In some places, an elementary school with 500 students wouldn't be considered as 'small.' But in the growing community of Plymouth, Birchview Elementary in the Wayzata School District falls into that category.
"We are the smallest of the elementary schools, but that's actually a really nice size," said Sam Fredrickson, Birchview's principal. "It does feel more like a family and a community, so it's nice to have that smaller number of students."
Fredrickson has been principal of Birchview for the past five years, and in that time span, the school has had a remarkable run of recognition.
"We actually were a Minnesota reward school for five years in a row, and because of that, our state department recommended us for the National Blue Ribbon of Excellence Award in Washington, DC."
That national award is now displayed proudly near the main entrance, but staff members will admit that while awards are nice, they just want the students to be doing well.
"The district mission is, "each and every student,' and very targeted on individual needs, and we've really lived that out here at Birchview," Fredrickson said.
If you go inside a classroom, you'll find a fun and structured atmosphere where students listen attentively, while teachers take the art of storytelling to another level.
And when they're not reading out loud, you can find older students with their heads buried in their books or iPads, while the kindergarten students learn the basics of math.
Talk to some of the students who attend Birchview, and you'll hear positive reviews about a school that offers kids a strong support system.
"The teachers are great and everything is like, perfect, and this is just a good school for people," said Joselyn Fernandez, a 4th grader.
"People are always there for them and if they're ever scared, there's a lot of teachers here," said Makayla Bell, a 4th grader.
In addition to offering a strong support system, the students are taught the important values of community, compassion, commitment and curiosity.
And when they're spotted showing off one of these values, they receive a Trojan Pride slip.
"And it's not for when you go above and beyond, it's that a teacher or a staff member notices a student do their job," Fredrickson said. "So it's not meant to be a reward as much as an acknowledgement."
Meanwhile, students can hand the Trojan Pride slips out to their peers as well.
"It feels good handing out Trojan Pride slips to other people," Fernandez said.
But above all else, the goal is that by the time students at Birchview graduate and move onto the 6th grade, they'll have the skills they need to have success in the classroom, and in life.
"It's when kids take their learning and actually do something with it, that's really exciting to me," Fredrickson said.
Feb. 8, 2017