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MPA seeders Mounds Park Academy

Making learning joyful.

It was that belief that spawned Mounds Park Academy, a local area prep school, just over three decades ago. It’s also that belief that inspires Courtney Nagle and Patti Meras to find innovative learning opportunities for their 5th grade students. Year after year, the two teachers help to organize Group Impact Volunteering Events (GIVEs), a volunteer program offered by Saint Paul Parks and Recreation perfect for groups, especially students.

“After we were done,” says Laura, a now 7th grader who participated in GIVEs at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary and Indian Mounds Regional Park. “I felt really happy because we had helped someone and made a difference.”

That difference? More than 600 hours over the years planting trees, harvesting seeds, and removing garlic mustard, a troublesome invasive species, and more than 100 mugs, decorated by students and staff, donated to the community.

The effort — part of a day of volunteering that reflects the academy’s goal of creating a holistic, experiential, and social learning environment. After the GIVEs, students round out their day by helping to pack meals for Feed My Starving Children in Eagan.

As for homework? Essays on environmentalism and volunteerism are, of course, required. Luckily for Nagle and Meras, students welcome the challenge.
MPA Group

Don Poplau

Interpret this.

A tour guide for one of the most beautiful natural areas in Saint Paul. An educator of 40 years — formerly a high school principal at Mankato East High School and currently a professor at Walden University. A father of three children — two living in Minnesota, one residing in Arizona.

Your interpretation? If it doesn’t begin with Don and end in Poplau, it’s not even close.

Since the summer of 2013, Don Poplau has volunteered as a Hike It! Interpreter at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, providing guests with insights into the wildlife and the history associated with the former industrial sight. This, an easy interpretation as he possesses several graduate degrees from the University of St. Thomas and professes a love for the outdoors.

His love for experiential education, on the other hand? As clear as translating English to English. Poplau also volunteers as an interpreter for both the Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden and the Science Museum of Minnesota.
Don Poplau 1
Don Poplau 2

Questions? Contact Ryanna Jackson, Volunteer Coordinator, at or 651-632-2411.

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