Star kids learn with fun

Brent Polan, Patchrick Szathmary and Monica Wood were among many classmates folding paper airplanes the last class of the day. They all had the goal of making the airplanes fly at least 12 feet, but their teacher had more expectations. He wanted ...

Brent Polan, Patchrick Szathmary and Monica Wood were among many classmates folding paper airplanes the last class of the day.

They all had the goal of making the airplanes fly at least 12 feet, but their teacher had more expectations.

He wanted them to learn from the experience. The airplane making was actually a 10-point assignment to be accomplished in three minutes in class on May 4.

The students and the teacher are part of the Star program for kids ages 12 to 15, offered through the Freshwater Education District Area Learning Center in Wadena. Through hands-on activities and one-on-one guidance, the program teaches students who struggled or were in situations that prevented them from learning in the traditional classroom. Students are referred to the program, but they make the decision to be in it.

The Star program is designed to boost struggling kids over a middle-school slump and help them earn credits.


Mary Hansen, lead teacher, said kids tend to lose their enthusiasm for learning in fifth and sixth grade. The Star program helps them see learning is fun and teaches them in ways where they dont even realize that theyre learning.

Star classrooms have two teachers with a maximum of 18 kids. The students are taught in English, math, social studies, health, physical education, art, living skills, career exploration, study skills and service areas, but they dont use many textbooks to learn. The teachers write about 75 percent of curriculum. Sometimes they use textbooks as a guide.

Gordon Gulseth, one of the Star teachers, said teachers try to relate education to the kids lives.

Along with making paper airplanes on Thursday, the kids were also assigned to make a tower at least 24-inches tall using nine pieces of spaghetti and one address label.

On other days, the kids made a floor plan for a house, snow shoes and a self-portrait through wood burning. Students also learn to cook, sew and fix the toilet and the sink.

On Thursday afternoons, the students volunteer. They take care of the countys bluebird houses and have made window ornaments for nursing homes and painted city picnic tables.

We try to teach students to give back to the community, Hansen said.

Most students are in the program for about two years. Students who turn 16 are given options such as independent study and going to a traditional high school.


Maggie Flath, a junior at Wadena-Deer Creek high school, is one of the students who returned to the high school after participating in the Star program. She was in the Star program for two years.

She said the program was a good match for her. She said she would still be in ninth grade if she hadnt been in Star.

Flath struggled in math and English before enrolling in the Star program, but she is now earning a B+ in geometry in the high school and has discovered that she has writing talent. She will work on the high school yearbook and newspaper. She is also planning for college and exploring the medical field. She thinks she might be a physical therapist.

Along with teaching in the core areas and everyday living skills, teachers also help students boost their self-esteem, Flath said.

When the kids know they are being successful, their self-esteem rises, Hansen said.

They also are expected to have specific productive behaviors.

If your behaviors are there, youre going to learn, Hansen said.

She said the kids learning difficulties are not necessarily caused by problems in their education as it is other factors in their lives.


Students have been successful in terms of the Basic Skills Writing test.

In the last four years, 100 percent of the students in Star passed the test.

Other factual success rates are difficult to pinpoint, but teachers try to keep the kids interested in school.

One thing well never know is how many kids would have dropped out at age 16, said teacher Gulseth.

One of the students the program has helped keep in school is Monica Wood, a ninth-grader. She was planning to drop out of high school at age 16. She didnt like high school and said it had too much drama.

Wood is now in her second month in the Star program.

Learning is easier because its more one-on-one, she said.

More one-on-one instruction is a reason why Brent Polan enrolled in the program. He has been in the program for three weeks.


They make sure you keep up with your work, he said.

Polan would like to become an attorney.

Patchrick Szathmary has been in the program for about six months.

He likes the way the teachers explain new information to him.

They teach you more techniques and keep helping, Szathmary said.

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