I promised I would regale you with stories of Wolfridge to make up for my absence last week, so here goes. For those who don’t know, Wolfridge Environmental Center is in Finland, MN up on the north shore of Lake Superior. St. Anthony Park Elementary and Murray Jr. High both send students up there in the fall for a week, StAP Elementary sends their whole 6th grade for an environmental experience and Murray sends about 70 7th & 8th graders for a combined leadership/cultural ed/environmental curriculum designed specifically for their school by Murray’s outstanding faculty. I went up with the Murray crew.

My first afternoon was spent learning about the white-tailed deer. We had some classroom time and then went looking for signs of their presence. As anyone who has spent any amount of time outdoors knows, deer are everywhere and so are the signs of their comings and goings (I saw a white-tail in our back alley several years ago on the 4th of July – a true patriot.) The students were fascinated, of course, by the goings, but also by the story of the role they play in the circle of life. The naturalist took us to a hill to observe some deer bones. There is a definite impact for the students when they hold a bone that has patches of blood and the teeth marks of a wolf on it.

Most of their presentations involve considerable time in the elements, unless it’s dangerously cold, and since the weather was pretty decent, we also did some geo-caching (finding GPS coordinates in nature,) took a night hike (very hard for those kids to stay silent for long without giggling or coughing to allay their fear of the dark) and the ever-popular and sometimes intimidating high ropes course. It really is amazing to see the kids start out hesitant and find their legs and courage to go through the 300-yard long course 30 feet in the air.

They start on a wobbly bridge, then a cable with handrails, then two logs, then one single cable with only harness cables above, then one log before riding a zip line down to the ground. All the way along they are encouraged and guided by a ground partner who is often joined by other classmates to help root the climber on through particularly rough passages. Some of the kids did it backwards and blindfolded. Whew!

In addition to the outside activities, there are cultural blocks, taught by the students of the different cultures represented in the school population, to promote better understanding. This year there was Hmong, African-American, Irish-American and Native American, which is the one constant and taught by camp personnel. The curricula are supplied by faculty, often with first person enhancements from the student presenters.

Finally, there are small group team-building exercises like puzzles, skits, a talent show around a bonfire on the last night, and a student consideration of what they, teachers and administration can do to make Murray a better school. The kids have tremendous fun, are usually pretty worn out by the end of the week and make new friendships that help set the tone for the rest of the year when they return to school.

The motto for the week is “We’re More Alike Than Different” and all of the above interactions really bring that point home. Students are chosen to mirror the class diversity as closely as possible. They are all leaders or have that potential, but the program does select some who may be leading kids in a negative path and that can create some interesting dynamics. I can only think of a very few times over the 40 years of the program when a kid’s parents had to come up and get them early (that’s a 4-hour car ride I would not want to participate in) and many more times when the experience seems to have changed a kid’s direction.

Overall, this week in the fall makes for a better school climate and shows the kids how to make a difference in their lives and in the school culture. It’s always hard to track outcomes throughout the kids’ lives, but the Foundation board has confidence that it does make a difference for the kids and for Murray, and that’s why it regularly provides funding to help cover scholarships and transportation costs. I do know of several former Murray students who have come back to be adult leaders for the week. It’s obvious it has made a difference in their lives.

D12 – the Creative Enterprise Zone task force met with Jonathan Sage-Martinson of the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative this week to give him an update on its progress. The CCFC was formed around a vision of engagement with the communities affected by light rail and is supported by donations from a number of local and national funders. It has provided money for the CEZ visioning process (along with our Foundation) and recently completed a study of how best to equitably deliver additional support to all communities along the corridor. That report will be out soon, but in the meantime there are neighborhoods that continue to further their process like ours. There still is a great buzz around the ‘hood from the Give and Take event that brought many community members together for the first time.

Schools – I attended a joint rehearsal of the Como High and Murray orchestra and band this morning at Murray. They sounded pretty good and it was a great opportunity to meet the Como conductor, Philip Fried. Murray’s music program is run by Eric Dahlberg who I bunked with up at Wolfridge. Great guys succeeding in challenging but very important capacities. The Foundation has a dedicated fund set up by Gerry McKay and his family before he died to support band music in our neighborhood and we have granted money to Murray and StAP Elementary but not yet to Como High. We will talk more before our February grant cycle opens up… Murray Social Studies teacher, Carrie Newman, just published a book, "War on the Prairie" available at Micawber’s…Senator Al Franken came to Como to speak on Oct 24.  

Listserv – neighbors continue to see fox and coyotes around. Apparently, there are a pair that lope up and down the RR tracks near Langford on occasion. No reports of any roadrunners in the area…also some loud bangs that some listeners thought were like gunshots happening last week, no word from police on what they were…ladders are being stolen, at least two so far. Apparently the price of metal and the relative ease of theft are making them hot items. Don’t leave yours out and keep the garage locked.

StAPnotes – Foxy Falafel got a rave review from the Heavy Table. If you haven’t tried them out yet, get over there to sample their tasty food and sauces…I haven’t talked about the election since there was plenty of chatter prior to Nov. 6, but our Ward 4 total “Yes” vote for the Voter ID amendment was 13% and only 11.5% for the Marriage amendment. One might think that was one of the lowest in the state. WARNING: PERSONAL OPINION! I’m very proud to be a part of this community.

Our Annual Foundation Open House is tomorrow night, Nov. 15. Come on down to the Park Midway Bank on Como and enjoy some treats, music and updates from your favorite community non-profits. There’s a wine-tasting & sale supporting the StAP Elementary School music program from 5-6, program from 6-6:30pm or so. Join your neighbors, support music and celebrate our great community!

Finally, this Thursday is also the annual Give to the Max Day in Minnesota. If you want to give to your favorite cause, there are some incentives that make it worthwhile on this day. Feel free to give throughout the year, but please consider a gift (the Foundation would not turn down any offers at any time.) Times have been tough and so many of these non-profits that support citizens in need can use a boost. The day is a good reminder to give to those who need it most

That’s all for now. Take good care of yourself and be a good neighbor.