The loud and busy start to the school year is just as it should be, as Prairie Wind Middle School principal Scott Bjerke said.

With two days of school complete, principals shared the positive start to the 2021-22 school year with Perham-Dent school board members on Sept. 8. Heart of the Lakes Elementary School principal Liz Johnson described the start as in “full swing” with a “full house” of students. And even with the extra loudness, high school principal Ehren Zimmerman said he’s excited to have students in-person.

“There is an energy level and level of enthusiasm that I haven’t witnessed in quite a few years at the middle school, and I mean that in a good way, I just feel that there’s a sense of relief that the kids are all back and together and with their friends again,” Bjerke said. “At the middle school level, that friendship is such a huge part of their growing up and their development.”

While enrollment will adjust over the next several weeks, the strong number of students is comparable to the 2019-20 school year with 1,544 students as of Sept. 8. The district dropped 50-60 students in the 2020-21 school year. The number of students in kindergarten and first grade are lower, though, since parents have the option of sending children to kindergarten and during the 2020-21 year some decided to wait or start their child in first grade. Overall, the middle and high school are back to class sizes of 130-140.

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The Area Learning Center also expects “a record number of students to start off the year,” as director Jace Hennagir said in his board report, because of the “lack of success in distance learning.” Students from Perham and other school districts are enrolled.

The administration also thanked all staff members for their work leading up to the start of school.

The board also:

  • Discussed working with ICS Consulting on a long-term facilities plan, which would help with prioritizing immediate, short-term and long-term projects at the schools along with funding options. The plan would include a buildings assessment and demography study. The school worked with ICS prior to the construction of the high school. The board will vote on the proposal in October.

  • Approved a video gaming opportunity for middle and high school students with Fenworks esports. The district and Empowering Kids will offer an in-home option for the first year, which starts in December. Students would join the teams with coaches as well as learn online safety and digital citizenship lessons tied to esports. The hope is to build community for students in a different way. The program is new to Minnesota, though schools and colleges in North Dakota have participated in the program. If you are interested in participating, you can fill out a survey online. There is a per student cost.

  • Approved a memorandum of understanding for providing EIDBI services for three students at the elementary with Empowering Kids. The goal is to provide more special education services in the classroom as an inclusive school, according to Johnson. The services are through Nov. 5 and will likely extend through the school year. Board member Justine Anderson abstained.

  • Approved Overland Insurance Agency as the insurance agent of record.

The next school board meeting is Oct. 13 at 5 p.m. in the high school media center. Visitor comments are welcome, and visitors are asked to sign in for time to speak during the meeting.