Alumni Network Expands

“People are here to help you if you need it,” insisted Sara Pistilli, ‘12, a licensed pharmacist and law student at the University of Minnesota.

This is a sentiment many PA alumni share. To give back to their alma mater, six alumni, ranging from nurses to pharmacists, eagerly met in the Lecture Hall on Friday, January 28 to share their post-Providence experiences. What’s more, opportunities like this one are becoming more and more accessible. With Providence having graduated over 1000 students and many alumni now reaching post-college careers, PA’s alumni network is stronger than ever before, and able to reach current students in new and creative ways.

This year, Providence celebrates being open for twenty years; an impressive landmark. It is miniscule, however, compared to surrounding schools and universities. Because of Providence Academy’s youth, its graduate pool has also been small and young, creating very few opportunities for alumni to have an organized database, mentor current students, or stay connected with happenings in the PA community. 

This all changed thanks to the growing number of alumni, and notably, PA clubs.

Recent PA graduates were able to give advice to juniors and seniors curious about the college process, during a forum on Wednesday, January 5.

After COVID restrictions shut down club activity for the first semester, PA administration saw an opportunity to do two things at once: fill in clubs’ empty calendars and forge student-alumni connections. After working with club advisors and leaders, administration brought in nearly fifty alumni throughout 2021 to share wisdom on everything from career paths to college choices. Thus began the Alumni Forums.

“Attaching a club onto forums helped this thing really take off,” enthused Mrs. Sarah Hogan, Director of Alumni Management. “The club-panel pairing found a group that would be ready for that specific help, while also opening it up to any students that had interest. Robotics Club was paired with careers in STEM. Speech Club was paired with Law. The Finance Club with Finance.”

These forums lent a helping hand to many students, from Letters of Love Club soaking in knowledge about careers in Social Services to the Medical Club gaining advice about vocations in healthcare. 

Koralyn Horstman, ‘23, remarked, “Friday’s alumni panel gave me more confidence that medicine is what I want to do.” 

The expanding network allows many alumni — from long-graduated doctors to students still in college — to help current students with discernment.

Students’ futures are not the only ones looking brighter. Opportunities for PA alumni are growing. In the past few years alone, PA graduates have come back as teachers, given commencement speeches, and even started their own online book club with long-time English teacher Mr. Schmalzbauer. In future years, there is even more to come. Panels covering lesser-known careers – such as sciences that are not related to healthcare – are hopefully coming soon.

Throughout all these pending changes, one thing remains constant: Providence Academy. All students and graduates connecting with each other have walked through the same yellow halls and learned the same faith-filled principles that set them apart from other people entering the workforce.

Sara Maryon Hayes, ‘05, put it best: “The nerd skills become natural. It’s the faith and the virtue that that are the harder and more necessary attributes. You are often with people on the worst days of your life, so virtue is something you use every single day.”

Bon Appetit! French Luncheon Provides Opportunities

Picture this: thirteen different voices, shifting between English and French. This conversation didn’t take place anywhere near France, but rather in PA’s own board room with students who had studied through French V or through their senior year. Among this group was Father Garrett Ahlers, a priest who comes to PA annually to say Mass in French. On Tuesday, January 25, ten students, along with Madame Ann Heitzmann and Madame Angie Mahoney, celebrated the Feast Day of Saint Paul with a luncheon with Father Garrett Ahlers.

Four years ago, a new tradition graced the scene at PA. Students received the chance to attend Mass in the foreign language they studied. For one week each year, Spanish students attended Mass in Spanish, Latin students attended a Latin Mass, and French students experienced a Mass spoken completely in French. To this day, this practice gives language-learners the chance to use the skills they learn in-class in a real world setting.

This year, French teacher Mrs. Ann Heitzmann added a new element to the tradition.

“I organized this lunch because I thought it’s always interesting for students to have as near of an authentic experience as possible. So while everyone at the luncheon spoke English, speaking French with someone who has that experience was good for them.”

This opportunity could not have come at a better time. Due to COVID, 2020’s French trip has been postponed to summer 2022, leaving students still waiting for a chance to immerse themselves in foreign language and culture. Speaking to Ahlers helped fill this gap.

Father Garrett Ahlers comes to Providence annually to say Mass in French. For the first time, he came to meet a handful of French students before the services.

Sophie Koch, ‘22, commented, “Everyone speaks French differently – some slower, some so fast you can’t separate their words. Speaking with someone in French that you haven’t spoken to before is always an adventure!”

The luncheon brought something more than simple speaking experience: hope for becoming bilingual. While Ahlers speaks fluent French and frequents France once a year, he learned the language as an adult. 

Ahlers shared, “We had two French classes in my high school, and they were abysmal. By the end of them, I could barely conjugate the verb être,” Ahlers laughed. “But during the summer of 2012, I did six weeks of French with a group of monks who were fluent. Those 6 weeks of studying formed a foundation that I just started building on. You can’t substitute true immersion.”

French students learn to read and write many passages, such as the first reading from the French Mass. However, the luncheon was a unique opportunity to converse in French.

The prospect of sitting and conversing with someone who managed to become fluent as an adult made the task of learning an entire language seem tangible.

“It made me happy and gave me some relief to hear that he learned French later in his life–it gave me some hope that I will be able to improve my French and become more fluent in the future,” shared Olivia Bissonette, ‘22.

But beyond the educational benefits, the luncheon proved to be a fun time. As the conversation shifted between French and English, the students laughed about everything from English titles of French films to the beauty of cities in Southern France to watching the Marvel Universe dubbed over in French.

Heitzmann enthused, “I love the camaraderie of the group. It was such a positive time where everyone was using their skills to form a conversation. I would love to do that again next year!”

Pediatrician Presents: Dr. Lind Talks with Medical Club

Medical School: These two words mean different things to many. To some, medical school is a daunting path, riddled with stressful entrance exams and nearly-impossible courses. To others, a faraway dream that may not be realized. And still others, it is a place of opportunity that will kick-start their careers. For Providence mom Dr. April Lind, medical school was once all three. On December 3, 2021, Lind had the opportunity to share with the Medical Club stories and advice she gained from her career as an internal medicine-pediatrics doctor.

As an internal medicine doctor, Lind forms relationships with patients to prevent illness. And as a pediatrician, Lind tracks growth and development for children under eighteen and educates parents about normal growth milestones.  During her time as both, Lind has used her close doctor-patient relationships to detect allergies, diagnose diseases, and discover other causes of illness.

For many, her presentation to the Medical Club provided a special insight for students discerning what their future may hold.

Caroline Stephenson ‘23 asks a question at Dr. Lind’s presentation on Friday, December 3rd.  This presentation helped students like Stephenson understand the nuances of going into the medical field.

Grace Wickenheiser ‘22 remarked, “I am glad I am able to hear what a day in the life is like for people in medical professions in a way I wouldn’t be able to without Med Club. I got a sense of how much she cares about the people she works with and how relationships are important.”

Even for those who do not envision medicine in their future, Lind had an important lesson for them: perseverance.  After not getting into medical school on her first try, Lind overcame this disappointment when she reapplied and was eventually accepted into and graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1999.

And the hard work was worth it.

“I became a doctor to help people learn and understand the beauty and vitality within them, and ways to improve or regain this when lost due to illness.”

The Medical Club has been working to spread messages like Dr. Lind’s to as many students as they can. From the club’s founding, it has brought in Providence parents with medical experience in order to make a future as a doctor seem like a tangible reality to current students.  Now in 2021, they aim to welcome a presenter every other Friday.

Dr. April Lind receives congratulations from daughters Elizabeth Lind ‘23 and Emily Lind ‘23 after speaking to the Medical Club about her career as an internal medicine-pediatrics doctor.

And they don’t stop at speakers. Medical Club members have many other events to look forward to, such as CPR certification, a tour of the Mayo Clinic, and anything else students want to experience in the medical career field.  

“I hope students get an idea of what they want to do in the medical field or find more information about a career that they’re interested in. At the least, I hope that students get to learn more about an interesting career option!” enthused Liz Mogere ‘22, President of the Medical Club. “My job as president is to try and make sure that students can get what it is that they want out of Medical Club,” she added.

Providence Academy is home for many future medical professionals thanks to the Medical Club and inspiring speakers like Dr. Lind. 

Ready, Set, Robotics!

What has a claw, a motor, and moves on wheels? A monster truck? A portable claw machine? The answer: the robot built by the Middle School Robotics Team. On Saturday, November 20, 2021, Providence’s Robotics Team kicked off the season at Prior Lake High School with their first competition of the year.

Each year, teams across Minnesota are given a new challenge. This year’s challenge is called “Freight Frenzy.” Put simply, student-built robots score points by driving into different corners of an arena, picking up “freight”  — which are items such as rubber ducks, two inch square boxes, and wiffle balls, called “cargo” — and placing these items into specific places. 

While the first competition of a season is often daunting, this one in particular was much more intimidating. For this group, it was not only the first competition of the season, but their first ever, as each middle schooler is new to robotics.

Inexperience was not the only challenge Providence faced. On Friday, November 19, an unplanned lock-down canceled all events at Providence that evening, including the team’s final practice. The four hour session, in which they were supposed to finish wiring and practice test driving, was cut to twenty minutes.

The mark of any good robotics team is problem-solving, and PA is no different. Physics teacher and Robotics Coach Michael Plucinski brought the unfinished project home to complete the last bit of wiring, and the new middle schoolers learned on the job, driving the robot for the very first time at the competition.

Let the games begin! The Providence Robotics Team (right side), set their robot against the robots of schools across Minnesota during their first competition on Saturday, November 20th.

“They really powered through,” Plucinski beamed. “It was really cool to see them embrace the competition.”

Embrace it they did. During their six rounds, the team faced several unexpected problems. Their servo, or motor, broke, the drive train, which makes the wheels spin, ran out of battery, and the controllers disconnected from the robot. But PA still persisted. Between rounds, they made adjustments, driving their creation on the practice field. At the end of the day, they ended up with a functioning robot.

“My favorite part of the competition was when we won our first round,” Mason Gregory ‘27 said proudly, remembering how his hard work paid off.

This hard work and ingenuity caused Providence to secure nineteenth place out of twenty-five, an impressive feat for a group with little experience and time.

“I felt like it was a good competition, even though we didn’t place super high. This was our first year, and it was more about seeing the competition and getting that experience.” Plucinski reflected.

Mr. Plucinski and Maggie Ludlow ’23 mentor seventh graders Logan George ’27, Evan Flynn ’27, and Mason Gregory ’27. The team practiced driving their robot between rounds, aiming to improve as much as possible.

Maggie Ludlow ‘23, a Robotics veteran who helps the middle school team, added, “They did really well. They were focused and eager to fix the robot.”

Now that the team has experience and time to practice, they are confident that they can improve for their next competition on December 11th. Their plans? To practice driving, and to add an autonomous program, which will allow the machine to complete its tasks following a computer program rather than a control pad. 

But the biggest goal is learning.

“My favorite part of robotics is seeing middle schoolers come in with a very blank slate, and watching them grow throughout the season.” Plucinski reflected. 

This team is full of potential and excitement as they look to the future of PA robotics.

Dance Team Debut

A giant balloon shaped like a lion’s head. Volunteers sporting yellow PA Spirit T-shirts. The marching band playing famous tunes. This year’s annual Plymouth Parade was alive with friendly faces and Providence Pride. But most noticeable were the girls marching ahead of the band with pom poms, dance routines, and T-shirts that read: “Providence Academy Dance Team.”  

While there were no judges, stage makeup, or even a scorecard in sight, Saturday, September 18th was a big day for this dance team. In fact, it was the very first day. For the first time in its twenty year history, Providence Academy now has a dance team competing in MSHSL events

The creation of this team has been a long time coming. In the past, students interested in dance haven’t had an opportunity to perform competitively for PA. Instead, their dancing outlet consisted of the Spirit Squad—a small group of girls who lead cheers at football games—and gathering support for an official dance team.

This didn’t seem possible until Second Grade Teacher Tasha McMorrow joined the faculty. When she joined the PA community two years ago, McMorrow had nine years of teaching dance under her belt, having taught at Duluth Marshall, St. Cloud Cathedral, and Anoka.

McMorrow’s skills came to light when she choreographed the Safety Dance music video, the iconic clip posed at the end of last school year to celebrate the safe navigation of the tumultuous school year during COVID times (linked below). After this put her name on the map, McMorrow finally got approval to start the team, which now boasts nine members.

Dance Team members Lillian Haapoja’24, Kathy Mogere ‘26, and Pamela Garcia ‘25 prepare themselves for the Plymouth Parade.  The Plymouth Parade is the first time Providence Academy’s dance team is competing as an MHSHL activity.

 The PA community is thrilled about this new addition. 

“I’m excited to compete; dance is my favorite thing in the world,” enthused Danielle Kukuljan ‘24, captain of the new team.

McMorrow echoed her excitement, “Parents scream and cheer the whole time during a competition, which is something you can’t get at a formal ceremony on a stage.”

An energetic crowd is not the only thing the dance team has in common with other MHSHL sports. Dance is a winter sport, starting in October and ending in February. It will function similarly to other sports as well, with after-school practices, weekend competitions, and even silly team bonding activities.

Being their first performance for PA, the Plymouth Parade showcased for the first time the girls’ passion and dedication. 

“My biggest takeaway from the parade is that people see we’re a team now; it brought more awareness,” reflected team member Annika Bruce ‘24.

Now that the team has been established, the next goal is to build it up. It is starting small, with only a jazz team, but hopes to add a tap group in the years to come.

Annika Bruce ‘24 and Lillian Haapoja ‘24 advertise the dance team at the Club Fair on Wednesday, September 15th.  So far, nine girls have joined the team, though registration does not close until October 25th.

But that is not the team’s only wish for this year. 

McMorrow reported, “I hope to establish a strong program where the girls grow and learn what Minnesota dance team is all about, and to get the whole school ready to cheer on the Lions Dance team!”

For more information about the dance team, contact Mrs. McMorrow at [email protected]

Link to the Safety Dance Video: https://player.vimeo.com/video/611800034?h=cc9d9860a1