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Growth Over Grades Podcast: Episode 14 - Adam Mokelke “Fostering a Culture of Growth”

Ep. 14 | Adam Mokelke “Fostering a Culture of Growth”
Melody McAllister
May 31, 2023

Ep. 14 | Adam Mokelke “Fostering a Culture of Growth”

Welcome to the Growth Over Grades Podcast where we talk about education ideas and topics that matter most to our SpacesEDU Educator Community

At the beginning of each episode, I like to feature an amazing member in our community. This week, I want to give a shoutout to educator, author, and Speaker Hedreich Nichols. Hedreich is one of a kind, supportive of her PLN, while also sharing so much about her lived and professional experiences as often being the only Black student, friend, or coworker. She hosts a weekly series called #SmallBites where she offers realistic steps to help educators and leaders  grow in inclusivity while also looking inwardly at our biases and how they affect our students in and out of the classroom. Thank you, Hedreich, for being part of our community. I will add #SmallBites links to the show notes. 

Meet Adam Mokelke

This Growth Over Grades Podcast Guest is my friend and award-winning Principal Adam Mokelke. I’ve been wanting to have Adam as a guest for this past year. But that was when he was just part of my PLN. Now I have seen him in the role of principal to my two middle school children at Anchorage STrEaM Academy and he is now my administrator.

Adam Mokelke is a life-long, born and raised Alaskan. He was raised in rural Alaska, often referred to as the “bush.” He and his siblings were homeschooled by his mother. He has been in education for 23 years. He has served as a teacher and high school principal before helping open Anchorage STrEaM Academy seven years ago. 

As a parent and educator, I am in awe of how Adam and his staff put best practices, oftentimes ideas I’ve only seen as theories, into action. Anchorage STrEaM Academy wants students to grow and achieve. I’ve never experienced the level of teacher and student autonomy as I have at STrEaM. Anchorage STrEaM Academy is a school that educates through Project Based Learning, STEM, and Outside Experiential Learning. They also use a Standards Based Grading scale. 

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Aligning with the Mission-Vision

Anchorage STrEaM Academy is a public charter school with Anchorage School District. If you were doing a Venn Diagram for regular public schools and charter schools, you’d see a lot of similarities and differences. Students do not have to pay for school, but are entered into a lottery to be able to attend. Principal Adam Mokelke shares that his school is extremely diverse and serves mostly neighborhood students in east Anchorage. As a charter, transportation is an issue. Another issue is that many students qualify as Title 1, and so the school community works together so every child has lunch and gets what they need. 

The Mission of STrEaM is to educate students through three pillars: PBL, STEM, and Experiential Outdoor Learning. Adam shares that this is like having three charters in one. You could imagine putting all of this into practice would take a tight-knit staff to put into action. And that is exactly what you would find in this school community. 

While standardized testing and state standards are important, STrEaM as a charter school can educate through their mission. Adam Mokelke believes if they are teaching through their pillars with fidelity, the students will succeed on the state tests (and life). 

Everything they use to teach goes through their school mission-vision before being presented to students. If you visit this school, you would see students outside for a large portion of the day, even through the winter. You’d see projects being shared and days focused on social emotional learning. At any point, you could walk into a classroom and see students using their hands to build. It doesn’t sound like a regular school because it isn’t. 

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Teacher and Student Autonomy

Teacher and student autonomy are extremely important at STrEaM. Adam shares that he doesn’t have to micromanage his teachers. He trusts them, and as one of his teachers, I can testify that he is there to support without that icky feeling of distrust and censure. 

Adam shares that from his vantage point, it’s “flexibility on the side of structure.” He helped build the framework for teaching and learning through the three pillars and everything they do as a school community aligns with this mission-vision. 

This is a very important quality that is passed down to the students. Project-Based-Learning is not easy to implement without high expectations. I’ve watched my middle school children grow so much through this school year. It required them to get uncomfortable and take on more responsibility but they rose to the challenge. They are required to take ownership of their learning. 

Through standards-based-grading, students are allowed to retake assignments until they master. There are learning curves along the way, but they are learning skills that will transfer to life, not just middle school, high school, or college. 

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Signs of Success

I hope you will listen to this wonderful conversation. Adam Mokelke and his staff have created a school community that embraces every student wherever they are in life. They don’t downplay the problems and awkwardness of the middle school years. They offer electives that the teachers want to teach (like Lego wars, fashion using recycled materials, and leadership classes). 

It’s no wonder that Adam Mokelke shares that he hopes his students grow into good citizens who give back to the community. He also shared that success has three parts, that students, teachers, and parents love learning at Anchorage STrEaM Academy. So far, there is a history of success! 

If you would like to learn more about this wonderful charter school, and support them, they have an annual virtual auction. The funds go to mini-grants for the teachers and projects. 

Follows & Show Notes:

Follow Anchorage STrEaM Academy on Twitter

Anchorage STrEaM Academy Fundraiser (provides mini-grant for teachers).

Follow Adam Mokelke on Twitter

Follow Hedreich on Twitter

SmallBites YouTube

Follow SpacesEDU on Twitter 

You are invited to our SpacesEDU Educator Community

Melody McAllister

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