There are three schools located within Minot AFB: North Plains Elementary, Memorial Middle School, and Dakota Elementary. At the Northern Sentry we love our relationships with all three schools and they will each get their moment to show off what makes their school so special. First up is Dakota Elementary where their forward thinking teachers and hardworking, dedicated staff represent a special bond. Their teachers support a new child-focused learning concept and one kitchen staff employee has overcome extreme health issues in this past year alone.
Dakota 1st grade teacher Jessica Foerster and 3rd grade teacher Megan DeGree have embraced a new way of learning with the ‘Power of Yet’ teaching strategy. This concept has been introduced in all of Minot Public Schools for Math, but these two teachers have grabbed onto the program and utilized it in fun new ways. The program allows a more flexible type of learning speed for students. Instead of letter grades on assignments, this program puts students and their educators in charge of their individual learning. It teaches that just because a student doesn’t understand a new concept right now, he/she will. It is just a matter of when or YET.
Ms. DeGree said that it takes away the stress of learning as kids can understand that it’s ok if they don’t get a concept right away. There are things some students grasp and others need more time with, and that’s ok. It is about the power of knowledge knowing each student will get there, just at different speeds. Ms. DeGree said, “It’s kind of beautiful in that it [the program] scoops up the kids who need extra help, and lets them fly and soar, knowing that it is ok if they need to take another day to learn a concept.” Ms. Foerster explained that the ‘Power of Yet’ conceptual program “teaches kids to set a goal and to not give up, but persevere to reach that goal even if it takes a little longer.” Both teachers have created special projects to help students understand that there is power in the word YET and have embraced the program in innovative new ways.
Besides teachers, there are many staff members and behind the scenes parents who make Dakota Elementary function. One such dedicated staff member is Nutrition Service Assistant, Julie Huntley. Ms. Huntley loves her job so much that after she battled leukemia diagnosis early last year and had to take time off, she could not wait to return to her job at Dakota. Ms. Huntley said, “this is the hardest job I have ever had, physically, but it’s the job I have loved the most out of all my jobs.” Ms. Huntley found out she had cancer in February of this year. Symptoms progressed very rapidly and before she knew it she was airlifted to a specialty hospital in Fargo where she suffered a stroke, and was nearly put on life support for a time. When she stabilized, and started treatment, it included IV chemotherapy as well as oral chemotherapy twice a day for the first 30 days. She spent the summer months at different hospitals within the state and some time at home as well, which she described as grueling.
Because of her intense health needs, Huntley resigned her job at Dakota Elementary in the spring of 2022. However, as this fall neared, she noticed that her job was still not filled at the school. Mrs. Kathryn Lenertz, Dakota Principal, reached out to Ms. Huntley and asked if she would like to apply again for her old job when she was ready. Ms. Huntley was so excited to have the chance to go back to work at Dakota again.
So on October 17, just as Ms. Huntley was finishing up chemo, she was welcomed back to the kitchen staff at Dakota Elementary with open and excited arms. “She is truly a miracle and I am a firm believer we weren’t able to fill that position on purpose and it was just waiting for her,” said Mrs. Lenertz.
The atmosphere of the Dakota Elementary teachers, staff and principal is one of community, partnership and care. It was evident from the conversations that it truly is a place of learning and commitment to the staff and students alike.