Eagles Academy students spread their wings

Jan. 24—SOLON SPRINGS — Students at Eagles Academy, a project-based learning charter school for middle and high school students in Solon Springs, shared their projects with the community Thursday, Jan. 19. With display boards and enthusiasm, the young learners discussed their progress.

Each project started with an essential question that integrates both core and elective subjects: "How do I share my love of baking?" "How can I create a plan to fix and maintain the school garden?" "How can I become a beekeeper?"

"It's not a question that they can answer in one day. It's a question where they dig deep; they need to connect to community members and experts to gather their research from primary and secondary sources," said Brittany Hager, middle school teacher for Eagles Academy. "After the research phase is the product phase, and that's where they apply what they've learned, or extend what they're learned through an experience ... something that they build, something that they design."

Junior Purdee Toland set out to master MIG, TIG and stick welding. Her goal was to explore different techniques and rhythms to find what worked best for her and improve her welding skills.

"Just to improve myself for a future in my career, because I do want to go into welding once I graduate," Toland said.

She researched each technique online, then tested them out. For the showcase, she brought two different pairs of metal, each welded with a different technique — MIG and stick. Toland tested different voltages, heat, wire speeds and stick rods to find differences in the welds. Although she did research and looked up YouTube videos on TIG welding, the junior wasn't able to figure it out herself.

"I do hope to go to the training institute up in Hermantown and practice with somebody, but I haven't been able to get through yet because of work," Toland said.

One of the largest projects was an ice shack being constructed by sophomores Cash Kastern and Blake Udeen. They began designing the structure in October, then built the base indoors before moving it out beside the school to add the roof. It's still a work in progress.

"I actually have it all tar papered and it's ready to be shingled," Kastern said.

Eagles Academy high school teacher Jennifer Groski said the $3,000 structure the pair built was more like an ice castle or a tiny house than a typical ice shack. Despite inclement weather and other setbacks, the students persevered.

"They've really just been out there and diligent and it is a quality, I mean if I was going to contract somebody to build something for me I would not hesitate to come to these gentlemen. They even did some of the electrical in there," Groski said.

Kastern said he's looking forward to testing the ice shack out on Lake St. Croix or Lake Minnesuing.

Eighth grader Tristan Groski said he enjoyed being able to study something he was interested in. His project focused on how adversity in Giannis Antetokounmpo's life helped the Milwaukee Bucks player.

Eighth grader Sophia Smith, seventh graders Penelope Burfield and Mazzy Johnson and sixth grader Allette Guttormson joined forces to focus on improving school bathrooms, particularly the ones near the cafeteria that are used by the public.

"We saw that they needed a change because they're not in the best condition," Burfield said. "And we just wanted to improve it for the community and our school."

The four researched the cost of paper towel dispensers versus hand dryers and what kind of stalls would best withstand vandalism — solid plastic. They even looked into automatic sinks.

"We found that it would be a little more sanitary to use sinks that you don't touch," Smith said.

Smith and Burfield shared their findings at the Nov. 28 Solon Springs School Board meeting. The four also raised $547 for future bathroom upgrades through a bake and jewelry sale.

Sixth grader Ellianne Tyson and seventh-grader Makalya Geiger asked the essential question: "How can I help my school recycle better?" The two spoke to a fifth-grade class and put out posters by classroom recycling bins to inform students what items should and shouldn't be placed in the bins. Data they collected showed a drop in the amount of garbage in the bins following their education efforts.

"I thought of it because last year I remember one of my teachers saying how the janitors that came through just emptied them into the garbages because nobody would put their recycling where they went. And so I was like, 'We could fix that,'" Tyson said.

Zoey Harden's project could impact the Solon Springs community and beyond. The seventh grader started with the question: "How can I help the people in my community who need food?" She researched food insecurity, hunger and the differences between them.

"And one day I sat down with Zoey and we were going through her sources and her research and kind of trying to deepen the research and she looked at me and she said, 'Mrs. Hager, I just want to do something,'" Hager said.

The seventh grader sat in on a local task force that is working on creating a Solon Springs food pantry. Harden also held a chili cook-off fundraiser that collected $1,042 for the future community food shelf.

"I think I definitely went out of my comfort zone," Harden said. "It definitely opened my eyes to a lot of new communication skills and bigger events to plan."

As they wrap up and reflect on their first semester projects, the students will begin searching for a second essential question to answer. Tyson already has hers: "Why do investigators and police use DNA to catch their criminals?"