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Nisswa Elementary: small, community-focused, evolving

At 720 square miles, the Brainerd School District is Minnesota’s fifth largest school district in geographic area. Six public elementary schools lie within its borders: Baxter, Garfield, Harrison, Lowell, Nisswa, and Riverside. Though varying in size, the staff in each of these schools work hard to promote academic and personal development for all students, making them feel connected to their teachers and to one another. Each school has a unique story and a place in history where a neighborhood or community identity has been forged. For Nisswa School, we pride ourselves on being a school that serves as a community center while at the same time we nurture a strong community within our school.

Across rural Minnesota, every indicator of economic and social well-being reinforces the belief that communities with their own schools fare significantly better than communities without. Nisswa School is located in the heart of Nisswa and the community’s commitment to our students is immeasurable. Service organizations, businesses, and merchants treat the elementary children like they are the heartbeat of the community, and have done so for decades. From kindergarten treks to the Nisswa Fire Department atop fire trucks, to Halloween treats being doled out by downtown merchants lined up in front of their Main Street shops, to meaningful ceremonies hosted by the Nisswa American Legion Club, Nisswa students, families, and staff are reminded that they are a welcome and valued part of the community.

The school serves as a recreational hub, partnering with Brainerd Community Education and Nisswa Parks and Recreation to provide activities for all ages, such as yoga, Zumba, Safety Town, and youth athletics. Throughout the year, the library is open to residents and guests of the area, reminding patrons that we are “the school that reads.” Nisswa School serves as a center for civic and community activities. It’s a place where generations gather together for book clubs, Run ‘N Read events, and PTO Family Fun Nights.

Teachers and staff are working hard to increase student achievement in all areas while supporting the Lakers’ Pride school-wide behavior plan. The Nisswa PTO is planning the seventh Annual Bloom, scheduled for March 31 at Grandview Lodge. We are very excited about a recently awarded grant to build a collaborative team of teachers that will increase our emphasis on reading, with more individualized and small group instruction. We are eager to develop practical strategies to actively engage learners in cross-grade settings using iPads, and create an inclusive school culture by using technology in new ways to ensure children will have personalized learning for optimum success.

Over 30 years ago, open enrollment provisions were made to provide families with choices in best selecting educational opportunities for their children. As a result, parents have become increasingly aware of their options and are looking at the student achievement, curriculum, best practice instructional methods, and technology that a school district can offer. We are encouraged that our district’s values are aligning with those of our families, with nearly 15 percent of our current student population open enrolled from other districts. Perhaps it’s something we “have” that draws these students to our school, but most likely it’s something we “do”. And what we do is nurture a relationship with our small-town community while providing our students with all of the amenities found in a larger school district. We are small, community-focused, evolving…and truly appreciative of all the opportunities afforded our students.

ERIN HERMAN is principal of Nisswa Elementary School.