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Lake Park-Audubon school awarded big honors

Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School might be small, but it's getting big attention.

Last week, computer technology teacher Mary Regelstad was awarded a nearly $7,000 grant through the Qwest Foundation and school social worker Jenny Heggestuen received a $10,000 "Ethics in Education" award through the Center for Academic Excellence and the WEM Foundation.

Heggestuen and LP-A superintendent Dale Hogie even took a trip to the state capitol in St. Paul on Thursday to accept an award as a Minnesota School of Character with Promising Practices, also presented through the CAE.

"I'm really pleased and proud that our teachers have gone above and beyond," LPA Elementary School Principal Samuel Skaaland said. "It shows something about the quality of our schools here."

Teaching technology

Regelstad emphasizes science and engineering with her students, who range from kindergarten to 7th grade.

Prior to receiving the grant, she was already using MindStorms for schools, a specially designed Lego kit that combines the familiar building blocks with computers, allowing students to build robots.

Regelstad had six kits, but it wasn't enough for the number of students.

The $6,930 in grant money went to purchase six more new kits and two new laptop computers, among other things like software and graphics equipment.

Regelstad, who has been teaching at LP-A for seven years, said that even when she was a classroom teacher, she always tried to find ways to integrate science and technology into the lessons.

"Now, I can take it to the whole school," Regelstad said.

She said for fourth-graders, the robotics lessons line up with their study of levers and pulleys, while fifth- and sixth-graders concentrate on touch and light sensors with their robots.

"It's a good activity at this time, as we are so proud of our Minnesota astronaut from Vining," Regelstad said. "It just shows that even from a small school, you can be famous and go far. We might have some future engineers from LP-A."

Even starting in kindergarten, Regelstad said the students catch on quickly, learning how to save files and use simple software like KidPix.

"Even some of the simple graphic tools are the same for more advanced programs," she said.

Later, students move on to using digital cameras and camcorders, building PowerPoint presentations and keyboarding. They even use spreadsheets to track their data and measurements for building the robots.

Reglstad said the students have enjoyed the technology programs. Although they usually work on group projects, "they can hardly wait" until the end of the year when they can build whatever they want.

Most of all, though, Regelstad said she wants to connect the technology to what the students are learning in other academic areas, like math and social studies.

Skaaland said their elementary school programs for technology are unique.

"It's a great way for students to learn about the technology around them every day," the Principal said. "Our school board and superintendent have recognized the importance of being computer literate."

Heggestuen 'instrumental' in character building

School social worker Jenny Heggestuen was nominated last year for the Ethics in Education award, and was one of four teachers recognized for the region they teach in.

This year, she was given the state award for Ethics in Education, along with $10,000.

Heggestuen just got the news last week, and said she wasn't sure yet what the money would go to, but was proud to be the recipient.

"It's definitely a huge honor," she said, "but I don't feel like I should be singled out. Everyone here works together and I have a really great team."

She said the award ceremony would take place sometime this fall.

Skaaland stressed the importance of character building for all LP-A students, and praised Heggestuen for her work.

"Jenny has been instrumental in getting character education in the classrooms," he said. "We want to teach them to be good people and not just tops in academics."

Heggestuen created a program called "Talking Circles" in the LP-A Elementary School, which encourages students to work on their communication and problem solving skills by discussing topics every day.

It was largely due to that program that the school received the Promising Practices award.

"It teaches kids to talk and listen, because everyone in the group has something to contribute," Heggestuen explained. "It helps them understand how their actions affect others and helps build relationships with teachers and with each other."

It all added up to a whirlwind week for the LP-A teachers and administrators.