Building community with Mendota Cougar Time
Building community with Mendota Cougar Time
Posted on 11/02/2015
Mendota Cougar Time
Students test the buoyancy of their tinfoil boats crafted during Mendota Cougar Time on Oct. 29.

New to Mendota Elementary this school year has been a monthly program where students can break from their routines and build new friendships. Known as Mendota Cougar Time, the program helps build community within the school by connecting students across grades, while also dedicating time to focus on this year’s all-school theme of “water.”

The Mendota Cougar Time sessions, lasting roughly one hour, bring around five students from each grade (K-4) into a classroom for a series of hands-on and group activities. All students in the school participate in the activities, creating a new mix of students and teachers for each monthly session.

“The idea to create Mendota Cougar Time was really a collaboration between the Mendota PTA and myself,” said Mendota Principal Steve Goldade. “I drew some inspiration from other programs in the District, such as STEM Sparks at Pilot Knob STEM Magnet School. But one of our goals with Mendota Cougar Time was really to develop a sense of community within the school.”

Away from their typical classroom, students form new friendships and participate in art or science projects. In addition to getting to know their peers, students also get to know other teachers in the school. For older students, Mendota Cougar Time may present an opportunity to reconnect with a teacher from second or third grade, while younger students get a sneak preview of a future teacher.

To come up with ideas for the activities, Mendota Cougar Time organizers, including Principal Goldade, have turned to the all-school theme for the 2015-16 school year.

“Our all-school theme this year is water and every month has a different theme,” Goldade said. “Last month was lakes, and this month we’re focusing on Minnesota and Wisconsin rivers.”

Lake Mendota - Mendota Cougar Time
A section of "Lake Mendota" and its wildlife, crafted by students in September. 

To learn more about lakes during the debut Mendota Cougar Time, students used their artistic skills to create “Lake Mendota,” as well as the frogs, fish, loons and other wildlife that might live there. After discussing what you might expect to see on a river, including different types of boats, students grouped up to construct their own boats out of tinfoil, later testing their boat’s buoyancy using marbles.

From art to science and even social studies, students are able to learn more about each other and the world around them. They even learned the origin of the name Mendota, which is derived from the Dakota word for “junction of one river with another.” With the help of Google Earth, students were able to see the nearby confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers and determined that it was an appropriate name.

Mendota Cougar Time has been made possible through the support of parents and guardians at the school. Many of the materials used in the Mendota Cougar Time activities have been provided by the PTA, while parent Mel Demulling has served as a program coordinator. According to Goldade, Demulling has been integral in developing the monthly activities and tying them to the all-school theme. Parent volunteers have also donated their time to help supervise the classroom activities.

The next Mendota Cougar Time is scheduled for November 24, when the students will investigate other major rivers in the United States.