brain means the more connections students are going to have in their learning. She also discovered through research that test scores are supposed to improve with more movement within the classroom.

Beyond physical and academic improvements, she also found out that having such an environment also has an effect on life long skills. Students experience some decision-making, having to find out what learning environment best fits them.

“Kids will say to me, they’ll panic (and say), ‘All the standing desks are taken and I only learn standing at a desk.’ And it’s kind of interesting,” Waage said. “I can tell that they really know that about themselves and I think that’s important. You see certain kids get up during the day and move themselves if they are distracted by commotion next to them.”

As for distraction, Waage said this environment so far has led to more productivity and less off-task behavior. When asked if the classroom options did distract, students replied no, instead all pointing to how the different setups help them learn.

“I don’t know why I like standing, but just I feel like I can write better and do stuff, move easier than sitting down in a regular desk,” fifth grader Sierra said.

Fifth grader Easton on the other hand has enjoyed the sitting down on the floor option, and said it also helps him learn.

“It’s really easy to learn because you can see wherever she (my teacher Mrs. Waage) is going and if she goes behind you, you turn around, and it’s fun to sit down sometimes,” Easton said.

Fifth grader Ava also echoed how much “fun” this environment has provided, more so than just sitting in a regular desk, something she called boring.  The students have noticed not only how much enjoyment these stations can provide, but also how many options. Fifth grader Vincent said that these stations have allowed him to stand if his legs get tired of hanging or to stretch more versus just sitting at a regular desk.

“It helps me because I can learn what I work the best at, which is the standing ones (desks),” Vincent said.

Speaking of other life skills, she also looks to foster collaboration though this setup, something she has already witnessed so far in the first month. Students share or give up spots, looking out for one another. They can work alone or in groups thanks to the table settings.
On the first day of school with this setup, she thought this, “I was wondering if I lost my marbles.”

This thought dissipated as things improved by the end of the first week, thanks to her and her students making improvements within this environment. She had to develop several routines and communication methods within an environment with much variety. She also had each student go to all the stations and model the proper behavior at each one. The students signed contracts that set the rules of this classroom setup and if they didn’t follow these rules, they could lose this privilege and go back to a regular desk setup.

Having this environment teaches responsibility, orderliness, self-control, and respectfulness to both the furniture and fellow classmates. The students know this classroom setup is a gift, Waage said, and due to that recognition, respect the different parts of that environment.

This environment has fostered activities she had already been doing in her classroom in the past, including “Daily Three”, a math rotation activity, and “Daily Five”, a reading and writing rotation, where students read to self, read with a partner, do “word work” or spelling, work on writing, or listen to reading.  While she’s working on or teaching a group activity at a table with a group of students, others students can work independently or in a group on another activity. 
  
So what impact has it made on learning? She said the last two reading tests have been “wonderful,” but added that it may take years to see how this classroom setup is improving student performance.  She hopes this leads to improved learning, and so far has heard positive feedback. At parent-teacher conferences, she looks forward to hearing both the positives and drawbacks, and hopes parents have witnessed a demeanor change in their son or daughter thanks to this classroom setup.

“I’m really looking for just growth in their not even just test scores. I mean of course that’s always a goal, but I’m hoping that I foster kids that love to learn, that love to read because it’s fun and they don’t think of it as work,” Waage said. “… I’m hoping they learn to love it because they’re kind of making a choice in how they’re doing it throughout the day.”

Whether it’s standing at a desk or nestling into the “Big Joe” beanbag chair, the point is they’re making a choice, making their learning experience a flexible one in more ways than one. 

Copyright of The Tribune (Greenbush, Minn.)


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Darla and Chris Twomey with Ole Tweet, TRFACF 


The Thief River Falls Area Community Fund (TRFACF) recently received $10,000 from Chris and Darla Twomey. “Thief River has always been a very important community for us and we are happy to be part of the birth of this new community fund,” said Chris Twomey.

The TRFACF has replaced the United Way, and will be providing grants to community organizations. The purpose of the fund is to support charitable, education and public purpose projects that will enhance or improve the quality of life for residents in the Thief River Falls area.

Please consider making a secure gift online or donations can also be mailed to: TRFACF, PO Box 43, Thief River Falls, MN 56701.

For a limited time, there is a dollar-for-dollar match in place. Your contribution will double and make a difference to the community of Thief River Falls.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Now in our 30th year, the Northwest Minnesota Foundation has been working alongside of YOU to help sustain our rural communities. We want our twelve county area to be the place you love to live and work.

By acting on our mission and vision we are determined to make a difference -- for our businesses and the economy, for our nonprofits and their leaders, for children and families, for our natural resources, and for people who want to donate to charitable causes.

Since inception in 1986, we have received generous support from The McKnight Foundation, other foundations, and many individuals, organizations, and businesses. Our legacy of projects and activities have helped move the region closer to that vision. Working with you and for you, we accomplished the following:

· Business loan programs have made 626 loans for a total of more than $26.4 million

· Creation or retention of almost 2,700 jobs

· Made over 9,300 grants totaling $44.1 million

· Adult and youth leadership programs have provided training for nearly 4,000 leaders

· Specially designed non-profit management and training programs have addressed the special needs of 359 organizations and 45 communities

· Local Early Childhood Coalitions in 11 communities that help assure our littlest citizens have the best start possible

· $65.5 million total assets

· 360 component and community funds with assets totaling more than $27.3 million

· Grants from community funds totaled $430,750 region-wide; $449,641 was distributed from their 31 sub-funds (FY16)

· Convening IMPACT 20/20: a framework and vision for economic stability in the region

· New economic opportunities including the IDEA Competition.

Programs delivered by NMF are made possible because of the generosity of many people. You are also a part of this community making process, and we hope you can feel good about your contributions helping to build and sustain our region.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, I ask you to consider a gift to our Critical Issues Endowment. You may also designate your gift to support current NMF program areas, either Training and Education or Natural Assets.

Please join us in our Circle of Giving with a gift of $500 or more to the NMF endowment. The gift will be used to strengthen the programs we offer throughout the region. Or you may choose to make a gift to any of our component funds using the enclosed envelope. Secure, online donating is also available for your convenience at www.nwmf.org.

We can now accept gifts all year round from your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) that will be tax deductible. Get in touch with the NMF staff if you’d like to learn more.

Thank you. With each gift, we take another step toward our vision of an even better future.


Happy Holidays!

Pete Haddeland, Chairman NMF Board 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

CHARITABLE GIVING THROUGH INDIVIDUAL RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS

If you are over age 70½, the Federal government permits you to rollover up to $100,000 from your IRA to charity without increasing your taxable income or paying any additional tax. These tax-free rollover gifts could be $1,000, $10,000 or any amount up to $100,000 this year. The gift satisfies your required minimum distribution (RMD) for this year.

Not yet 70½?  This law has been made permanent and in the future you may want to take advantage of what it offers. Also, if you are helping someone in this age group with their finances and planning, please consider sharing this information.

IRA Rollover
Your IRA may have increased in value over the years and you have more income than you need. The IRA rollover gift is a simple and easy way to provide for your favorite charity while not increasing your taxable income. Simply contact your custodian and request that an amount be transferred to charity. The nonprofit receives a nice gift and you avoid any additional tax and satisfy your RMD for the year.

Major Gift
Perhaps you are considering your tax planning goals and would like to make a major gift to charity. Like many individuals, your IRA may be the largest asset in your estate. Your CPA may be looking for ways to save taxes. By making an IRA charitable rollover gift of up to $100,000, you can reach your goal of helping charity in a significant way and reducing taxable income.

Future IRA Gift Options
While you have the opportunity to give through your IRA now, there are other options available for making future gifts from your individual retirement account to charity.

Bequest of IRA
One option is to designate charity as the beneficiary of your IRA. This permits you to continue to take withdrawals from your IRA during life and then leave the remaining value of your IRA to charity.

Testamentary IRA Gift Annuity
Another option is to make a future gift of your IRA to charity while providing life income to your heirs. Your family members will receive fixed payments based on their ages.

Testamentary IRA Unitrust
An IRA could also be transferred to a special “Give It Twice” trust that usually provides income to children for a period of up to 20 years. After that time, the trust may pass to charity, creating a wonderful way for you to make a charitable gift.

To learn more about making an IRA gift to NMF’s endowment or to one of our component funds, contact Development Officers Lisa Peterson, or Dawn Ganje at 218 759-2057 or visit our website at www.nwmf.org.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Deb Zak Awarded 2016 Outstanding Community Builder


The Northwest Minnesota Women’s Fund recently named Deb Zak of Crookston as a 2016 Outstanding Community Builder. Outstanding Community Builder Awards are presented to local women who have demonstrated leadership in improving their communities in their chosen professions, as volunteers, as mentors and in raising or supporting families.

Since the inception of this award in 1998, 49 women have been recognized for helping to make Northwest Minnesota a better place to live, work and raise families. A reception in Zak’s honor was held October 12th at the University of Minnesota Crookston.

You can read more about Deb here.




































Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Cindy Serratore 2016 Outstanding Community Builder




Cindy Serratore, 2016 Outstanding Community Builder

The Northwest Minnesota Women’s Fund recently named Cindy Serratore of Bemidji as a 2016 Outstanding Community Builder. Outstanding Community Builder Awards are presented to women from the region who have demonstrated leadership in improving their communities in their chosen professions, as volunteers, as mentors and in raising or supporting families. A reception in Serratore’s honor was held September 26th at the Mayflower Building in Bemidji.

You can read more about Cindy's contributions to her community at www.nwmf.org, under NMF News, or click here.