Speaking towards State: Providence Academy Speech Team Triumphs in Sectionals

A typical Thursday for high school students probably does not include wearing formal business attire and presenting a speech 3 to 4 times in front of a judge and timekeeper. However, members of the Providence Academy Speech Team did just that on April 7, as they ventured to Maple Lake High School to compete in the Section 2A tournament. 

Violet van Gyzen, ’24, Skylar Bartz, ’23, Sandra Alb, ’24, Aly Marshall, ’23, and Kortney Onyambu, ’24, smile after receiving awards in their respective categories. PAW photo credit: Megan Simonson

“Speech is a MSHSL sanctioned activity, which gives students the opportunity to work on public speaking skills through a variety of categories,” explained coach Megan Simonson. 

The competitive categories include: Discussion, Informative Speaking, Original Oratory, Creative Expression, Poetry, Storytelling, Duo Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, Dramatic Interpretation, Great Speeches, Extemporaneous Reading, Extemporaneous Speaking, Poetry Reading, and Prose Reading. 

“Through speech, I’ve learned a lot about things I never would’ve otherwise researched,” emphasized captain Skylar Bartz, ‘23. “It helps me educate myself on important issues and learn to talk about them with some kind of authority.”

Bartz has indeed learned how to speak with authority, as recent judging confirmed when she earned her ticket to State in the Discussion category.

Though the speech team started out with just five members, in the past few years, it has quadrupled in size and become a contender against peer schools because of the participation of students like Bartz.

The growth of the program “gave us a consistent, supportive, and driven group that competes,” said Simonson. “The fact that we have students in every category except one helps gain points.”

In the week leading up to sections, most team members worked on memorizing and tweaking their speeches. However, for Bartz, “It was more mental. I didn’t do much other than approaching the competition with a goal in mind and a certain level of confidence.”

Aly Marshall, ’23, accepts her award and “ticket to state.”

The speech team not only gave it their all, but also made school history, placing 6th out of 14 teams and sending three members to the state tournament. Bartz,  Aly Marshal,  ‘23, and Violet van Gyzen, ‘24, will represent PA at Eastview High School on April 23 in Discussion, Humorous, and Storytelling, respectively.

“I’m so proud of how we did at sections! For a small school, we do really well, and our placement shows that we put in a lot of effort and dedication,” van Gyzen–who ‘finaled’ for the first time in her speech career and earned a spot at State–remarked. 

Simonson shares van Gyzen’s sentiments. “Join Speech!” she exclaimed in the wake of their recent success.

Simonson continued, “We are always excited to have new members, and even if you are super nervous to get up in front of a group of people, you should just try it. You can compete at whatever level you’re at.”

A Spoonful of Sugar helps the [History] go Down

Most young students comedically picture their teachers living at school. Though many teachers may sometimes even feel it themselves, when he’s not in the classroom, Upper School history teacher Edward Hester can most likely be found in his kitchen. 

Emma Boeing ’22, Lizzy McGill ’22, and Sophia Menzel ’22 pose with Mr. Hester at prom.

When people think of Mr. Hester, they tend to remember his generations-old blood feud with fellow Upper School history teacher Dr. Kevin Keiser, his professional-level photobombing student selfies, and, of course, his ever-so-famous kilts (that he even wore to prom).  

However, Hester is also an avid chef. He cooks and bakes every day, a hobby that has been an integral part of his home life since he was a child.

“It is just very relaxing to be in the kitchen,” Hester reflected. 

“My mom loved to watch Julia Child, which got me into baking and cooking,” he explained, “Then when I was probably 10 years old, my parents got me a chef’s hat and apron for Christmas.”

Hester has since passed on this enthusiasm to his own children, who now enjoy being in the kitchen themselves. 

Mr. Hester makes family dinners himself, including pizza “from scratch.”

“I think I’ve always enjoyed baking or helping my dad in the kitchen when I can, but it’s only been within the last few years when I’ve really picked up baking for myself,” stated his daughter and current substitute teacher Malia Hester ’15. 

“When my dad is cooking or baking, we’ll all pop into the kitchen at some point to taste the food or stir something that doesn’t actually need to be stirred because we’re bored.”

Mr. Hester enjoys sharing his talents with his students, making sweet “pick-me-ups” (ranging from cookies, candy, and “McMuffins”), and telling cooking stories both before class and over Remind…even the night before the history final to point students’ last-minute efforts in the right direction. 

Erin Brown ’24 eagerly tastes a cookie made by Mr. Hester after history class.

However, despite the lengthy lineup of sweet treats and hearty meals Hester has made, his favorite recipe is his “classic” chocolate chip cookies, which is something his daughter and students can’t help but agree upon.  Evidence suggests teachers agree as well; should a few cookies make it to the faculty lounge, they quickly disappear.

“His cookies are actually phenomenal, and it makes my day when he brings them,” exclaimed Anna Strang ‘24, “The fact that Mr. Hester has hobbies in the real world helps him be more relatable and really helps us grow relationships with him because we can talk about things as a class that aren’t just history.”

Mr. Hester simply isn’t your average history teacher. With his amazing baking skills and his plethora of quirks that are present in and out of his classroom, he constantly finds ways to make his class more memorable and even just a little sweet! 

3 Kings, 2 Traditions: How Providence Academy Celebrates Epiphany

“A moment in which one suddenly gains clarity.” To most people, this is the cut-and-dry definition of the word “epiphany.”  But to Providence Academy and Catholics at large, this word means so much more. 

“With Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus; God becomes man. With Epiphany, this mystery is shown to the world, as the Magi recognize Jesus for who He is and His mission,” stated PA Chaplain Father Michael McClellan. 

Joseph Cummins, ’24, reverently watches Father McClellan mark the classroom door for Epiphany.

In accordance with the importance of the day, Providence incorporated many traditions to celebrate Epiphany on January 6, 2022.

Epiphany began with Father McClellan walking from one classroom door to another and blessing them with chalk. 

“Marking the doors reminds us that Christ is blessing the new year and being proclaimed to the new year,” McClellan emphasized. 

However, anyone who has celebrated Epiphany knows this day is more than just the chalk tradition. In European countries, the Feast of the Epiphany is a celebration that is even bigger than Christmas! 

For example, Epiphany parades flood the streets of Spain, gifts are exchanged in Italy, and the French feast on la Galette de Rois, a traditional French puff pastry with almond filling. 

Une Feve is hidden within the Galette de Rois.

“Une fève, a small charm made of plastic or porcelain, is hidden within the cake.  The one who finds the fève is crowned the king or queen for the evening,” Madame Annie Heitzmann, PA Upper School French Teacher explained, “The youngest of the family typically sits underneath the table and decides who receives each piece of cake.”

This tradition made its way over the Atlantic and into the Providence community, with French V partaking in celebrating with the traditional “King Cake.” 

Max Heitzmann, ’23, smiles after being crowned “King” for finding the feve.

Whether students were feasting on a cake or celebrating mass, Providence managed to make Epiphany a special holiday worthy of its definition for everyone.

Tess Klammer, ‘24, reflected, “I think it’s super great that Providence celebrates so many special days in the Church, like Epiphany. It gives us students a chance to learn about the importance of each one and the traditions surrounding them.”  

Go Big or Gourd Home: the Annual House Pumpkin Decorating Contest

Every fall, one thing unifies the Upper School houses: pumpkins. As strange as this may sound, the annual Pumpkin Decorating Contest is a beloved and anticipated tradition. 

Epsilon smiles with their pumpkins during the decorating contest Wednesday afternoon.

Starting six years ago, leaders of the boys’ and girls’ houses come together in October to pick two themes for the contest. This year the themes included animals (chosen by the girls) and the ever so popular theme of teachers (chosen by the boys). 

Mr. Christopher Santer–in gourd form–on display in the Atrium, as depicted by Rho House in the annual House pumpkin decorating contest earlier this week.

So many people love the teacher pumpkins that Mr. Joshua Blonski, Director of the House Program, enthused, “It’s even gotten to the point where they make teachers fit into the other themes.” 

Some of the most memorable creations throughout the years include Iron Man featuring a glowing heart and Mr. Blonski as a Disney princess. 

Blonski, together with upper school math teacher Ms. Erika Greene, and three mystery guest judges, judge on the imagination and attention to detail displayed on the pumpkins.

“The pumpkins don’t have to be beautiful. As long as the house pays attention to the little details and thinks creatively, there’s a good chance that they’ll win,” explained Blonski.

Epsilon’s leaders Kylie Onserio ‘22 and Mary McGinty ‘23 were very eager to win this years’ prize: 50 House points and a pizza party. 

In anticipation of the contest, McGinty commented, “This year we are planning to think outside the box and be more prepared by bringing in accessories and props. This will help us have some great-looking pumpkins.”

Members of Rho pause and pose while decorating their pumpkins.

Onserio agreed with Blonski that the competition is a good way for students to express their creativity. “We all get to be creative together,” she reflected. “Although there are some that inevitably turn out bad, seeing everyone’s ideas and how well they executed them always results in a good laugh.” 

After speculation from teachers that Phi and Pi would win this year, and hard work across the board, the winners were…Gamma for their raccoon and Rho for their dragon!  Lambda and Mu took first place in the teacher category for their depictions of Mrs. Hope and Mr. Santer, respectively.

Maxine Kambuni ‘23, Junior Leader of Gamma, basked in their win, saying, “It’s not surprising, but we’re really grateful because we work hard every year.”

Likewise, Tommy Jaeger ‘24, a member of Rho, added “It’s not a surprise, since we win at everything in house, but we’re excited about the pizza.”

No matter the outcome, the Pumpkin Decorating Contest is always a great way for house leaders and members to express themselves, bond over their artistic abilities, and have fun.

Learning across the Atlantic: The Foreign Exchange Program Amid the Pandemic

The Aquinas American School in Madrid, Spain (PAW photo credit: Google images)

As the new school year begins and students and teachers alike attempt to regain a sense of normalcy, several changes and new faces dot the PA campus. The recent reinstatement of the foreign exchange program contributes to both of these, as PA welcomes Nacho Rodriguez Sarasola into 10th grade for the fall semester. 

Host brother Ronan Donohue ’24 and foreign exchange student Nacho Rodriguez Sarasola ’24 pose on pattern day of homecoming week.

This isn’t Rodriguez’s first time abroad, as he lived in Denmark for a year with his family. He chose to participate in this particular foreign exchange program because he “found it interesting and thought that it is a good experience for the future in terms of independence.” Eager to learn new things, make new friends, play lots of soccer, and experience Thanksgiving, he is quickly settling in and finding a routine among his peers. 

Ronan Donohue ’24 and Nachol Rodriguez Sarasola ’24 enjoy their time at the Minnesota State Fair. (PAW Photo Credit: Ronan Donohue)

However, the uncertainty of these times and the precautionary measures travelers must take didn’t affect Rodriguez’s decision to apply. Unfortunately, the pandemic did add difficulty for him when acquiring a visa. According to Heitzmann, “the visa process must be done at the consulate, and the appointments were extremely hard to get this year.” 

The exchange program started when a former Providence Academy Upper School director was contacted by the Aquinas American School (AAS) in Madrid. AAS wanted to use an American college preparatory school as its model. This formed a friendship between the schools and now, Madame Ann Heitzmann, World Language Department Chair and French instructor, is thrilled to resume the program for a 10th year. Heitzmann stated, “some students are wary of traveling because of the fluctuating Covid rules, but we still gained interest in the program.” 

Since his arrival in early September, Sarasola has visited the Mall of America and attended the Minnesota State Fair with his host family, the Donohues. Ronan Donohue ‘24 is planning on going to AAS next semester. 

Rodriguez will continue here at Providence until after Christmas, when he and Donohue will set off for Spain. Donohue believes studying at Aquinas American School “is not only a rare experience I can’t pass up, but also an opportunity to enhance my Spanish, French, and Soccer abilities.” 

Former foreign exchange student, Stephanie Momanyi ‘21 enthusiastically agreed, “It’s a special kind of experience.” Momanyi emphasized, “Not only do you learn the language by immersion…but you also get to learn the culture behind the language by living it, and that is undeniably beneficial to anyone willing to expand their mind.”