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Hutchinson students get their first look at Tiger Elementary
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The halls of Tiger Elementary were filled with the “oohs” and “aahs” of some of Hutchinson’s youngest learners Friday. Although work was not quite finished, second- and third-grade students got their first look at the new school building.

It was the last day of class before Thanksgiving for those students. Second and third grade won’t return to school until Tuesday, Nov. 30, when they’ll be back at Tiger Elementary for their first day of learning in the new building. In the meantime, teachers and staff will use those days off to move their classrooms from Park Elementary.

It’s a change that both students and staff members have anticipated since the start of school in August.

“I think everybody is really excited. … I know teachers have been waiting eagerly for this for a really long time, so I’m really grateful to see it all come through,” said second-grade teacher Hannah Starke.

As a former Hutchinson Public Schools student and now a teacher, Starke has the unique perspective of having gone to school at Park Elementary, taught there, and now she’ll be leading classes in the new building.

“I’ve been thankful to go through the school system myself and even go back and teach in one of my old classrooms,” she said. “So it’s very nostalgic. Some of it’s very bittersweet, leaving something that’s been here for so long. But for me, being a newer teacher, I’m really excited about teaching in a new building and establishing myself and the Tiger Elementary culture and being a part of that.”

In a classroom next to Starke is another second-grade teacher who’s been waiting a bit longer for this change. Sarah Smith has been teaching at Park Elementary since 2001.

“When I came here, there was a referendum and they said, ‘You’ll have a new school. Your kids will have a new school,’ and that never happened,” Smith said.

An important part of making the move for teachers has not only been preparing their classrooms, but preparing their students as well. With big changes can come feelings of anxiety and worry about an unfamiliar place. Part of Friday’s trip to the new school was to show kids where to go when they arrive for the first day Nov. 30.

“Some of them are worried about where do I go on the bus, where do I get off the bus, am I going to have the same teacher, that sort of thing,” Smith said. “So we’re trying to keep things really regular for them. And we talk a lot about their feelings and that it’s OK to be nervous. But they’re excited.”

For their parts, the kids had plenty of energy and excitement as they walked the halls and were given a tour of the new building and their classrooms. Harper Ullom, a second-grader, really liked how large the classrooms are, while August Buckentin, another second-grader, was impressed with the outdoor features.

“The playground looks pretty cool,” Buckentin said.

“It’s very different and a very cool experience to see a new school and stuff,” Ullom said.

Larger rooms, natural light

One of the features of the new building that Starke liked was its location to other public school buildings such as the middle school and high school. She likes that it will allow more opportunities for students in elementary, middle school and high school to interact.

“I think that’s going to be a cool community-building experience,” she said.

She and other teachers also appreciate that second- and third-grade classes are now closer to each other to make collaboration easier. Second-graders will occupy the first floor of the building while third-graders will be on the second floor.

When it comes to design aspects of the building, some cues were taken from the high school renovation, such as new flexible learning spaces with small group rooms. Unlike at the high school, Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden said he sees those spaces being used differently at Tiger Elementary.

“Second- and third-grade students, you can’t really allow them to learn independently,” he said. “I see adults and specialists and paras and folks like that using these spaces more than probably even the classroom teachers.”

The classrooms themselves are set up similarly and are larger, about 900 square feet, to allow for nontraditional seating arrangements.

“I think the new facility offers a lot of opportunities for teachers to teach and engage kids in different ways,” Tiger Elementary Principal Mike Daugs said. “The classrooms are set up not necessarily to be used like a classroom would have been used in the ’80s, but a lot more open space, a lot more collaborative space, flexible space.”

The use of natural lighting was also an important part of the design, with each room featuring large windows. Specifically, the north light is the most conducive to learning, according to VanderHeiden.

“That’s the best light to learn from,” he said. “You don’t get the glare that often. The worst light is the south or west, so we try to minimize that as much as possible. We have some classrooms like that, but we did some special window covering so we could filter it a little bit.”

The new building also features rooms specifically designed for subjects such as music, STEM and art. While these programs were available at Park, many were limited due to the facilities. The new rooms including sinks and washing areas for art and STEM projects, and more room in general.

“There’s a lot more opportunities for kids with this new building,” Starke said.

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Check out this year's Hutchinson One Book, One Community read
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How would you feel if Hutchinson was labeled “the absolute worst place to live in America”? If you’re like the folks at Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, you would take to Twitter and challenge that assumption.

This real-life scenario played out in 2015 when Christopher Ingraham, a data reporter for the Washington Post, wrote a story that used as its foundation the USDA’s “natural amenities index,” which measures U.S. counties on topics such as climate, topography and water. Based on the numbers, Red Lake Falls came in dead last.

While the story could have ended there, it didn’t.

The folks at Red Lake Falls issued an invitation to Ingraham to visit their northwest corner of Minnesota and he accepted. It’s this experience of writing the story, visiting this far-flung outpost of civilization and meeting its residents that is the subject of the 2022 Hutchinson One Book, One Community read: “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now: Why We Traded the Commuting Life for a Little House on the Prairie” by Christopher Ingraham.

Published in 2019, the 288-page book takes the reader from ground zero — Ingraham’s life and writing the story that changed it — to moving his family to the northwest corner of the state where the temperature can plunge to 40 degrees below zero. This East Coast transplant had a lot to learn about living and loving the North Star State.

The book is an interesting combination of data, not surprising since Ingraham is a data reporter, and personal narrative. For instance, the reporter almost always thought he knew better than the natives, so there’s a certain satisfaction when he discovers there are reasons people do what they do.

Sportsmen will appreciate Ingraham’s introduction to deer hunting and ice fishing.

If you’re a North Country native, you may take exception to the author’s lack of appreciation for Minnesota’s favorite foods including Tator Tot Hot Dish. Thanks to Amazon, he didn’t have to suffer too much.

Interested in hearing Ingraham’s story in person? He’ll be sharing it with One Book, One Community readers 2 p.m. Saturday, April 2, at the Hutchinson Event Center, 1005 State Highway 15 S. Admission is free.

Looking for the perfect gift for the reader in your life? Give a copy of the 2022 One Book, One Community read. Whether you participate or not, it’s a great book and one that gives insight into things we may take for granted. Books are available for purchase at the Village Shop and Hutchinson Center for the Arts. The Hutchinson Public Library will have book club kits and individual copies available to check out.


In 2014, the One Book, One Community program grew out of the Heart of Hutch and its Connect Wholeheartedly committee’s desire to promote ways that the community could connect and form stronger and deeper relationships. Although Heart of Hutch has disbanded, Hutchinson Connects has emerged as a standalone group that supports this effort.

According to Mary Henke, chair of Hutchinson Connects, each year, the One Book, One Community group looks for books that will bring people together by reading the same book and sharing it with friends, family and co-workers.

“’If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now’ by Christopher Ingraham is filled with examples of how a small town in Red Lake County welcomed a reporter and his family into their community and fostered ways for them to thrive and become a valuable part of their community,” Henke said.

Hutchinson Connects isn’t the only group that appreciated Ingraham’s story. In 2019, “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now” was named a National Public Radio Best Book of the Year.

According to Katy Hiltner, head librarian at Hutchinson Public Library, the book is still a “timely and relatable read.”

“The humorous and candid stories focus on one family’s journey to Minnesota, and through these stories the values and traditions of a small Minnesota community shine bright,” she said. “This book is a wonderful reminder of why we happily call Minnesota home ... even for those of us who don’t love the cold!”

Committee member John Hassinger agreed.

“This book is a fun and funny read,” he said. “Moving from a city where commuting takes so much time to a place that has charm and challenges, makes for enjoyable reading. It shows what might appear to be shortcomings can turn out to be positive.”

Like Hassinger, Sherry Nagy enjoyed this book and found the author’s take on people who’ve lived in Minnesota their entire lives humorous.

“The chapter on food was laugh-out-loud funny!” she said. “(We) need to be willing to laugh at ourselves! Ultimately, it’s a book about a community welcoming and embracing new people into the fold. A heartwarming and fun read.”

Jeanne Langan liked that his pre-conceived idea about small town life, away from the bustling big city, proved to be a place he and his wife wanted to live.

“The community of Red Lake Falls was very welcoming to him and his family,” she said. “Instead of sending him hate mail, they invited him to visit. They introduced him to ice fishing, deer hunting, hot dish and how to dress and survive freezing temperatures. The book is well written and humorous. I enjoyed it and hope the community members will, too.”

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Shopping local in Hutchinson and Litchfield comes with rewards this Small Business Saturday
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The Christmas season is just ahead, and local businesses and advocates in Hutchinson and Litchfield are making sure there is plenty of reason to remember to shop local.

Small Business Saturday is this weekend, Nov. 27. The Hutchinson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism is ready to hit the ground running. Back by popular demand is the ping-pong ball drop at 10 a.m. on Washington Avenue. Grab a ping-pong ball and win a prize and enjoy some hot chocolate courtesy of the Hutchinson Jaycees.

Also back is the friendly Chamber elves who are passing out gift cards. They'll travel around Hutchinson to surprise shoppers at local businesses. According to Mary Hodson, Chamber president, there will be more than $3,500 in gift cards at the ball drop and given out around town. 

In case you're wondering where the money comes from for these perks, Hodson said it is money set aside. She also expects the Hutchinson Ambassadors and local businesses will donate as well, raising the total much higher.

Meanwhile, in Litchfield, “Keep the Cheer Here” is this year’s Chamber holiday promotion. It starts Friday, Nov. 26, and runs through Sunday, Dec. 12.

“Litchfield is a small retail town but has something for everyone,” said Judy Hulterstrum, executive director of the Litchfield Area Chamber of Commerce. “Shopping local keeps jobs for people and keeps the dollar circulating locally. Our retail providers in town all have generous hearts to donate back to local charities when the cause arises. If you shop local, you will be giving back to the community.”

According to Hulterstrum, shopping at 30 participating Litchfield businesses will give shoppers a chance to win cash prizes given away on Thursday, Dec. 16.

So what is Small Business Saturday? American Express launched this event in 2010, encouraging people to support small, local businesses. It's a big deal, according to Hodson.

"It’s about reminding people to shop locally and support the businesses that support our community,” she said in an earlier Leader interview.

Hodson also cited the following reasons to shop in the area:

  • It's easy to get support, help and knowledge.
  • There's no finding a mailbox, UPS or FedEx box to return something.
  • Dollars stay local and continue to regenerate.
  • Local businesses support our community organizations and events. If you shop elsewhere or online, those companies usually do not support local organizations.
  • Local dollars pay for amenities and services in our community.
  • You support your friends, family and neighbors who work at local businesses.

It's also important to note that only 14% of the money spent at chain stores stays in the local economy, compared to 48% of money spent at independent businesses.

Shopping at local stores is “the gift that keeps on giving,” says Bill Brunelle, executive director of Independent We Stand, an organization dedicated to educating consumers and businesses about the economic benefits of buying local.

When you purchase something at a locally-owned business, more of your money stays in the community, he said. It’s not going out of town to a big-box corporate office. Store owners based in the community are also more likely to hire local accountants and marketing firms, as well as source more of the products they sell locally.