Assistant Head of School for Student Development and Community Engagement
- Center for Learning and Teaching
- Counseling Services
- Health and Wellness
- Intercultural Life and Diversity
The Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT) serves all students and teachers in all divisions, and is the school's center of expertise for academic support, learning differences, and faculty professional development around learning and brain development.
Within a context calling for academic excellence, SPA holds to graduation standards consistent with its history and mission. At the same time, the school seeks ways to help students meet those standards as they prepare for colleges appropriate to their ability, motivation, and academic performance. SPA provides support services for students with documented learning disabilities based on a student’s individual circumstances and in accordance with the school’s legal obligations, and the school adjusts methods of instruction whenever appropriate to support students in achieving the goals and expectations of our academic program. For students with learning disabilities, as with all students at SPA, the school seeks to foster and support individual success. At the same time, the school recognizes that success is an individual matter and therefore sometimes beyond its control and influence. In all three divisions, the school employs a learning specialist who oversees and guides the academic supports for students with documented learning differences. In developmentally sequenced ways, each division prepares students for increasing independence in understanding and managing the necessary tools for personal academic growth and success. By the Upper School, successful students demonstrate a deep understanding of their strengths, challenges, and necessary support systems, and a commitment to employing these systems as warranted.
Academic support is offered through the Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT). Karen Rassmussen, the Director of the CLT, oversees the arc of student support, programing, academic tutoring, and policy development across the three divisions. Karen and her team work to provide support and professional development for faculty around best practices in teaching, and how to apply current research to better improve practices in the classroom. Karen joined SPA as the Director of the Center for Learning and Teaching in 2018, and prior to SPA she worked as the Learning Specialist at St. Thomas Academy for 13 years. Karen holds a bachelor’s from the University of Minnesota, and a master’s from the University of St. Thomas. She also holds certifications in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Orton-Gillingham teaching. For more information about academic tutoring, learning differences, or the work of the Center for Learning and Teaching, contact Karen Rassmussen.
The Center for Learning and Teaching staff also includes:
Laura Duke, Lower School Literacy Support Specialist, holds a bachelor's from Pacific Lutheran University, a master's from St. Catherine University, and certifications in Reading Recovery and the Wilson Reading System. In her role as Literacy Support Specialist, her experience as both a classroom teacher and as an interventionist informs her connections with students and colleagues in the Lower School in meeting the literacy needs of our diverse student body.
Tristan Gavin, Lower School Learning Specialist, comes to SPA from the Bertschi School in Seattle where he worked as a learning specialist. He loves learning students' strengths, challenges, and motivations for succeeding in school, and working with teachers to give students the support that they need to succeed. At SPA, Tristan is responsible for tracking student growth, making plans for their support, and providing resources to teachers and families. Tristan holds a bachelor's from Whitman College and a master's from Relay Graduate School of Education.
Jay Rainville, Middle School Learning Specialist, supports students in their academic endeavors and helps them navigate the intellectual changes that are characteristic of the Middle School years. Jay provides direct academic support to Middle School students both individually and in small groups, and teaches the Grade 6 Compass class, which is required of all students and focuses on developing strong academic habits. Jay holds a bachelor's and master's in Instruction from Saint Mary's University, he is also a licensed reading specialist.
Amy Stoks, Upper School Learning Specialist, coordinates direct service to students with documented learning differences and provides counsel and support to students, parents, and teachers around the evaluation process as well as classroom support. Amy works directly with students, helping them understand how they best learn, how their brain is wired, and suggests various strategies and routines that may improve success in and out of the classroom. Amy earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder and graduated with honors from the University of San Diego. Amy is a National Certified Counselor, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with the Board of Behavioral Health in Minnesota, and has completed additional training in Maternal Mental Health, Special Education, and Integrative Clinical Mental Health.
Emily King serves as the Administrative Assistant for the Center of Learning and Teaching. Emily came to SPA from Hastings High School where she taught various subjects in Grades 10-12, and worked on academic data tracking and interventions as a lead behavioral and academic intervention specialist for Grades 5-6 students. In the Center for Learning and Teaching, she works with middle school students during quiet study hours, and upper school students in areas of organization and time management. She also assists with communication between teachers and families and SAT/ACT testing accommodations.
The four-person counseling staff supports individuals and small groups of students when social, emotional, or behavioral challenges may arise. Counselors can offer assistance in problem-solving and conflict resolution, guidance on developing and maintaining healthy relationships, and self-esteem. Counselors collaborate with students, teachers, and families to create supportive learning and social environments for students.
Our counseling staff does not replace the role of individual therapists, although counselors do offer brief, time-limited therapies in school adjustment, self-regulation, stress-management, social skills development, and self-care. Counselors can support the ongoing work of individual therapists by providing context and support at school that enhances the ongoing work of the primary individual therapist with a student outside of school.
The counseling staff includes:
Ally Youderian, Lower School Counselor: Ally Youderian is a resource for the entire Lower School community, and works with students to help them reach their academic and social-emotional potential. Before joining SPA in the fall of 2020, Ally served as the school counselor at Hillside Elementary School in New Richmond, Wisconsin, where she worked for 7 years. She holds her master's from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her bachelor's from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Sara Mairs, Middle School Counselor: Sara Mairs helps support the individual well-being of every student and the overall health of the Middle School community. Sara holds a bachelor's from Amherst College and a master's from the University of St. Thomas. She is a member of the American Psychological Association and the American Counseling Association and is a Minnesota State licensed psychologist. Sara is available to all Middle School students, individually or in groups, for discussion of their emotional well-being, social adjustment, academic motivation, conflict resolution, or any issue important to the student. Sara co-teaches the Grade 6 and 7 Compass classes, and coordinates the Grade 8 wellness seminars. Sara is also available to meet with Middle School parents about any questions or concerns they have for their child, and can help identify out-of-school resources as well.
Emily Barbee, Upper School Counselor (Grades 9-10): Emily Barbee serves as the Upper School counselor for Grades 9 and 10, and is available to all students and parents as a resource, guide, and sounding board. Emily works closely with the Upper School Principal and Dean of Students on a broad range of issues related to student mental health and community well-being. Emily joined SPA in 2018, having previously served for five years as a Middle School Counselor at the Harker School in San Jose, California. Prior to her time at Harker, Emily served as a treatment coordinator/adolescent therapist, a mental health clinician, and a school-based therapist. Emily earned her bachelor's from Carleton College, and her master's studies were completed at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Additionally, Emily has completed her licensure in MFT and PPSC.
Susanna Short, Upper School Counselor (Grades 11-12): Susanna Short serves as the Upper School counselor for Grades 11 and 12, and is available to all students and parents as a resource, guide, and sounding board. Like Emily, Susanna works closely with the Upper School Principal and Dean of Students on a broad range of issues related to student mental health and community well-being. Susanna Short has worked in counseling and advocacy for two decades. Prior to joining SPA in 2010, she served as the school social worker for Tartan High School and Skyview Middle School in Minnesota district 622, where she provided support, crisis intervention, and consultation to students and their families. She has also held positions at Valley Crossing Community School, Centennial High School, and the University of Minnesota. She holds her bachelor's from Albion College and earned her master's from the University of Michigan.
SPA students benefit from an intentional culture and integrated curriculum promoting healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy relationships. At all grade levels, beginning in kindergarten, health and wellness lessons are embedded in the homeroom, through advisory, in science, in physical education, and through wellness and Compass classes. We believe in educating the whole child, which encompasses an emphasis on developing healthy habits of mind, developing a foundation of critical thinking skills with regard to health, decision making, respectful interactions, and alignment of one’s values with choices.
In the Lower School, this includes a sequenced curriculum on sexuality development; lessons on topics such as human anatomy, families, puberty, gender, human reproduction, friendships, stress, and consent are presented across the curriculum, in age-appropriate ways. Students engage in conversations that support positive identity development and a healthy regard for themselves and others, utilizing the Lower School Toolbox and carefully designed lessons that mirror developmental needs and milestones across the grade levels. In this manner, students learn that the range of trusted adults in their community value the experiences and differences that each student brings with them to school; their teachers model and teach the tools to help students explore, and be confident in, their developing selves, physically and mentally.
Middle School Compass courses engage students in an interdisciplinary approach to health and wellness. The Grade 6 and 7 Compass courses are team-taught by the Learning Specialist, the MS Counselor, and the Director of Intercultural Life. Students explore social skills, academic strategies, human relationships, healthy communication, identity development, and personal values. In Grade 8, Wellness seminars explore health-related topics such as substance use and abuse, stress management, nutrition, and sexuality. Through the advisory program in the Middle School, students develop a shared understanding of community values. Through advisory activities and lessons, students engage in cultural conversations, building an appreciation for diversity and a foundation to take action for equity, supporting each student in developing a positive regard for their multiple identities and a community that values diversity of experiences and opinions. Physical Health and Wellness 8, addresses the construction and implementation of goal setting as it relates to overall well-being. Content may include teamwork, mindfulness, healthy decision-making, and learning lifelong fitness activities.
In the Upper School, Physical Health and Wellness is a required Grade 9 class in which students explore various topics that promote self-reflection, facilitate self-regulation, and encourage participation in lifetime activities. Physical Health and Wellness emphasizes social and emotional learning through character education and mindfulness practices. In conjunction, lifetime activities may include a variety of individual and team sports highlighting community and lifelong practices. Content may include nutrition, mindfulness, healthy decision-making, and CPR certification.
Grade 10 Wellness classes introduce the concepts and skills that assist teenagers in being mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically healthy. Students explore their understanding of identity, community, and personal responsibility. The foundational belief of the course is that success and wellness are best achieved when student's values, identity, and behavior align. This is a process-oriented class exploring concepts through experiential activities, personal reflection, and group discussion. Content and skill areas include: handling stress, communication skills/conflict resolution, mental health issues, chemical health, understanding and establishing boundaries, eating disorders and body image, relationships (familial, romantic, friendship), sexuality, spirituality, and personal integrity.
At SPA, we seek to achieve ongoing excellence in academics by also tending to the environments and mindsets that allow students to engage with and work through differences in healthy and productive ways. Our work around diversity and intercultural life is designed to support students in the development of skills that promote collaboration across, and understanding of, diverse perspectives, opinions, values, experiences, and identities. The Director of Intercultural life, Dr. Naomi Taylor, plays a key role in helping to shape a community where inclusivity, pluralism, and a high regard for the value of diversity and equity are paramount to our school program and learning community. Dr. Taylor works across all constituencies and may provide consultative services to the student support team, classroom teachers, and parents and guardians. In all divisions, Dr. Taylor serves as a resource for teachers and families on matters of positive racial identity development, gender and sexuality inclusivity, cultural and religious diversity, and socioeconomic diversity.
Team sports at SPA are introduced as class activities in the physical education program starting in Grade 3, and interscholastic competition begins in Grade 5. The Middle School athletics program is very strong, with more than 92% of students in Grades 6-8 participating in at least one SPA team sport. In the Upper School, almost 80% of students participate in at least one SPA sport. Our varsity teams are consistently ranked in the top 10 in the state and our athletes are regularly recognized through selection to regional and national team events. Annually, the school fields 90 teams in 17 sports, with teams participating in over 1000 contests in 42 weeks.