Friendly Hills Features
Check back often for feature stories about the fantastic students, staff, programs, and activities that make Friendly Hills a great place to be!
One of the most unique qualities of middle school in District 197 is the inclusion of 5th grade into its model. Having students here for four years is a great benefit to their development, as it allows our staff to work with students, build relationships, and allow them to grow in their potential for a longer period of time. Assistant Principal Mike Wilfahrt finds that the major advantages to having 5th grade in middle school is that the students begin to learn more responsibility with age-appropriate tasks and are offered more opportunities for leadership and independence. Our diverse offering of clubs, teams, and activities is a way for students of all grades to deepen their connection to the Friendly Hills school community. These extra-curricular opportunities are another way for our youngest students to be mentored by older peers and our staff.
Each year 5th graders start school one day before the rest of the student population in a tradition known as WEB (Where Everybody Belongs) Orientation. On this day, Friendly Hills staff and WEB Leaders guide team-building activities and help students practice moving between their new classrooms to ease the transition and nervous energy that comes with starting at a new school. One of our favorite traditions of this day is the Gauntlet, a high-energy welcome assembly for the 5th grade students. As they come down to the gym from their homerooms, they are greeted with cheers, high-fives, and a big celebration in their honor. Having the whole staff hype them up in this way shows that we at Friendly Hills are here to support them and are excited to have them as part of our school community.
6th graders visiting Base Camp is just as synonymous with fall as the changing colors of the leaves. For more than ten years, our students have attended the campus at historic Fort Snelling to participate in archery, rock climbing, and group problem-solving activities. Dubbed “the best field trip” by many on the 6th grade team, these one-day sessions build self-esteem, strengthen resilience, and focus on team-building between students and their peers.
Base Camp has become a staple of the 6th grade co-curricular experience and it is important for this experience to happen early enough in the year that new relationships can be built, and established friendships can deepen. Every year, the 6th grade team takes the class over two days: Red House on October 31st and Green House on November 1st. Splitting the large class into smaller groups allows students to get the most out of their experience at Base Camp.
While it is no small feat to climb a challenging course on the wall, often our staff find the most awe-inspiring moments are found between students who come from different friend-groups. Working together with an unexpected classmate shows students rising to the occasion and putting their best selves into the effort of problem-solving.
This season, Friendly Hills has partnered with Dakota County Libraries to offer fifth- and sixth-grade students a fun and creative way to mix up their days with the Lunch and Learn program. Once a week for three weeks, a representative from the library brings all the supplies and materials needed for students to create projects such as kaleidoscopes, mini tapestries, and artist trading cards. Friendly Hills has participated in this program since 2022 and coordinator Krisi Jacobs says, “This is a great, high-demand program offering additional hands-on learning opportunities in areas of interest to the students.”
Lunch and Learn is a no-cost program that is promoted in Language Arts classes. In past sessions, Dodge Nature Center has been a partner program and students have gotten to visit with reptiles, raptors, and even dissected owl pellets to learn more about the bird of prey. We are looking forward to offering another session in the spring.
6th grader Nolan was in his first Lunch and Learn session recently and “would recommend it to everyone, we make cool stuff, and I wasn’t expecting to make our own kaleidoscopes with mirrors and everything.” Gabe has been participating for the past 2 years and thinks it is “pretty fun, I like making stuff, and the new classes have more engineering and art in them.”
After gaining popularity from its role in the hit show "Stranger Things", Dungeons and Dragons has had a major revival in pop culture over the past few years. In only its second year at Friendly Hills, the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) Club has had such high interest that there’s a 35-participant waitlist to join! The club is a fun, high-energy mix of students from all grades and varying levels of experience. There are 4 small groups each running their own campaign, or gameplay, with invented characters and a game facilitator known as the Dungeon Master (DM). The first club session was focused on character creation and ongoing sessions are all about the campaign.
One of the club’s co-founders, 8th grader Louisa, says that the best thing about D&D Club is “being with friends, running a club,” and, jokingly, “causing chaos.” She has been playing on-and-off since 3rd grade and likes that the club is big enough to offer smaller groups because that offers better, faster play through the campaign. Another co-founder, 8th grader Julia, is one of the club’s DMs and is currently working with 5th grader Jackson as her apprentice. The DMs are responsible for narrating the campaign and ensuring all players keep a smooth pace of play. While these participants don’t have as character-driven of a role as the others, their presence is paramount to the campaign - no DM, no play!