Right now in the Plymouth area there are three very different educational programs, each doing their part to teach where traditional public schools can’t. The Perpich Center for Arts Education is reaching 11th- and 12th-grade students who excel in the arts and are ready for more intensive study in their area of interest. The Whole Learning School caters to students whose cognitive impairments have caused them to struggle beyond the reach of public school special education. And Adult Option in Education operates a GED preparation program at the Adult Correctional Facility, preparing inmates to re-enter the workforce with the tools they need to succeed.
Arts High School at the Perpich Center for Arts Education
Established in 1985 by Minnesota governor Rudy Perpich and first lady Lola Perpich, Perpich Center for Arts Education is actually made up of three components: the first two are a professional development and research program, which provides state of the art research and training for arts educators across the state of Minnesota, and a comprehensive library. The third is the highly respected and fully accredited tuition-free arts high school of just more than 300 students; it’s mission is “innovative public education in the arts.” The high school’s district is statewide, which means half the students are dormers and half are commuters.
The school is split into six art areas: dance, literary arts, interdisciplinary arts (film and photography), music, theater and visual arts. Students are accepted into the school for one of these based on a rigorous portfolio and academic review.
Marika Wasscher graduated last spring from the visual arts program. She had come to Perpich from Wayzata High School, a move she says her parents supported and were impressed with. “I pushed my way through the application process,” she says, noting that it was the hardest she had worked to achieve something in her 18 years.
One of the main reasons she decided to leave Wayzata was the innovative teaching style offered at Perpich. “They are better able to handle the learning style of tactile learners,” she says. At Wayzata, she felt a distant relationship with the arts teachers, whereas Perpich gave her the attention and opportunities she was seeking. “It gave me a college ready portfolio,” she says of her time at Perpich.
Wasscher has graduated from the Arts High School having won a $60,000 presidential scholarship to attend the Milwaukee School of Design. She will study sculpture and environmental design.
The Whole Learning School
A private school nestled back on the lot and shaded by many trees, the Whole Learning School is a school for students with special needs. Ann Rooney, the head of the school, describes the students at the school as children with, “cross-categorical disabilities that interfere with learning.” This description might seem clinical and obtuse, but it simply means any child who is operating two or more grade-levels behind their peers is eligible to attend the Whole Learning School. This includes (but isn’t limited to) students with severe ADHD, autism and other cognitive impairments.
“It’s a life skill school,” Rooney says of the program. “We teach practical daily living skills and social skills.” The children are grouped by instructional level, not by age. The program individualizes each student’s curriculum while at the same time ensuring each student is achieving a personal set of goals. She says the program focuses on ensuring students can interact with the real world in practical, everyday situations. They need to know, “Not who built the Egyptian pyramids, but how to find Egypt on a map—not memorizing facts, but finding them.”
When the students are older (between ages 14 and 18), the school begins to send them out into the real world through a volunteer program aimed at learning basic life skills. For example, older kids may be sent to the grocery store to buy groceries for the elderly. This teaches them how to compare two products, how to handle and count money, how to count the change they receive, and how to be comfortable interacting with strangers.
Parents who are interested in sending their child to the Whole Learning School should call and talk with Ann Rooney, who gives tours of the school in which the child visits a class, a teacher can evaluate his or her fit with the school and parents can rest assured the school can meet the child’s needs. Some students, who range in age from 7 to 18, transition back to traditional school environments, while others graduate from Whole Learning school.
Adult Options in Education
If you are sent to the Adult Correctional Facility (AFC) in Plymouth, you are required to stay busy. It is known as “the workhouse,” because most inmates have a job as a part of his rehabilitation program. But if the resident does not have a high school diploma, he is given the option of enrolling in the ACF’s General Education Development preparation program, better known as the GED.
An inmate is eligible to enroll in the GED preparation classes after 30 days at the AFC. The program covers all five testing areas, which are math, science, reading, writing and social studies. There are generally 10 men per class, and the instructor helps each man individually with whichever subject he is studying that week.
We spoke briefly with two inmates, John and Rayandre, who both had plans for their GEDs. John plans to go to college to gain additional skills in construction. Rayandre hopes to use his GED to get additional education and become an auto mechanic. Rayandre says his time at the facility in Plymouth prepared him better than other programs. “I took the writing test multiple times,” Rayandre recalls about the GED program at a different correctional facility. “The teacher out there, he wasn’t helping me. He was basically telling me, ‘go and study.’ When I got here, [instruction] was more hands-on. The first time I took the test here I passed it, after the help.”
Each of these programs is ready for you to come by and help out. Call the numbers listed below to see what volunteer opportunities are available.
Perpich Center for Arts Education: 763.591.4700
The Whole Learning School: 763.231.2700
Adult Options in Education: 952.988.5343