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Nathan Neuvirth, 12, of Willmar highlights his red desk top with yellow dashes on Monday. He will be a seventh-grader this fall at the DREAM Technical Academy on the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)

Charter school students prepare for school year by painting their own desks

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WILLMAR — Lime green, bright blue, black, white, red and Vikings-worthy purple paint were mostly on the desks and a little bit on the students of the new DREAM Technical Academy in Willmar.

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Some of the school’s 115 students and their parents gathered earlier this week at a maintenance building on the MinnWest Technology Campus to assemble and paint the desks and small cabinets they will use when the school opens in September. The public charter school leases a building on the MinnWest campus.

The school will offer a project-based education for students in grades 7-12. Students will work on projects designed to cover state academic requirements.

The first project for everyone is personalizing their desks. Some students spattered one color on top of another, others painted stripes. Some have requested a special coating to turn their desktops into dry-erase boards.

Jen Johnson of New London stood nearby as her son Ashton LaBelle and his friend Levi Hanson painted their desktops bright green. The boys, both 15-year-old sophomores, are excited to see their new school, she said.

Ashton said he wanted to go to the school “because it was something new, and I didn’t like my old school too much.”

Johnson said both boys “do really well when they have things to do,” and she researched other project-based charter schools in Minnesota before making the move.

On the other side of the large garage, Abbey Tait, 15, was painting her desktop black. She would be adding blue accents next, she said.

Abbey’s mom, Anastasia Toth of Willmar, said she was glad to have a new option for her daughter.

“I have really bad anxiety, and public high school made it worse,” Abbey explained. She’s going into 10th grade, and her favorite subjects are art and literature.

“We looked at online school,” Toth said, but the charter school was more attractive with its small school size and hands-on learning. “Every kid learns differently,” Toth added.

The school is a public school that will receive state aid for all its students, as does any other school. As a charter school, it has an agreement with the state to deliver an alternative educational program that covers the same academic standards that traditional schools do.

Tammie Knick, school social worker, said one of the parents organized the desk project, and most of the students were excited to have a role in designing their workspace.

Knick said early this week that enrollment stood at 115, with students enrolling in the school from 14 area school districts. The school’s charter with the state allows a maximum enrollment of 150.

The school has attracted students from traditional schools as well as some who had been home-schooled or attending online schools. Students will be traveling from as far away as Renville and Belgrade.

Knick said the enrollment has been evenly distributed between grades 7-11, with class sizes of 20-25 in each grade. Five seniors enrolled. The organizers were surprised that the first-year school attracted even that many seniors.

The school is getting off the ground with lots of donations from the community and an early payment of per-pupil state aid. The school has applied for a start-up grant from the Minnesota Department of Education, but hasn’t heard about that yet, she said.

Some businesses have donated office equipment and supplies. A Christian school in Benson closed and told the academy “take what you want,” she said. “We came home with all kinds of things.”

Technical Academies of Minnesota plans to open a similar school in Owatonna in fall 2015 and eventually open schools in Rochester and Jackson.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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