Park Rapids Schools welcomed families back to school with open houses Wednesday afternoon.

According to Century Elementary Principal Joleen De La Hunt, the open house was all about students meeting their teachers and checking out the school. “It’s just a fine time in getting prepared for the upcoming school year.”

“We have had an awesome turnout,” said Jill Stevenson, a Century School literacy coach. “It is so wonderful to see families back at school and kids excited to meet their teachers.”

“Our halls are packed,” De La Hunt said. “The parking lots are packed, and I see smiles everywhere.”

Signs in the elementary wing directed some kindergartners to a room in the first-grade pod.

Kindergarten teacher Rebecca Penning gives student Asher Kocka a balloon during Wednesday's open house at Century Elementary School.
Kindergarten teacher Rebecca Penning gives student Asher Kocka a balloon during Wednesday's open house at Century Elementary School. Robin Fish/Enterprise

“Our enrollment is increasing, and we added in a seventh section of kindergarten last spring,” De La Hunt explained. “Our building is full, and so we had to utilize the end of the first-grade pod for that seventh section. But we are very blessed to have a supportive school board and have many children coming to our school.”

She acknowledged that as larger classes continue to enroll in the school, “we are going to have to look at other options” for classroom space, “but that’s a great problem to have.”



Century Middle School

Helping Hands, a Century PTA program, distributed free school supplies during the Century Middle School open house.

Rhonda Lageson, who founded Helping Hands, said the Salvation Army, Dollar Tree and many generous individuals made donations so that a host of supplies – from glue sticks to backpacks to folders – could be handed out.

Within the first hour of Wednesday’s open house, Lageson said they helped about 150 people.

Dorothy Meyer and Brenna Behrens volunteered with Helping Hands, a Century PTA program that gave away free school supplies on Wednesday.
Dorothy Meyer and Brenna Behrens volunteered with Helping Hands, a Century PTA program that gave away free school supplies on Wednesday. Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Caitlin Djonne, a science teacher for grades 7 and 8, discussed the school’s relatively new learning model, called Genius Hour, with middle schoolers and parents. Now in its second year at Century Middle School, Genius Hour promotes inquiry, research, creativity and self-directed learning. The concept is most notably associated with Google, where employees are allowed to spend up to 20 percent of their time working on projects they're interested in and passionate about.

Djonne explained that this exploratory class is smaller in size, allowing seventh and eighth graders to delve into any number of topics – 3D printing, a foreign language, science, film, aquatic biology, etc. Last year, students raised money for the Headwaters Animal Shelter, she noted.

New twists at high school

High School Principal Jeff Johnson greeted all students, freshmen through seniors, at Wednesday’s open house.

Booths in the commons area allowed families “to explore different tools we have here in our school as well as our community for your students to be successful,” he said.

Each high school department displayed information at a table and answered questions.

During an informational meeting, Shelli Walsh, coordinator of educational services, explained the school’s Panther Tracks program. “It’s all about career and college readiness,” she said.

Freshmen, for example, are encouraged to explore beyond the core classes, whether it’s learning about industrial tech, business, foreign language, music or arts, said Walsh.

Thanks to the hiring of a new career and technical education teacher, there are a lot of new classes being offered for the first time this school year, she continued. Those classes are a result of surveying current and former students for their input.

As part of Panther Tracks, sophomores through seniors can choose electives based on a certain career track, such as agriculture, engineering, manufacturing, natural resources, health, human services or management.

New this year are two trimesters of “Senior Capstone,” according to Walsh. Staff will be assisting students with filling out federal student aid, applying for college and the like. There will be a Junior Capstone as well. Business teacher Angie Kuehn will offer a career exploration course, which will include job shadowing opportunities.

“So there is a wide number of things we’re trying to do to help parents and students make the most of their time here in District 309, and then hopefully, upon graduation have a plan, and then go and realize your dreams,” Walsh said.