Sen. Franken visits Central Park Elementary

U.S. Sen. Al Franken read the “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats, a popular children’s picture book, to kindergartners at Central Park Elementary. He discussed his two-year-old grandson with the kids, as well as snowballs, a theme in the book. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
U.S. Sen. Al Franken read the “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats, a popular children’s picture book, to kindergartners at Central Park Elementary. He discussed his two-year-old grandson with the kids, as well as snowballs, a theme in the book. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
U.S. Sen. Al Franken listened as sixth-graders explained their SPARK Lab project, which was to design and build accurate water timers. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
U.S. Sen. Al Franken listened as sixth-graders explained their SPARK Lab project, which was to design and build accurate water timers. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
First-graders told Franken about the round, yellow robots that they can program to move in different directions. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
First-graders told Franken about the round, yellow robots that they can program to move in different directions. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
As seen in Central Park Elementary’s SPARK Lab, Roseville Rotarian Lynne Megan; Franken; Roseville City Manager and Rotarian Pat Trudgeon, Rotarians Gayland Bender and Pam O’Meara; and Principal Becky Berkas.
As seen in Central Park Elementary’s SPARK Lab, Roseville Rotarian Lynne Megan; Franken; Roseville City Manager and Rotarian Pat Trudgeon, Rotarians Gayland Bender and Pam O’Meara; and Principal Becky Berkas.

When U.S. Sen. Al Franken visited Roseville’s Central Park Elementary Jan. 22, the children were cheery and curious while he engaged them in discussions about school, books, science projects and snowballs. He also read a book called “The Snowy Day” to kindergartners and toured the school.

“We were honored and proud to have a member of the Senate Education Committee visit our school,” said Central Park Principal Becky Berkas. “Senator Franken has been a strong supporter of STEM/STEAM education as well as early childhood education. We know we are offering a great program, so it was a privilege to share it with him.”

Central Park is home to a SPARK Lab, an area set aside to focus learning on the elements of STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Berkas said the school’s lab came about through community support.

“This would not have been possible without the funding and support from [Roseville] Rotary,” she said. That support has come in the form of the $25,000 Rotary donation towards the lab, as well as the club’s pledge of $40,000 more over the next two years. 

“The lab has surely ‘sparked’ the excitement of our children and has given them many more opportunities for learning, building, creating and designing,” Berkas added.

Central Park PTA president Heather Von St. James, who has a fifth-grader at the school, said she chose Central Park because of the SPARK Lab.

“It’s so exciting to see how the lab has excited the kids. The hands-on learning in the lab is so different from regular class time,” Von St. James said.

One of Franken’s staff members was familiar with Central Park, helping to arrange Franken’s visit there to see the SPARK Lab and to discuss how Minnesota will be affected in the coming years by the recently approved federal education law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. Franken, a DFLer, helped develop the new law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act.

He said provisions in the bill extend funding for STEM education, which would benefit the SPARK Lab at Central Park. Franken said the bill would also stop burdening teachers with so many standardized achievement tests, upgrade teacher education, encourage accelerated classes for students as well as more early childhood education for young children, and give states more control over testing.

Franken commended Berkas for the learning environment he observed at Central Park and said the students were engaged in learning, while it looked like they were having fun, too.

“As someone who has regularly visited schools all across Minnesota, I was really excited to see all the great work being done at Central Park Elementary School,” Franken said. “With its innovative SPARK Lab ... Central Park is already doing the important work necessary to prepare our youngest learners for the jobs of the 21st Century.”

Pamela O’Meara can be reached at pomeara@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7818.

 

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