School Spotlight: Wayzata Central Middle School
On the campus of what was once Wayzata High School, more than 1,200 students make their way to a place that has been called Central Middle School since 1997.
“We have this big footprint, and so we’ve got the classrooms, we’ve got the teachers, we’ve got the resources and things are working out great,” said Clark Doten, the Central Middle School principal.
Doten says things are working out great is because they’re able to make this big school feel smaller by having teachers work in teams — four teachers share a pool of kids, and all those kids in the pool share the same teachers.
“And those kids really get to know each other well, the teachers know them, and it becomes more of a family-style environment,” Doten said.
He says a family-style environment plays a big role in making students feel comfortable, and comfort is important, as teachers work to get them ready for what comes next.
“So we spend a lot of time talking about high school readiness, but we also have that end target of being a really functional adult out there in the world,” Doten said.
Annual Trip Helps Connect Students
Yet there’s only so much that a classroom can do to prepare students for the real world. That’s where Wolf Ridge comes into play.
“Wolf Ridge is probably one of the most talked about experiences that a sixth, seventh, or eighth grader has at Central Middle School,” Doten said.
Every year, more than 400 sixth-grade students take a bus four hours north and spend a week at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, where students are immersed in science, the environment and with each other.
“Some students have never been away from home, and here’s their experience to just grow a little bit more,” said Kristy Alstad, a sixth-grade teacher at Central Middle School.
Alstad is one of the main organizers of the annual trip, and during the course of the week, students do everything from rock climbing, to learning winter survival skills, to tapping maple trees. But the trip is also a bonding experience.
“Once we’re up there, we’re this family unit,” Alstad said. “I get to know these kids on a different level, which translates really well back in the classroom. It’s exciting to see some of the challenges and the growth that they had back on the trip, that now we can bring back into the classroom.”
When they get back in the classroom, they’re asked to put together a memory book, and each book tells a story of the students’ personal growth.
“They’ll talk about the experiences of not having their parents cooking, but also not having their parents’ cooking,” Alstad said.
It’s a real-world experience that comes at a time when students at Central Middle School are trying to figure out their place in society.
“It’s one of those things that, as I talk to former sixth graders that are now in high school or past high school, they still talk about their Wolf Ridge experience and all the growth that they experienced because of that trip.” Alstad said.
It’s an experience the students can’t get from any book or iPad.
“We’re just proud of them every day they walk in the school,” Doten added.
The Central Middle School students documented their Wolf Ridge experience on social media. If you’d like to check out their adventures, you can see more photos on the school’s Twitter page.