Private partners making a difference at NBAPS this fall

Like school district’s across the state, North Branch Area Public Schools’ (NBAPS) is working to provide as “normal” an experience for students while also keeping the safety of staff and students, and state guidelines, its top priority. When surveys given to families early in the summer indicated a strong desire among families to have students return to the classroom if at all possible, NBAPS set to work researching its facilities and services looking for ways to use the tools at its disposal to serve families.

Two issues, creating the space needed to serve all students who choose an in-school model, and providing meal options for those families who choose the Distance Learning Academy, have been largely solved with the assistance of private partners and their generosity. 

While increased space due to recent construction has left NBAPS in a favorable position to allow students to return to school, the school district must have a contingency in place that will create social distance if needed and still serve in-school students. The Shops at Gateway North has been integral to this effort, and is working with the school district to create an off-campus satellite at the outlet mall that could serve the Distance Learning Academy were it necessary to move it off-site to provide more space for in-school learning. 

Olsen Fire Protection, a Minneapolis-based company, has donated time and resources to inspect sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, and exit lighting at the Gateway site to ensure it can support off-campus education safely for both students and staff. Kevin Olsen, President of Olsen Fire Protection, indicated in a recent interview the importance of kids being in school and his desire to help make it a reality. “We want to be part of the solution and hopefully show the rest of the districts that if you get creative and look for solutions, there are people willing to help,” he said.

“Willing to help” was the message received by the school district from the volunteers at the Trinity Lutheran Church Outreach Team, which oversees the very successful Viking Vittles program. Viking Vittles was started in 2019 and was immediately providing meal packs to hundreds of local families per week, until last spring when schools were ordered closed and students into remote learning. Now, several months into the pandemic response, Viking Vittles and the school district know there’s a need in the community for nutritious meals. 

Viking Vittles will be attending the school district’s Welcome Week activities the week of Sept. 8 to provide families information about its program, which is available to any family with a need, not just those that qualify for educational benefits. Each meal package comes with two breakfast options, two lunch options, two snacks, and a can each of fruit and vegetables.

“School districts face many hurdles this fall, and North Branch Area Public Schools is so fortunate to have community partners like the Shops at Gateway, Olsen, and Viking Vittles willing to address some of the needs in creative ways,” said Supt. Sara Paul, who added, “We are so grateful for their enthusiasm and encourage anyone who values being part of a solution for our kids to contact us.”

Those interested can hear directly from Olsen and Twitchell about their efforts in recorded interviews located at the school district’s Return to Learn! Website ( Individuals, companies, and civic organizations that would like to help NBAPS provide services to students, families, and staff are invited to complete the Partner Contribution Form at the Return to Learn! website or contact Supt. Sara Paul at