My Experience in Minnesota

By María Eugenia Redondo González, foreign exchange student from Spain; intro by Priscilla Trinh, senior writing coach

Here on the Writing It Out blog, we strive to host a variety of voices and in this pursuit we will feature monthly guest posts from writers other than our coaches. For this month, we travel back a bit to September – a time where there is an influx of returning students, new students, and of course, foreign exchange students. These international students offer us a fascinating perspective on life outside the U.S. and in return, they are able to witness a unique Minnetonka High School student’s life. Below are María’s thoughts on her stay with one of our coaches.



Amanda and María, center

. . .

¡Hola a todos! Hello everyone!

My name is María, and I am the exchange partner of Amanda, one of the Writing coaches. I am with some students from the North of Spain, the school San Ignacio of Oviedo and we have been  in an exchange program with your school from the 7th to the 21st of September.

We have visited a lot of places that we’ve liked a lot such as the Vikings and Twins stadiums, the University of Minnesota, Minnehaha Falls, St. Paul Cathedral, Lakes Harriet and Calhoun…

We’ve also enjoyed so much the Homecoming week. We don’t have this welcoming in our school so it has been a really nice experience. The Pyjama Day, the bands playing while we were arriving to school in the morning, the election of the queen and the king, the parade and the football match were fantastic!

People here are amazingly nice. If we were lost or we needed any help they immediately helped us to go to any place, which was a good thing because our school is not as big as this one and the first day we were here this was like a maze of classes crowded with students who were really, really happy to start school 😉

And because this has been an unforgettable experience, we want to say thank you to all the people involved in the exchange, Mr. Masteller, our teachers, Patricia and Miguel, who have had to bear us more than usual, to all our American families for all the activities they have taken us to, the incredible people we have met here and our exchange students who couldn’t have been better partners in a country that this month has become our home. Thank you, we hope to meet you again! You’re welcome to Spain whenever you want!

Chasing the Leaves of September


by Mrs. Hitchcock, Minnetonka Writing Center co-director

With the onset of fall, walking Tilly has become a challenge. A five month old golden retriever, she strains at the leash to chase each and every leaf drifting down the street. And when a breeze comes up, that’s a lot of leaves and a lot of unbridled, golden retriever energy. She rarely catches a leaf, and when she does, she simply shakes her head and drops it. It’s the thrill of the chase that fuels her.

It reminds me a little of the rat race that we all find ourselves in, especially at the beginning of a new school year. Finish a task? On to the next one. The target is always moving. Yet, Tilly isn’t frustrated by her leaf chasing. The constant motion thrills her, and I must admit, it thrills me a little too.

In my third year as Minnetonka’s Writing Center Co-Coordinator, I’m taking pleasure in my to do list this year because it is filled with things that excite me: training new writing coaches, conferencing on college essays, collaborating with colleagues. It’s work, but I feel pretty lucky to be working with students who are as sincere and dedicated as our writing coaches. I’m also impressed by the openness of the seniors who come to the Writing Center to work on their college essays. Many of them I’ve never met before, but they are eager to share very personal writing with me – writing that captures who they are.

In addition to its students, Minnetonka’s staff embodies the best of the best, personally and professionally. The Writing Center welcomed a new co-coordinator this year, Shannon Puechner, who brings with her a wealth of experience from her writing center work at the University of Minnesota. Shannon and I have already spent time working in a number of teachers’ classrooms, from Technical Communications to Composition for College, and truly appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with our fellow teachers and conference with their students.



A snapshot from last Thursday’s 2017-18 year all coach training day!

We have big plans for the Writing Center this year. Our thirty-eight writing coaches have hit the ground running, online writing conference scheduling debuts in October, and we will participate in the first ever Minnesota high school tutors conference in collaboration with the University of Minnesota next spring. As I chase each of these leaves around, I am energized. The Writing Center evolves constantly, and come spring, when the snow melts, there will be new and exciting things for us to run after…and for Tilly, perhaps baby bunnies.

Homecoming Already?

by Amanda Tahnk-Johnson, senior writing coach

“There’s one-hundred-and-four days of summer vacation and school comes along just to end it” -Phineas and Ferb

It is September already, the State Fair is ending soon, and it is time to finish up those last-minute summer homework assignments and head back into the classroom. If you are anything like me, the transition process from spending free time reading for pleasure to studying for AP Chem, not to mention the 5-6 hour time difference in my sleep schedule, can be extremely difficult. So, I like to focus on something a little more positive: my favorite week of the entire school year!

Yes, homecoming week is the second week of school! The fabulous parade starts at 4pm after school in downtown Excelsior, and then the football game is later that night back at MHS. Luckily, we don’t have to wait until Friday to have fun! Monday is pajama day, so you have the incredible opportunity to wear sweatpants to school, which you obviously would never do otherwise 😉 The rest of the week is full of other fun dress-up opportunities to show school spirit or to stand out in your classes and attract the attention of a possible homecoming date because……

Saturday night is the dance! It starts at 9pm to allow ample time to experiment with makeup and for parents to take photos with all of your friends and dates. Mr. Erickson will be attending, along with other teachers and staff, and will gladly mingle with all you party animals in between songs.

All of these events are put together by teams of students and staff in order to create a positive school culture and to set the tone for the rest of the year. Even though I am not usually much of a football fan, the homecoming game is really fun for me because of the energy and community in the stands. Although you may not normally participate in some of these events, I encourage everyone to put aside your negativity and have fun. You might find out that Tonka blue really is your color!

It can be hard to watch summer come to an end, but hopefully homecoming week will remind you of some of the best parts about the school year and allow you to reconnect with friends.





by Jessie Wang, senior writing coach

I just finished my last day of high school classes (believe me, it feels surreal). As I leave, I’d like to finish with a few thoughts.

Senior year, without a doubt, has been a whirlwind. For me, it seems like there’s still a month of school left — yet my last days have approached a bit too quickly.

I’ve been relatively apprehensive about leaving high school. Generally, I’m just of the nervous type — a whole new life in a whole new place sounds quite scary to me. I’ve been at Minnetonka my entire life, and I’ve found a community in orchestra, research, the Writing Center, and much more. It’s a bit hard to imagine myself without this.

Because this has been pretty good to me. I’ve taken engaging classes and had uniquely amazing teachers. I’m a lover of banana bread and Cove granola bars. I’ve found activities that are meaningful to me, and I’ve met friends who continually support me, and whose abilities amaze me. Goodbyes are a little too much, and a little too early.

I don’t really know what it’ll be like without seeing those same asymmetrical tiles on the walls of the Arts Center or the trees in the Commons. I don’t know what it’ll be like to not bring my violin to school every day, or to not see Tonka pride everywhere. Different will be hard for me.

But I’ll give the future the benefit of the doubt for once. What I am sure of is that my time at Minnetonka will act as a tailwind into college. The incredible teachers, activities, and people of Minnetonka will surely stay with me, and will help in propelling me forward. My friends have shown me such kindness, and my teachers have shown me dedication and passion for what they do. Minnetonka has been quite the inspiration.

For this, I’m lucky. I get to pass on that same sense of inspiration when I start over in the fall. I’ll be going out into the world and beginning to spread my Minnetonka-ness to others. I’ll be passing on the strong student voice that Minnetonka has, the enthusiasm for activities, the school spirit, and the sense of community that thrives everywhere. I get to go out and be passionate and make what I can with everything that Minnetonka has given me. And hopefully along the way, I’ll rub off some Minnetonka onto others.

We all get to do that as the class of 2017, and every class following does as well. As I move forward, I’m keeping Minnetonka with me and reminding myself that I’m not leaving, just extending.

Thank you, Minnetonka. Truly, thank you.

Now Playing: Titanic the Musical


By Amanda Tahnk-Johnson, junior writing coach

Titanic: the Ship of Dreams Musical is sailing into Minnetonka Theatre. This show is set on the ocean liner RMS Titanic, which tragically sunk on its maiden voyage in 1912. The production’s cast is made up of 60 high schoolers, including several writing coaches, and a live pit of all student musicians.

Titanic the musical first appeared on Broadway in 1997 and won 5 Tony awards, including Best Musical — so it’s really good. Unlike the famous James Cameron movie, every character in the musical is based on a real person that traveled on the ship in 1912…. so, there is no Jack or Rose. Instead, the show features every group who was riding aboard the ship: from workers in the boiler room to first-class attendants, from the poorest passengers, who scraped together their life savings to purchase third-class tickets to America, to some of the wealthiest men of the Victorian age. Although you can predict the ending, the storytelling will draw you in and make you fall in love with each of the characters, and you may even learn something new along the way. The costumes are stunning, the live music is gorgeous, the student crew has created haunting special effects, and the student actors are very talented, if I may say so myself. However, I would personally suggest only bringing those that would enjoy 2 hours of singing – children under 5 are not permitted anyway.

The show runs tonight, April 22 through Sunday, May 7. Tickets are available online at or at the door.

Taking chances


by Max Musselman, senior writing coach

As I sit down to write this blog post, something crosses my mind: I only have three months left of high school. Believe me, that feels really weird to say. It’s not like this is some striking fact that has snuck up on me, nor is it some scary realization – my time at Minnetonka High School is quickly running out, but I feel okay knowing that. I’m both excited for a new chapter to begin and very content with my past four years. Did my four years play out exactly how I would have imagined as a wide-eyed freshman? No – the last four years actually haven’t been anything close to what I pictured on my first day of school. Yet, in a lot of ways they have been better than I ever could have guessed. And, I owe that all to taking chances.

One of the biggest things that defined me entering high school was being a basketball player. However, one of the best decisions I made in high school was quitting basketball after my sophomore year. I’m not necessarily advocating giving up on things you are involved in, but  do be willing to take a chance and try something new. Since I quit basketball, I have become part of the Writing Center, DECA, the lacrosse team, and taken part in numerous other things throughout the school. Heck, last year I even ran for student government. The biggest thing I came away with after all these experiences is that I got to know more people than I ever would have had I not gotten involved. This high school is full of great people, many of which you likely haven’t met yet.

Time is a valuable commodity as a high schooler, so committing to something new isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. But, don’t let this hold you back from getting involved. As you become even more immersed in high school life, you will find yourself better at balancing commitments and will start to realize what you do and don’t have time for. It can be scary to leave something old behind and try something new, but don’t let this hold you back. Our high school is full of opportunities, and I always tell underclassman that I truly believe there is a place for everyone at MHS. So, take a chance and go find yours. You might be surprised by where you end up.

The Calming Atmosphere of Excelsior Bay Books


by Claire Johnson, sophomore writing coach

If you have ever wandered into the little bookstore in downtown Excelsior you have probably felt a calmness come over you while you notice all of the books drawing you in. If you are a book lover and have not experienced this I highly recommend stopping in and checking out this charming bookstore.

The atmosphere of Excelsior Bay Books is calm and inviting. The warm and cozy space is furnished with comfy couches perfect for previewing a book or taking a break from the world around you. The bookstore is an amazing place to experience an atmosphere of peace and quiet. Personally, I enjoy regrouping and reading books at Bay Books to let out some of the stress and pressures that come from being a high school student.

The bookstore is family friendly and an important treasure in our community. The store is located in downtown Excelsior across the street from Lick’s Unlimited and has been open for almost 21 years, offering a quaint space for literature lovers.

The peaceful bookstore is equipped with an extraordinary staff. The women who work there are always welcoming and helpful and easy to converse with. Often when I find myself in the bookstore I end up having interesting and engaging conversations with the owners. The staff are also very accomplished and dedicated. Last year, one of the employees won the James Patterson award, a monetary donation given to independent booksellers making a difference in the literary world.

The store also contains many different varieties of books. They include children’s books, coloring books, books appealing to all interests, and thick, thought provoking novels. In addition, they sell puzzles, bookmarks, toys, and puppets. If you do not find the book you are looking for you can also special order any book you are interested in reading.

Throughout the year the bookstore participates in Community Reads, and hosts speakers and events that anyone can come and see. They bring in authors and you could be lucky enough to walk out with a signed copy of their book.

With the increase of books sold online every year very few independently owned bookstores still exist. We are extremely lucky to have the privilege to experience the magic of a welcoming and local bookstore where you can pick up and hold the books. So please, stop in and experience this tranquil magic for yourself at the Excelsior Bay Books.


Dropped into the moment


MHS students at Boulder Beach in South Africa (notice the penguins in the back!).

by Addie Gill, junior writing coach

On January 12th, 44 Minnetonka High School students departed for Cape Town,  South Africa.  It took around 26 hours total of traveling , but we now have taken selfies with some penguins, swam in the ocean, experienced history at the prison Nelson Mandela was held in, and overwhelmingly found ourselves engrossed in a new place across the world.

My own experience was a whirlwind: I had never been out of the country before in my life, only to be dropped into a culture unlike my own.  I loved learning the nuances of the way my host family worked.  I got to experience the diversity of people walking in the streets, and saw some of the most beautiful scenery in my life.

One of the most striking places we visited was the District Six museum. During Apartheid, District Six was a housing area that held people of all backgrounds, races and religions. This harmonious living did not follow Apartheid laws of segregation, so over a period of many years, the government bulldozed the area and displaced thousands of people from their family homes. We had the privilege to talk to a previous resident of District Six, and he told us of his heartbreak when his home, where multiple generations of his family had been born, was torn down in front of his eyes. Although the government had shown great cruelty towards him, our guide showed stunning forgiveness and love for the people around him.

Traveling is quite an experience.  This trip has reminded me of that in every second, and I hope this can be a reminder for everyone (as life is a trip anyways):

Remember these moments. The good, but the bad was apart of it too. The whole collection- that is what we have. Treasure each piece, each moment, each cry, each laugh.

For they are our lives, our loves.


I personally follow this by writing in a journal; it comforts me in knowing that my memories and my thoughts will forever be with me.  I challenge everyone to remember this even as we transition into our new semester. Take all your experiences in stride, for they shape much of who we are.

Good luck, and hello from South Africa!

New semester…new you?


by Anna Barnard, senior writing coach and Writing it Out co-editor

The new year has been gladly ushered in, and many resolutions have long been forgotten in the 12 days since the year began. For us students, we’re reaching a new beginning as well: finals are approaching, and with them, second semester. As we schedule our lives around our school days and class work, the start of the second half of the year may be even more distinct for some of us than the new year itself.

Despite this, we are realizing that we still have a whole half of a year left. For some, this is cause for celebration; for others, a daunting time period. The middle of the year is a place where some of us may feel stuck: bored with our day-to-day routine, tired of Minnesota’s cold, gray winter…I know that I feel this way.

What’s helping me approach second semester with a better attitude, then? Drawing back to my first few thoughts, I’ve decided to look at this midpoint as having potential for new opportunities and experiences. If you’re taking a new class second semester, be enthusiastic about your chance to learn some new material. If not, look for something new to do: you could develop a new habit of journaling, start volunteering somewhere new, or simply get a new haircut. The bottom line is to switch things up, and to create some variety in your life. I’m confident that it’ll give you a little boost going into part 2 of this year.

For some inspiration, I leave you with a poem:

New Things Are Best by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt

What shall I tell you, child, in this new Sonnet?

Life’s art is to forget, and last year’s sowing

Cast in Time’s furrow with the storm winds blowing

Bears me a wild crop with strange fancies on it.

Last year I wore your sole rose in my bonnet.

This year — who knows — who, even the All-knowing,

What to my vagrant heart, for its undoing,

Of weeds shall blossom ere my tears atone it?

— New Spring is in the air with new desirings;

New wonders fructify Earth, Sea, and Heaven,

And happy birds sing loud from a new nest.

Ah, why then grieve Love’s recreant aspirings,

His last year’s hopes, his vows forgot, forgiven?

Child, be we comforted! New things are best.

NCPTW: 1 week later


While pondering all the things we learned at NCPTW, we were left with a view of Mount Rainier as we left Tacoma.

by Anna Barnard, senior writing coach and Writing it Out co-editor

A week ago, 14 writing coaches and the Writing Center’s two wonderful coordinators, Ms. Shea and Mrs. Hitchcock, arrived back home from a venture to the Pacific Northwest. We had just attended the National Conference on Peer Tutors in Writing, or NCPTW, in Tacoma, Washington. As we trekked single-file off of the plane, grabbed our luggage from the baggage claim, and made our ways home, we had a lot to think about.

For example, how cultural differences amongst writers can influence writing conferences. Or how a simple “How are you?” can make a huge difference in developing rapport between writer and coach. How therapeutic methods can play into successful coaching strategies, and how grammar is not just punctuation and sentence structure.

Our biggest takeaway, however, was that the Writing Center should be, and is, a place that is welcome to all students. This seems superficial and maybe even obvious, so let’s break it down: every student is welcome in the Writing Center. Students who have been working on a paper for a month are welcome in the Writing Center, as are students who don’t have anything down on paper yet. Students whose paper is due in three weeks, and students whose paper is due next hour, are welcome in the Writing Center. Students in AP Literature are welcome in the Writing Center, just as are students in Chemistry or World History. Students whose first language isn’t English are welcome in the Writing Center. Students of all races, gender identities, and sexualities are welcome in the Writing Center.

We want the Writing Center to be a place of learning and engagement, and we want as many people as possible to be involved. So, take this as an invitation to be a part of a place where we can all write and exist freely. You are welcome.