Grantee Corner  |  Independent School District 196

Two female students and a male student use magnifying glasses to look at leaves
Oak Ridge Elementary School of Leadership, Environmental and Health Sciences students study nature

Two male students and one female student stand behind a tabletop robot
Echo Park Elementary School of Leadership, Engineering, and Technology students work with robotics in class

Two male students and one female student pose for a photo in the woods
Echo Park Elementary School students participate in hands-on learning about nature

Three female students sit on a sidewalk holding workbooks with a drawing of Minnesota
Echo Park Elementary School students learn about the biomes of their home state of Minnesota

Two male students and one female student sit on the floor with a homemade racetrack
Echo Park Elementary School students build a racetrack for a science project

A female student poses with a robotic windmill
Echo Park Elementary School student builds a robotic windmill

A male student and a female student sit around a plastic tub filled with water. Two small rafts with plastic figures are in the water
Echo Park Elementary School students learn about buoyancy in a science experiment

A female student uses a magnifying glass to look at a leaf
Oak Ridge Elementary School student examines leaves in science class

A male student and a female student look at parts of a flower
Oak Ridge Elementary School students study flowers

A male students holds a cage with a frog in it
Oak Ridge Elementary School student studies frogs

Headshot of Cathy Kindem
Cathy Kindem, ISD 196 Project Director

Headshot of Tony Eatchel
Tony Eatchel, ISD 196 Project Manager

Independent School District 196 (ISD 196) is located in an outer suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is Minnesota’s fourth largest district, serving about 28,000 students in 18 elementary schools, 6 middle schools, 4 high schools, several alternative schools, and an early childhood learning center.

Using Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) funds, ISD 196 is converting two elementary schools into magnet schools to increase education equity. Known as Project STEMInspired, the district’s MSAP project will enable students to become innovators through school environments that are hands-on, interdisciplinary, collaborative, and student-centered. 

The two MSAP schools are Echo Park Elementary School of Leadership, Engineering, and Technology (serving 682 students) and Oak Ridge Elementary School of Leadership, Environmental and Health Sciences (serving 566 students). Both schools have science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and leadership magnet themes that aim to inspire and recognize young inventors, researchers, designers, and makers in all students. Project STEMInspired will achieve this goal by providing students with rigorous STEM learning and leadership experiences enhanced by community partnerships. Local partners that provide unique learning experiences for students include Minnesota Zoo, Agriculture in the Classroom, Valley Natural Foods, Burnsville Water Department, and Dakota County Naturalists.

The integrated magnet curriculum explores leadership skills across cultures to build students’ cultural literacy. Both schools have adopted and integrated Leader in Me best practices, which are based on the content from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey, 1998) into curriculum and instruction. The schools are also implementing the Literacy Collaborative, a comprehensive literacy program, which will help increase student achievement. STEM instruction is also enhanced through extracurricular activities. At Oak Ridge, high school robotics team members work with the elementary school students to spark interest and knowledge in robotics. Fifth graders at Echo Park can participate in Math Masters, a group that meets twice weekly and culminates in a national math competition at the end of the school year. Echo Park students can also take part in a robotics team.

Technology is also an integral component of the magnet programs. For example, students may videoconference with experts at NASA to learn about space; use 3D printers and laser engravers to turn their ideas into tangible objects; utilize tools to apply concepts of levers, forces, and movement; and wear technologies such as heart-rate monitors that can project each student’s heart rate onto the gym wall to learn about heart rates and collect real data to analyze in the classroom. 

Dr. Cathy Kindem is the Project Director and currently serves as a Teaching and Learning Coordinator for ISD 196. In this role she coordinates the magnet programs’ various initiatives to create a cohesive whole, all while building staff capacity in teams through a growth mindset. Dr. Kindem has an understanding of the importance of community and business partnerships, the necessity of time and space for innovative thinking, and the discernment for knowing when to push and when to be patient in order to achieve desired outcomes. 

The Manager for Project STEMInspired is Tony Eatchel, the district’s Magnet School and Innovative Program Teacher on Special Assignment. Eatchel brings 9 years of experience working as a technology specialist at Cedar Park Elementary STEM Magnet School to the project along with his expertise on successful implementation of magnet schools.