Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Minnehaha Academy’s cultural field experience gives students chance to give, get at the same time

Minnehaha Academy’s cultural field experience program provides students in grades 9-11 with opportunities to learn in real world environments through cultural immersion settings. More than 400 students have meaningful experiences each year through this program, and collaborations with 40 partner sites are deepened.

This focused week of learning and serving has provided the school an opportunity to build bridges within our school, neighborhood, and global communities, between people from diverse socioeconomic, generational, religious, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds, according to Audrey Bergengren, marketing directory for Minnehaha Academy.

The school is in the sixth year of field immersion, explained Amy Swanson, director of cultural immersion. “The program was developed through a long-range planning committee process; they had developed real-life learning goals” and the field experience reinforced those goals.

“The more prepared students are to be learning in the community, the better observers they will be.”

Swanson was in the right place to implement these programmatic goals. “I had taught in East Africa for several years,” she told Metro Lutheran. “There we had a program that used student immersion in a way I felt was meaningful for students to learn more about themselves as well as other people with different life experiences.” So, Swanson was recruited to help the committee design strategies to accomplish objectives.

Coincidentally, Swanson was working on a Master’s degree at Bethel University. A requirement of her university program was to research an educational program and design an approach to teaching based on that research. The cultural field experience effort at Minnehaha was a perfect project.

“Perhaps most importantly, I learned tools for evaluation” of the program, she reflected.

A lasting experience

Swanson explained that the goals of the program haven’t changed over its six years. “But, we have become more intentional about the way we conduct orientation for our students,” she said. “The more prepared students are to be learning in the community, the better observers they will be because they can embrace their anxieties.”

Because sites range from neighborhood to international, pre-field discussions are stressed. And, the field experience is integrated into the entire curriculum of the school.

“Every year we have had a guest speaker for everyone who discusses cultural competency,” Swanson said. There is also a requirement to journal about experiences.

But now students and their faculty advisors are more intentional about discussions concerning how to approach their new settings.

This preparation is paying off. Students increasingly build relationships with the partner organization, sometimes continuing their volunteer involvement even after the requirement is completed.

For instance, some students have continued a relationship with a senior by agreeing to walk her or his dog (if the field experience is local).

One group of students field assignment was at a boarding school for children orphaned by AIDS in Tanzania. Currently those students are fundraising for a watershed project for that school. The $10,000 they are raising will provide ponds for fish that can be a protein source and irrigation on the campus so that they can grow more crops.

“I have realized that God put all different types of people in the world as a way of allowing us to share his love,” said an 11th grade student who spent time at Jabbok Family Services/INSTEP, Minneapolis.

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