VANTAGE, Minnetonka High School's experiential, project-based learning program, kicked off its eighth year this fall with 320 students between its seven focus areas: Business Analytics, Design + Marketing, Digital Journalism, Global Business, Global Sustainability, Health Sciences and User Experience (UX).
As part of VANTAGE, students are offered a unique opportunity to apply their coursework in real-world settings through experiential learning. Despite changes necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, VANTAGE's hallmarks of hands-on, project-based assignments, guest instruction and community mentorship have continued to enrich students' learning this fall.
Team Building Retreat Teaches Collaboration, Self-Awareness and Mindfulness
VANTAGE students began their year by attending an annual team building event in September. Each small group attended one of six day-long sessions held at the Chaska Curling and Event Center.
The retreat began with a workshop from Linda Schwefel of Discover Yourself. In the session, students learned more about themselves and how others perceive them. Schwefel's workshop focuses on increasing students' self-awareness when working in groups on their VANTAGE projects and beyond.
As the retreat continued, VANTAGE students participated in a curling lesson, which helped them learn how to work together on a task most students had never experienced before. Later on, instructors from Spirit of the Lake Yoga led students in a yoga class to teach students how mindfulness and breath are used to manage stress. Finally, Luke Rudberg from Training Haus in Eagan led classes on personal training, which taught the importance of exercise and how it can help reduce stress and increase focus.
Students Connect with Mentors and Guest Instructors
With a 1:1 pairing of students and mentors, the VANTAGE Mentor Kickoff event typically draws more than 600 students and mentors to the MHS Arts Center. This year the event was held over seven separate days with smaller groups, allowing for social distancing. Some mentor and student pairs met outside at prepared stations and others met virtually. Dave Schwartz, KARE 11 Sports Anchor and Reporter, delivered the event's keynote address. Schwartz's message focused on turning failures into learning opportunities.
All seven strands are benefiting from the experience and knowledge of guest instructors. In September and October, some guest instructors conducted their lessons virtually, while others visited classes in-person.
Site Visits and Projects Offer Real-World Educational Experiences
While most indoor site visits have not been possible due to the pandemic, VANTAGE facilitated several outdoor site visits. Students from Design + Marketing went on two separate site visits to Uptown and downtown Excelsior, where they analyzed retail design exteriors while comparing and contrasting design choices for each. Students noted how stores connected their customer segmentation with store design and types of products offered.
"The objective [during our site visit] was to notice things that we don't often put much thought into," said Drew Sigel, a senior in the Design + Marketing strand. "I noticed how much effort, thought and design has gone into stores, offices and restaurants. We also looked for identifiable brands in the community and compared them."
Students from Global Sustainability visited Gale Woods Farm to learn about farming and agriculture.
"I learned that it is possible for a modern farm to produce crops and raise animals in a sustainable manner that not only benefits the consumer, but also the environment," shared Greta Weeks, a junior in the Global Sustainability strand.
"The site visit gave us a chance to see the material we read and watched in class come to life. It gave me a broader perspective and a greater understanding of the content," said Greta.
Finally, VANTAGE students are experiencing real-world projects with businesses and other community partners. Working in teams of four or five, students met to begin planning for their semester projects. This semester's community partners include Dell, Best Buy, Paradise Charter Cruises, Gale Woods Farm, General Mills, United Health Group, Sunopta, Spirit of the Lake Yoga and the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, among others.
Isabelle Stroh, a sophomore in the User Experience (UX) strand, is working with Feed-Me Farms, an organic farm that converts suburban yards into gardens.
"Working with this client has not only given me a window into how the business world works and flows, but also how I feel I can best fit into and contribute to that world," said Isabelle. "My work and interactions with my client have been invaluable, helping me practice the essential business techniques I've learned from my mentor and teachers: professionalism, respect, and responsibility."To learn more about the exceptional opportunities VANTAGE offers students, visit minnetonkaschools.org/VANTAGE