Gov. Dayton gets down with the kids on tour of Ascension School

| April 22, 2016 | 0 Comments
Gov. Mark Dayton talks with first-graders at Ascension School in north Minneapolis during a visit April 22. In the background observing the conversation are Archbishop Bernard Hebda, left, and Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who extended the invitation to Gov. Dayton to visit the school. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Gov. Mark Dayton talks with first-graders at Ascension School in north Minneapolis April 22. In the background are Archbishop Bernard Hebda, left, and Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who extended the invitation to Dayton to visit the school. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton toured Ascension Catholic School in north Minneapolis April 22, quizzing sixth-graders as they worked on an art project, listening to the school choir and sitting down on the floor with first-graders for a Q&A session.

School officials presented the governor with facts that illustrate Ascension’s success in educating children from poor and minority families, but the first-graders wanted to know if the governor had ever been to the White House or ever met President and Mrs. Obama and their daughters.

He said he had met all the Obamas and that he had been in the White House.

“That’s still a special place for me,” Dayton told the children. “I still get goose bumps when I walk into the building.”

Archbishop-designate Bernard Hebda joined the governor for the tour, and he asked the first graders what they were learning at school.

“Be kind.” “About Jesus.” “About church,” the children said.

Treated to a bongo drum-infused welcome song by the school choir, Dayton also visited a seventh-grade class that was studying the causes of the Great Depression and a classroom of first-graders working loudly on the sounds of the letters of the alphabet.

Dayton said “the learning environment” was what most impressed him about Ascension.

“All the children were so engaged in the learning process and so enthusiastic about whatever their class was working on,” he said.

The governor and Archbishop Hebda also sat down for a roundtable discussion with a people connected to Ascension School, including students, former students, parents, a teacher and a volunteer from Holy Name of Jesus in Medina, which has partnered with Ascension for decades in the “Hands Across Town” program.

Victoria Christian, a Hennepin County employee who, with her truck-driver husband, Hassan, send three children to Ascension and will have a fourth in kindergarten in September, said they want their children “to have access to the best” when it comes to education.

The family’s oldest son originally went to a public school, which Christian described as “rough.”

“I didn’t want to have to prepare my second-grader to be like Rocky Balboa to go to school,” she told the governor.

Eighth-grader Perris Hillard said she also initially went to a public school but said she wasn’t challenged there academically as she is at Ascension.

Karen Rauenhorst, chair of board of the Aim Higher Foundation, which provides tuition assistance for Catholic education, said, “We need more Ascensions throughout our community.”

Rauenhorst, whose husband, Mark, is on the board of the Friends of Ascension foundation, urged that funding that supports schools like Ascension be understood as an investment.

Victoria Christian said she’s expecting the investment she and her husband are making in educating their children to pay off.

“I’m looking forward to not only my kids but their peers doing great things,” she said.

The tour of Ascension School also provided an opportunity for the governor and Archbishop Hebda to get to know one another. Along with visiting classes together, they were joined for a short, closed-door meeting by Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who has focused on Catholic education.

During brief comments earlier in the day, Bishop Cozzens pointed out the impact that Catholic schools have in Minnesota. He said that, taken as a whole, the 19,000 students educated in the state by Catholic schools would comprise the third-largest school district in the state. He noted that many of those schools are struggling financially.

As he made his way toward students’ loud, cheering farewell, Dayton told The Catholic Spirit, “As a former teacher myself, I can’t say enough about the dedication of the men and women to commit their lives to such an outstanding school.”

Archbishop Hebda called Ascension School one of the places that the light of Christ shines brightest “academically, as a community of faith, as a community of service — really as a family.”


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