FREE SPEECH ZONE | Northwest Suburban Integration School District transforms both students and educators


Northwest Suburban Integration School District has partnered with the Minnesota Humanities Center to develop and present “Engaging Students through Absent Narratives,” a course meant to change the ways educators think about cultural difference in the classroom.  Educators from several northwest metro suburbs gathered at the Osseo Area Learning center recently to participate in the course, which is focused on increasing student engagement through the inclusion of stories that are often not heard in the classroom. 

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Northwest Suburban Integration School District (NWSISD) is a consortium of eight school districts in the northwest Minneapolis suburbs.  It is funded through the MN state school integration rule, which is currently under review by the MN State Legislature.  The NWSISD member school districts include the Anoka-Hennepin, Brooklyn Center, Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose, Elk River, Fridley, Mounds View, Osseo and Rockford school districts.  NWSISD works with its member districts to provide programs and services that promote integrated learning environments and enhance diversity and cultural awareness, as well as increased academic achievement and a closing of achievement gaps.  

“Engaging Students through Absent Narratives,” is an important piece of that work.  The workshop means to provide a transformative experience for participants that will enable them to better see the world through the eyes of the students they serve.  NWSISD and its member districts know that ensuring that students are taught by teachers and staff that understand and appreciate their racial and cultural identities is an important part of changing the educational imbalances that currently exist.

“The workshop was very powerful and gave all of us a lot to ponder,” says Joan Magnuson, Library Media Specialist at Birch Grove Elementary School for the Arts in Brooklyn Park.  “I try to make sure that all the students here see themselves in what we offer in the library and media center, and this workshop will help me do an even better job with that.”

“Engaging Students through Absent Narratives” isn’t the only thing that NWSISD does to assist teachers in ensuring that their classrooms are culturally relevant.  The NWSISD Multi Cultural Resource Center provides teachers and media center directors from all eight NWSISD member districts with literature, videos and cultural artifacts from across the world for use in the classroom.  Several kits are available to educators that include lesson plans and activities to use the resources in the classroom.  Recently, Elizabeth Blancke, cultural liaison for Elk River Schools, became the first patron to have requested over 1000 items from the Multicultural Resource Center. 

While “Engaging Students through Absent Narratives” and the Multicultural Resource Center focus on teachers and school staff, other NWSISD programs provide assistance directly to students.  Last summer, the NWSISD Family and Community Empowerment program, in partnership with the University of St. Thomas, put on the 2011 Step-Up Summit for males of color from June 20-24.  Approximately 50 young men that had just finished eighth grade participated in the program, which was designed to increase student understanding of the importance of goal-setting, sacrifice, and academic achievement.  One young man had this to say about the Step-Up Summit:

“One of the things that I am going to remember about the summit is that they treated me with respect and they all were willing to sacrifice their time to help us. If it wasn’t for the summit I would be a different person. I’ve made a lot of friends.  I believe that the summit changed the way I see the world. Reality is what they made me see.  They helped me believe and think positive instead of negative. The summit was the best part of my summer this year.”

On November 9th2011, Step-Up Summit participants will gather once again to receive additional mentorship and participate in community service.  NWSISD plans to offer the experience to a new batch of recent eighth grade graduates in the summer of 2012.  The Family and Community Empowerment program also offers family workshops throughout the year in all eight NWSISD member school districts.

NWSISD works with the eight member districts to provide school choice options through the NWSISD magnet schools.  NWSISD offers magnet schools from grades K-12 in three themes: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), International Baccalaureate and the Arts.  Students residing in the NWSISD member school districts are eligible to apply to attend NWSISD magnet schools.  NWSISD magnet schools are free, public schools and transportation is provided to students living in the NWSISD member school districts interested in attending the schools.  Approximately 3900 students are attending magnet schools through NWSISD, and over 11,000 students are benefitting from NWSISD magnet school programming in their school.

“It is important that the community realizes that these resources are here for them, and that the Minnesota state government will be considering whether or not they should continue integration funding in the future.  We desire to continue to offer these programs but it will come down to the recommendations the legislature makes over the next few months,” says Dorothy Bialke, Director of Educational Services at NWSISD. 

More information about NWSISD programs, including the NWSISD Magnet schools, is available at or by calling 763-450-1300. Applications to attend a magnet school for the 2012-13 school year are currently being accepted. The priority application deadline is January 15, 2012; all students that apply before the priority deadline will be assigned to a school before those that apply after.