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Black History Month is a time to explore positive history

What began as a way to emphasis the struggle for freedom and equal opportunity African Americans have faced throughout the decades has continued to evolve into a celebration of contributions the Black community has provided to the bedrock of the country – which is the way local public leaders say it ought to be.

“One of the things I’ve realized throughout my life is that the things the we hear about and learn about are the negative parts that display Black history,” said Brian Coleman, the board chair for the Alliance for Great Equity in Owatonna and service learning coordinator for the Faribault School District. “A lot of times the first thing that comes to mind is slavery or segregation. You get all these negative terms associated with it, which doesn’t make it feel positive for us Black people, it just sort of feels like a downer.”

“But it doesn’t have to be that way,” Coleman added. “In a sense, this country is built on the back of these people, and while so many things are rooted around the tension and stress that most people of color have to deal with on a daily basis, intentionally looking at and celebrating successes is what we would all love.”

This Black History Month, Coleman is encouraging everyone – Black and otherwise – to spend time seeking out the untold stories of the crucial contributions Black people have made to America’s culture.

From music to art to science advancements, Coleman said you may be surprised what can be uncovered after scratching away at the surface.

Agreeing with Coleman is Dr. Annette Parker, the president of South Central College who says she feels a personal responsibility as a Black leader within her institution to illuminate such stories.

“The impact of Black History Month to me is that historically we have not told the stories of the many contributions from people of African descent in this country,” Parker said, acknowledging that while Black people have suffered throughout history, looking at only the suffering would give people the wrong snapshot of who they are as a people and a culture. “It’s important that our young people know these contributions, and Black History Month provides a time for us to do that and to not be afraid to talk about it.”

Parker said one thing she would like to see people in southern Minnesota embrace during Black History Month is seeking beyond the traditional names that usually are associated with Black progress and empowerment.

“Don’t just focus on Martin Luther King Jr.,” Parker said. “There are so many other people who have overcome these barriers that have been in place over hundreds and hundreds of years. Yet despite those barriers, they still found a way to contribute to the betterment of our nation.”

Some of the names Parker encourages people to discover and explore include James Baldwin – an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet and activist whose eloquence and passion on the subject of race in America made him an important voice in the late ‘50s and ‘60s – and Josephine Baker – an American-born French entertainer and World War II spy who was the only woman to speak at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington in 1963. Luckily, Parker says living in the age of information being at our fingertips in the form of the Internet allows for endless opportunities to discover the lesser known but highly important players in Black history.

Coleman also celebrates the time we live in, saying that the recent release of movies focusing on untold stories of Black people in American history has provided a prime opportunity for anyone and everyone to educate themselves further. Specifically, Coleman recommends people check out “Hidden Figures,” the 2016 biographical drama film that focuses on three Black women who were essential to the success of early spaceflight.

“Some of the most positive interactions I have ever had with people of different races have stemmed from that movie,” Coleman said. “This is some positive history – some real life stuff – that really opens your eyes to what Black people were doing without any kind of acknowledgement of their efforts.”

Digging into the various contributions and many areas of positive Black history is just the beginning. Both Coleman and Parker agree that when it comes down to it, one month is simply not enough.

“A year-round celebration is what I’d like to see,” Coleman said. “When it comes down to it, celebrating other cultures should just be embedded in what we do.”

“There definitely needs to be things celebrating Black history year-round,” Parker added. “But this can be a month where people take the time to learn and study about the different contributions of Black people. I think and I hope that it would bring around more respect throughout the rest of the year.”

Blooming Prairie annexes land for new Dollar General
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The city of Blooming Prairie grew by 1.35 acres on Monday.

The Blooming Prairie City Council approved Monday a resolution and annexation agreement that would bring 1.35 acres of land into the city limits for a prospective Dollar General store.

The approval comes after former Blooming Prairie Mayor H. Peterson opposed the idea of a Dollar General coming to the city during the public hearing on the annexation.

Some citizens have expressed concern about allowing a large corporation into the area to compete with smaller and local businesses. However, City Administrator Andrew Langholz noted that if a business is set on a location near the city, it would be in the city’s best interest to annex the parcel of land into the city limits.

“Typically you don’t want a business on the outside of the city limits, you’re not getting any benefit from them,” Langholz told the city council in January.

The annexation will allow the store to receive services from Blooming Prairie police, but the store will have to provide its own water and sewer.

The land is on the corner of State Highway 30 and Highway 218. The two parcels of land will need to be combined at the county level to move forward in the purchasing process.

The city handled the annexation process in a similar manner to prior annexations. The city has agreed to pay Blooming Prairie Township for the amount of taxes the township would lose for the next six years, based on the most recent year tax statement, according to a memo by Langholz. The township has already signed the needed paperwork for the annexation.

Cities are usually taxed at a higher rate than townships, and thus the city will still receive a benefit during those years. As a result of the annexation, the city can increase its tax base and spread the tax levy to an additional commercial property.

Lincoln Elementary focuses on learning first, technology second
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Three goals are on the minds of Lincoln Elementary staff as this year progresses.

On Monday night, Lincoln Elementary staff including Principal Mary Hawkins, instructional coach Kelly Kruger and kindergarten teacher Brandi Vieths presented the building’s goals and the school’s actions to reach these goals in its annual update to the Owatonna School Board.

Goals for Lincoln staff include maintaining a safe and predictable environment for all students, ensuring all students make at least one year’s worth of growth in reading and math, and learning how to do school through an unprecedented pandemic.

“We know that 2020 presented challenges to our school and to our world, but we will remember 2020 as maybe a year that we took great leaps in education and so we want to share with you what we feel were some of those successes ... even in a very difficult year,” Hawkins said to the board.

The school surveyed Lincoln staff asking them to compare distance learning from last spring to distance learning this fall. Staff were asked to rate their experience on a scale with one being “not well” to five representing “extremely well.” Of the 56 responses, 48.2% rated the experience a four, 37.5% responded with a five and the remaining rated the experience a three. Kruger says many of the respondents attributed the increase in distance learning success to the one-to-one ratio of students to devices this fall.

The school also asked its staff what technology tools they used this past year that enhanced students’ learning. Google Classroom was listed as the most used platform, and runners up included Google Suite, Screencastify, Seesaw and Flipgrid.

“I would say, at most, maybe five teachers across the board used some of these tools (last year),” Kruger said. “You look at this list now and how it’s really transformed what we’re doing in the classroom with that initiative of learning first, technology second.”

Lincoln school staff anticipate continued use of the platforms even after the pandemic has run its course. Beyond the technology skills, students and staff have learned grit, patience, perseverance, responsibility and flexibility this year in a way that may not have happened otherwise.

“I think this was an experiment on relevance in education, if something’s presented to us as a problem, we have to learn the tools to get beyond that,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins also discussed the successes of the Discovery Program within Lincoln’s walls. The Discovery Program is the district’s most intensive program for kids who might struggle with their behavior, emotions and interactions with others. Special education students are enrolled in the program.

At Lincoln there are two classrooms, one for kindergarten through second grade students and another for students in grades three through five. While Lincoln is about four years into the program, it’s been the most recent year that staff have seen the program “really come together,” as Hawkins puts it.

Out of the 12 students in the program, nine are at a place where they can integrate into general education classes. Lincoln students are also spending more time on integration, Hawkin pointed out. Using a point system which evaluates how well students are managing themselves, Hawkins announced that a year ago 44% of students were integrating and this year that number went up to 75%.

“We wanted to just share an update on that program and let you know we’re making good progress there,” Hawkins said.

Students are also using more “self time,” which allows students time to regulate themselves. Students are getting better at recognizing when self time is needed and they may need some space to regain their composure.

Lincoln staff are trained in Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI), where teachers learn about the impact of trauma and develop an awareness on the importance of positive interactions between students and adults. Lincoln staff use Performance Tracking System (PTS) language and ideas in general education, so all students, Discovery Program or not, will recognize the vocabulary used in their classroom.

Lastly a School Linked Mental Health therapist has been added to the school’s roster, effectively adding more support for students who need the extra help. The therapist comes in three days a week to Lincoln.