MME student competes on Chinese game show

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7th Grade Immersion student Olivia Meredith demonstrated her Chinese fluency on a popular Chinese game show over the summer

Originally published by Minnetonka Public Schools on Aug. 19, 2014

With back to school just around the corner, Minnetonka Middle School East 7th Grader Olivia Meredith is going to have a very unique story to share with her classmates about what she did over her summer vacation.

Back in July, Olivia, a Chinese Immersion student at MME, was invited by the University of Minnesota’s Confucius Institute to audition for a Chinese game show called “My Chinese Spelling Hero.” After an submitting her application and a two-minute video introducing herself (all done in Chinese), she was selected as a contestant and flown to Beijing with her parents.

​On the popular game show, students from across China compete in a spelling-bee like competition, where students aim to correctly spell a word using Chinese characters. This summer, the show also featured a group of foreigners to demonstrate how Mandarin is being taught around the world.

“It was really fun,” Olivia said.

Contestants used iPads to write down characters that appeared on screen. They earned credits with each correct answer, with the ultimate goal of reaching a four-person judges panel consisting of Chinese celebrities. Using what she’s learned since Kindergarten in Minnetonka’s Chinese Immersion program, Olivia was able to make it all the way to the panel.

“Minnetonka has excellent Chinese teachers, and we are very fortunate for that,” Olivia’s mom, Beth, said.

The trip was an all-inclusive Chinese experience for Olivia, as she had to communicate in the language the whole time she was there. On the show, she stood out amongst a group of students from around the world — including Indonesia, Canada and Russia — who were four to six years her senior.

“They were all really nice,” Olivia said. “We all had the Chinese language in common, so it didn’t feel like much of a difference.”

Olivia’s father, John, believes that, despite her young age, she had an advantage because of the environment in which she learned the language. While the other contestants were taught in a traditional high school setting, Olivia has been immersed in the language since she began formal schooling at Minnetonka at age five.

“The fact that they’ve learned it at such an early age, teachers say she doesn’t have an accent, so she’s really pure in her speaking,” John Meredith said. “That’s the immersion experience. Because it’s all day long, it’s so much more involved with the writing, the speaking and the listening.”

She did so well, in fact, that the show is considering bringing her back.

Olivia has no plans to stop her Chinese education, saying that she sees it as a powerful building block for her future.

“I want to get a job where I can use my Chinese down the road,” she said.

Remembering Track Star Marty Benson ’63

Originally published in the Minnetonka Alumni Magazine on July 15, 2014

bensonBack in 1963, Minnetonka didn’t even have a track that was usable for competition—it was nothing more than an uneven and rugged dirt path around the football field. However that didn’t stop senior Marty Benson ’63 from winning the Skippers’ first-ever individual track title and shattering state records in the process.

Benson got a late start in track, only taking up the sport in his junior year after finding himself too lean and lanky for football. He went out for cross-country that fall, and had modest success, but found track to be more to his liking in the spring. While he wasn’t suited for the gridiron, Benson’s leg speed and endurance made him a perfect fit on the track, specifically the 880-yard (half mile) dash.

“I don’t think he realized the natural talent he had until he started on the track and cross country teams,” says Lynn Krafve, Benson’s coach.

After running a personal best 2:02.9 and just missing the state meet in his first year, Benson continued to improve. Still, it was only those that had a keen eye for talent and potential that would have considered him a favorite for the state title heading into his senior season.

That year, the consensus pick for the 880-yard title was St. Louis Park’s Bob Wagner. Wagner and Benson would duel throughout the season trying to best one another. After running a 2:00.6 in the Lake Conference Championships—just 0.4 seconds behind Wagner—Benson, Minnetonka’s co-captain, broke two minutes for the first time (1:56.8) at the District 18 meet, running 1.1 seconds faster than he ever had in the event. Unfortunately, Wagner ran 0.5 seconds faster than that.

Benson beat Wagner for the first time at the state qualifying Region 5 meet, equaling his 1:56.8 mark from the district meet and headed into the finals of the State Meet at Memorial Stadium as one of the favorites.

In the finals, Benson was forced to an outside lane after being boxed in early, but nevertheless moved up just off of the lead with 330 yards to go. He took the lead with 220 yards left and never looked back, pulling away from the field with a winning time of 1:55.7 to crush the previous state record of 1:57.9 by over two seconds.

“After he won the state title he sent me a telegram asking, ‘Where do I go from here?’ I said, ‘Marty, you can go anywhere you want!’,” says Krafve, who was taking a sabbatical at the time of Benson’s win.

Amazingly, that record still stands as the Minnesota high school boys 880-yard cinder track record and only two Tonka runners have ever run faster, though both of them did so on a faster, rubberized tartan surface.

Benson left behind an undeniable legacy with the Minnetonka track and field program. His success gave the Skippers the extra boost they needed to persuade the school board to put in a six-lane cinder track for the 1964 season. So, you could call the eight-lane rubberized track that MHS has today, “The Track that Marty Benson Built.”

After graduating, Benson went to Mankato State College on a track scholarship, where he became one of the best middle distance runners in school history.

“I ran against Marty a couple times in college. It was a true honor to run in the same competition with him. I looked up to him and was inspired by how talented he was,” says former MHS track star Bruce Johnson ’66.

Benson graduated from college in 1967 before enlisting in the Marine Corps, where he became a Marine pilot and Second Lieutenant in 1968. He fought for his country in Vietnam and his leadership and success on the track carried over well to the military. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal for heroism on numerous occasions and was promoted to First Lieutenant. Tragically, on February 5, 1970, Benson was fatally wounded by ground fire while on a reconnaissance mission and attempting to land a helicopter.

Benson passed away three weeks later at just 24 years old.

“Marty did what he did, knowing the probable outcome, out a deep, lifelong patriotism. He knew what he was getting into and did it anyway,” says classmate Bill Van Dyke ’63

Benson’s memory has not faded in Minnetonka, however, and is remembered to this day through the Marty Benson Memorial Award, which is awarded annually to the outstanding track athlete at MHS who best exemplifies Benson’s competitive spirit and athletic achievement.

Dr. Peterson Garners Communications Award

Minnetonka Superintendent to be honored by state communications association with Leadership in District Communications Award

Originally published by Minnetonka Public Schools on April 10, 2014

peterson picA world-class school district needs world-class communications, and vice-versa, something that Minnetonka School District Superintendent Dr. Dennis Peterson understands.

Peterson has committed himself to high-quality communication with all community audiences in order to build support for Minnetonka’s mission, vision and goals.

That dedication has earned Dr. Peterson recognition from the Minnesota School Public Relations Association (MinnSPRA), which will honor him with its Leadership in District Communications Award during its spring conference on Friday, April 11.

“It’s a nice honor. I appreciate being nominated by our communications staff, Board members and others that were involved,” Dr. Peterson said of receiving the award. “It’s very humbling because I know there are many other superintendents are very good at communications and have good communications plans in their district.”

“Minnetonka is highly regarded in regards to communications.”

Since assuming the superintendency in 2001, Dr. Peterson has been a staunch supporter of a strong Minnetonka communications plan. But, he notes that a plan can only be as good as the programs and initiatives that it’s promoting. For that reason, he has strived to develop and implement a wide array of world-class programs throughout the District. During his time in Minnetonka, Dr. Peterson has increased student achievement by every academic measure, including the District’s average ACT score increasing from 23.1 to 26.3. He has also made Minnetonka a national leader in using classroom technology as an accelerator of learning, improved facilities, rebuilt community pride in schools and initiated open enrollment.

“There’s an old saying that you do a good job, do a good job, and then tell about it,” Dr. Peterson said. “We have to have good things happening that the Minnetonka community, staff and students can be proud of.”

“We have programs that garner a lot of interest and over 2,500 open-enrolled students,” he added. “That traffic alone tells us that people appreciate what we’re doing and how we do it. Communications allow us to spread the word about those programs, how they’re doing, how successful they are and get feedback.”

By opening that two-way communication with the community, Dr. Peterson has been able to build trust and a mutually beneficent relationship with Minnetonka constituents. In turn, the District has been able to move forward on accomplishing its goals for student learning with community support.

In today’s rapidly changing communications environment, he has also been a visionary leader in communications technologies in order to keep those two-way channels open and current. Under Dr. Peterson’s leadership, Minnetonka has prioritized its website as a primary source of information; launched social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo and others; and rolled out a fully-integrated Minnetonka App this year.

“Communications technology over even the last 10 years has changed dramatically, and over the last 25 years it’s like day and night,” Dr. Peterson said. “It’s critical for a district to stay current in how people are communicating with each other and to have our message out there. Without staying on the cutting edge, we wouldn’t be resonating with our patrons.”

“We want them to know how things are going, how new programs are doing and how students are doing, as well as challenges we’re facing, so that they may help us overcome them,” he added of the importance of connecting with the community.

“It’s critical to make sure employees and constituents of the District know what we’re accomplishing, what we’re trying to accomplish and where we’re not being as successful as we might like,” he said, “so that they feel like the District is being open and honest with them and progressing towards its goals.”

The 2014 MinnSPRA Spring Conference will take place on Friday, April 10, at the TIES Event Center in St. Paul.

Leadership in communications is not the first award Dr. Peterson has received.  He has been recognized with AASA’s President’s Award for Vision and Leadership in Technology (2005), eSchoolNews Tech Savvy Superintendent Award (2006), an Educational Research and Development Institute’s Excellence in Educational Leadership Award (2007), and Minnesota Superintendent of the Year in 2009.

Buffalo Sabres Sign Wisconsin’s Jake McCabe

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Badgers’ blueliner will make his NHL debut later this week and has the polish to make an immediate impact.

Originally published by SB Nation College Hockey on April 2, 2014

Wisconsin suffered its first early departure of the offseason Wednesday as junior defenseman Jake McCabe inked a three-year entry level deal with the Buffalo Sabres, forgoing his senior year with the Badgers.

Buffalo GM Tim Murray hinted that a deal was close during a radio interview prior to the Sabres game versus New Jersey last night, but, perhaps more interestingly, said that McCabe will likely report directly to Buffalo, rather than its AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans.

Given the Sabres’ current position in the standings, it’s not hard to see why they’d want to give the Eau Claire, Wis., native a look. Since he was drafted the in the second round in 2012, McCabe has been viewed as a vital piece to the Sabres rebuild. Those expectations only increased when he captained Team USA to a Gold Medal in the 2013 IIHF World Juniors Tournament. McCabe was named to the All-Tournament team after recording three goals, six points and a team-high plus-nine rating in seven games.

McCabe, a First-Team All-Big Ten selection this season, has made great strides in his development throughout his college career. His defensive game has always been his strongest attribute. McCabe is rock solid in his own zone and possesses a great hockey mind and anticipate plays and reads and reacts well to whatever is in front of him. He’s also a very fluid skater that moves well with the puck and played well in all situations for the Badgers.

One area improvement as McCabe moves to the NHL level is his decision-making with the puck. Wisconsin fans saw this in the team’s 5-2 loss to North Dakota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when a McCabe turnover led to big goal for UND’s Rocco Grimaldi. However, that aspect of his game should come with time as he continues to develop, especially now that he’ll be facing NHL competition right away.

This season with the Badgers McCabe’s two-way play came a long way. Badger fans knew he had offensive potential from the blue line and he really broke through this year. He doubled his previous career-high in goals with eight tallies to go along with 17 assists and a career-best 25 points, which was good for fifth-best on the team. Overall, he had 14 goals and 58 points in 100 career games.

McCabe was set to be a leader, maybe the captain, for Wisconsin next season –– which reportedly gave him hesitation about leaving early – but he has the polish and ability to make an impact in Buffalo sooner rather than later.

We had McCabe ranked as the 7th best NHL prospect in our Top 100 NHL Prospects in the NCAA this year. Here’s what we wrote about McCabe:

7. Jake McCabe, Defense, Wisconsin (Buffalo Sabres)

McCabe was one of the stars of the 2013 gold medal-winning US World Junior team, where his steady play and leadership helped lead the US through the medal round. McCabe doesn’t project as a huge offensive contributor at the NHL level, but he should be a steady, reliable player that can eat a lot of minutes with good, honest defensive play.

SB Nation’s Andy Johnson reports that McCabe received the maximum rookie contract of $925,000 per year, and that he will make his NHL debut with the Sabres on Thursday against St. Louis, which will allow McCabe to burn the first year of his entry-level contract this season.

Michael Mersch signs with Los Angeles Kings

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The Kings’ 2011 fourth round picks was an elite goal-scorer in his four years for the Wisconsin Badgers.

Originally published by SB Nation College Hockey on April 1, 2014

Former Wisconsin winger and 2011 fourth round draft pick Michael Mersch has signed with the Los Angeles Kings, according to LA Kings PR:

After electing to return for his senior season, Mersch, a First-Team All-Big Ten selection, produced a stellar campaign for the Badgers, netting a Big Ten-leading 22 goals to go along with 35 points in 37 games. He played a big tole in Wisconsin winning the inaugural Big Ten Tournament championship, scoring both goals in the Badgers’ 2-0 win over Penn State in the Big Ten semifinals.

The 6-1, 225 lbs., forward had his second-straight 20-goal season in 2013-14, becoming the first UW two-time 20-goal scorer since the 2005-06 season.

The Park Ridge, Ill., native leaves Madison as one of Wisconsin’s most prodigious goal scorers as his 67 career goals rank No. 23 all-time at UW. He was at his most lethal on the power play, where he scored 10 times this year, which paced the Big Ten and tied for fifth in the country.

Mersch was a durable player for Wisconsin, appearing in every game over his four-year career after making the jump from the U.S. National Development Program. His college career came to an end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when the No. 1-seeded Badgers were upended by North Dakota.

While he displayed elite goal-scoring ability at the NCAA level, Mersch needs to develop his skating, which was his primary weakness in college, to translate that to the pro game. His power play prowess and good size will afford him the opportunity to showcase himself at the pro level and he has the potential to develop into a solid power forward.

Mersch ranked No. 70 in our NCAA Top 100 NHL Prospects rankings.