New Prague Area Schools, ISD 721, is a nationally-recognized school district that covers New Prague, and portions of Elko New Market, Lonsdale, and ten townships in Scott, Le Sueur, and Rice Counties (district population of 19,800). They serve more than 4,000 students.
ISD 721 is comprised of three elementary schools (K-5), one middle school (6-8), one high school (9-12), and an alternative learning center (9-12). 18,000 students attend elementary school; 950 in middle school; and 1,250 high schoolers.
Early Childhood Services provide learning opportunities for children through age five, and there are preschool and school-age care program through fifth grade. Community Education offers programs and services for learners of all ages.
In what areas do NPAS students excel?
New Prague Area Schools are committed to providing high quality and well-rounded education. Students excel academically and through extra-curricular activities. Many students in the middle and high school elect to participate in after-school extra-curricular activities, including robotics, fine arts, and athletic opportunities (18 sports).
We offer activities throughout the school year to meet the varied interests of students. Academically, our students have a strong foundation that begins with preschool and carries through to high school graduation. The high school continues to add advanced course options along with additional elective courses to meet students’ varied passions.
What major educational changes have you made in the last ten years? How do you garner support when making significant changes?
The New Prague Area School District is committed to creating the best learning and teaching environment for students, families, community members, and staff. In 2014, NPAS implemented a digital learning environment called Powerful Learning. The initiative shifted the technology model of limited computer labs and carts to a 1:1 program where each student receives a Chromebook to support 21st-century learning. Having any time, anywhere access to online resources positively impacts student learning and engagement.
NPAS teachers use technology effectively to support and engage students in meaningful learning activities. Students are not only connected to technology, but also with staff who care and encourage them to succeed.
- NPAS has 10Gb internet connection.
- Filters on all NPAS devices block inappropriate content on or off campus.
- Students communicate, collaborate, and create with NPAS Google accounts.
- Every secondary course has a Moodle page for online resources and activities.
- Several hybrid courses use a blend of online and face-to-face instruction.
- Students and parents use the campus portal to access grades and services.
The BrightBytes CASE™ Framework is a national, research-based assessment tool used to measure the impact of technology on learning outcomes. NPAS uses the data to monitor and guide our technology infrastructure, professional development, and instructional strategies.
What student issues have you most had to contend with in the NP school district? What is the school district doing to address these issues?
Children, adolescents, and teens experiences are different than previous generations. More students are reporting concerns with mental health – such as depression and anxiety. Along with the increase in students with mental health diagnosis, we’ve seen a rise in stress levels and a decrease in positive coping skills. At the secondary levels, an increase in E-cigarettes or vapes can be identified. School support staff have identified an increase in working with families who report income issues and stable housing to be a source of stress.
Social media is another distractor for students in and outside the classroom. Most children and adolescents are frequently accessing screens and, naturally, a large part of students’ social and emotional development is occurring on electronic devices, social media, video games, and the internet. An added variable to social media, smartphones and other technology add a venue for students to continue to discriminate and engage in forms of bullying behaviors.
New Prague Area Schools is working hard to combat the issues that students are regularly facing. Along with counselors at the high school and middle school, there is a social worker in each of the buildings and programs, along with school psychologists. We also collaborate with the Scott County Mental Health Center to offer school-based mental health services for students and families as necessary. We have worked with Scott County Mental Health to extend these services into every building within the district. A Chemical Health Specialist was hired three years ago to support all students district-wide. An added support at Falcon Ridge Elementary this year is a trained therapy dog under the facilitation of the school social worker. All of these professionals are working with students to address mental and/or chemical health needs that may be a barrier to being successful at school.
Other resources utilized by New Prague Area Schools include guest speakers on suicide prevention, as well as mental health presentations by staff in wellness classes at the high school. The district conducts mental health surveys and participates in the Food for Families Program that provides weekend meals to students and families. A transition closet is available to help provide necessities to families in need. There are also ongoing professional development opportunities within the district for staff to increase their awareness of these issues and needs.
Along with ongoing school support, there have been various community events aimed at providing information to students and parents about some of the issues that students are facing, including mental health, social media, healthy relationships, and chemical use.
What exciting educational advances will we see in the future?
New Prague High School’s professional studies program, MARS, is an exciting example of innovation in modern-day education. MARS offers a distinctive way for high school students to apply their course work in real-world settings through hands-on learning, problem-solving through project-based assignments, and working one-on-one with mentors in the community, all while fulfilling essential academic credit requirements.
In 2019-2020, New Prague High School will offer courses in three pathways: Business, Healthcare, and Education. They are instructed by licensed teachers and guest instructors from the surrounding community. New career fields are added on an ongoing basis to fit the needs of our students.
An essential component of a strong education system is providing students an opportunity to learn and grow outside the physical building. We believe these experiences give students real-life, hands-on, and applicable experiences that they might not see in the typical classroom.
There are six options for students to explore careers through these experiences and we are grateful for our community support of these programs. This past year we partnered with Scott Equipment, Chart Industries, Busch Brothers, New Prague Animal Care, Mayo Clinic Healthcare System, Goldsmith Eye Clinic, and Mala Strana Health Care Center. 42 students participated in the program.
New this year was a program called Career Exploration, in which students were able to select two different grade levels or subjects and work with a mentor teacher who allowed them to practice teaching with large or small groups of students. We had nine students participate in the program; they were placed with preschool, elementary, special education, German, Spanish, and social studies teachers within our District. We hope to expand the program and develop our future teachers to foster a love of education and consider teaching as a future profession.
The NP School District is an active participant in the Elko New Market Chamber of Commerce. What do you find is the biggest benefit of membership?
The New Prague Area Schools’ relationship with the Elko New Market Chamber of Commerce is ideal for us to network with area businesses and professionals to better serve our school district and its students. Over the years we have had exceptional relationships with business owners and have enjoyed all of the Chamber meetings and presentations offered to us. We continue to look forward to the area events and work to better our relationship with all of those involved in the Elko New Market Chamber of Commerce.
Information by Julie Schmitz, District Communications & Marketing Specialist