In my October column, I wrote about the unique struggles that public schools and districts face amid the many 20th Century societal challenges. Such social issues as trauma, poverty and homelessness demand that today’s school boards, administrators and teachers seek solutions to unique problems. However, there is much to celebrate in today’s schools as well. Let me highlight some of the successes and bright spots within the Bemidji Area Schools.
Despite the fact that many of the district’s students struggle economically, most students continue to thrive and achieve academically. The latest reports indicate that more than 47 percent of BAS’ students qualify to receive free or reduced price lunches, which should be an indicator of poor performance. That is not the case in Bemidji. In addition, 20 percent of the students are participating in some form of special education, compared to 16.2 percent statewide. Yet, reports indicate that Bemidji Area Schools have seen many students grow academically over the past year.
While it is true that some test scores do indicate that students are not proficient in reading, math or science, we are proud of the growth we saw in our students last year. Not only does ISD 31 have wonderful teachers and paraprofessionals to work with our students, but other staff provide great support in the form of positive relationships with students.
School counselors, social workers, and other interventionists provide additional support to students. In addition, bus drivers, food service personnel, and custodial staff all find ways to connect with students throughout each day. All of this support from caring adults makes a huge difference in the daily growth of our students.
In addition to the wonderful teaching that occurs during the day, BAS’ students are provided with many additional opportunities for success through extracurricular activities outside of their classrooms. Such activities support the growth of our students by teaching skills such as teamwork, collaboration, perseverance and leadership. As a result, a great majority of our athletic teams are leaders in the state when it comes to both academic and athletic achievements.
Last year, most of Bemidji High School’s teams were honored by receiving All-State Academic Awards by the Minnesota State High School League. In addition, many ISD 31 athletic teams made it to the state level of competition. However, athletic achievements were not the only bright spots for ISD 31 last year. Activities such as Show Choir, Math League, Knowledge Bowl, Science Olympiad, Speech, Debate and Mock Trial all did extremely well at either the regional or state levels.
I am very proud of the fact that Bemidji Area Schools provide so many opportunities for students to grow both academically and personally beginning in elementary school. From the opportunities provided in Bemidji Youth Sports programs to the STEAM and STEM programs (Robotics, Art, Math Leagues, Technology) at Gene Dillon, Bemidji Middle School and Bemidji High School, our students are learning and growing both in and outside of the classroom.
Our teachers are some of the best in the state. Bemidji Middle School boasts the Minnesota Middle School Art Teacher of the Year in Molly Wiste. In addition, Bemidji High School special education teacher, Jacqueline Stoffel was recently awarded the George Hanson Award by the Minnesota Society of Health and Physical Educators (MNSHAPE), which honors and recognizes outstanding teachers in the developmental adapted physical education profession.
I must also shine a light on the many organizations that partner with ISD 31 to help us be such a strong school system. I am grateful for our partnership with Bemidji State University and Northland Technical College, both of which provide strong academic support to our programs. In addition, our many business and industry partners are part of the reason the Bemidji Career Academies have grown exponentially with more than 600 students enrolled in at least one academy this year.
Next week, the Minnesota Rural Education Association will award the Bemidji Career Academies with the Profiles of Excellence Award for providing cutting-edge educational and career opportunities for students.
Thanks to this ongoing community support, as well as the support of parents, Bemidji School District offers an excellent and comprehensive educational program with countless opportunities for students to thrive in academics and extracurricular activities.
It takes a village to raise a child and I am grateful for everyone in our “village” who supports and works with our students. We have something very special in the Bemidji Area Schools!
Tim Lutz is superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.