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Technology, Engineering Drives New School in Golden Valley

At a breakfast meeting last Saturday, Golden Valley League of Women Voters listened to School of Engineering and Arts Principal Kim Hiel talk about the formation of Golden Valley's new magnet school.

On Sept. 29, a handful of Golden Valley League of Women Voters gathered at Woodfire Grill in St. Louis Park to learn more about the new School of Engineering and Arts (SEA).

Principal Kim Hiel addressed the group, talking about the formation of the new elementary magnet school, which has been open for about a month.

Today, out of some 1,800 students that applied, 423 are enrolled in the school through a lottery system. While most of the students are within the district, about 7 percent of the children are not. Hiel said that the school has students from St. Michael, Hopkins and Osseo.

Every school in District 281 focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), but students at the School of Engineering and the Arts live and breathe those topics.

"Every Robbinsdale school has forms of STEAM in their school, but ours is more integrated and focused," Hiel said to the group. "Science is taught every day with a focus on observation and questioning."

At SEA, it's not unusual to see children working in groups outside, carrying a science notebook, writing down observations. Teachers at SEA work to use real-life situations to teach. Currently, the construction of a native garden has childern at SEA using math and science to determine the appropriate size of the garden and how it should be constructed.

"Curriculum doesn't drive what we teach, the standards do," Hiel said. "We blend our lessons and do a lot of outdoor learning. We have such a beautiful site."

Hiel was quick to tell league members that her school is not "elitist." Though there's a heavy focus on engineering and science, teachers still follow Minnesota Department of Education standards and SEA students take the required Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments.

On top of meeting Minnesota standards, SEA is paving the way for other schools in the state. In an effort to encourage children to work at their own pace, according to Hiel, SEA is the first school in the state, and third in the nation, to have a "bookstore model" media center. This means that all the books are organized by author and subject, not reading level.

"I believe that we can change the world," Hiel said."I'm a very passionate person, and if you have passion, you can learn anything."

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