Bethel Graduates Build Community at Area Charter School

At Athlos Leadership Academy, they look for educators who believe in community, value character development, and above all have a big heart for students—and Bethel is turning out graduates that seem to be the perfect fit.

By Cherie Suonvieri '15, content specialist

November 13, 2018 | 10 a.m.

Caroline Walker

Caroline Walker ’16 is in her third year of teaching 4th grade at Athlos Leadership Academy. She’s one of nine Bethel graduates that work at the charter school.

On the outside, Athlos Leadership Academy stands tall with red brick and white pillars, its grounds covering several city blocks in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Inside, administrative staff sit behind a long desk and greet anyone who walks through the front doors with smiles. Above, the wall is covered with silver placards, each listing one of the 12 character traits the school upholds. And down the halls are colorful, student-filled classrooms, seven of them being led by Bethel alumni.

Athlos, a pre-K through 8th grade public charter school, has been a landing pad for a number of Bethel graduates, most from education programs, but some from other majors as well. It could be the location; the school is less than 20 minutes northwest of Bethel. It could be that news of job openings spreads quickly among those with Bethel connections. Or, as Athlos principal Jennifer Geraghty says, it could simply be that Bethel graduates fit in well there. “There’s a certain type of person who graduates from institutions like Bethel,” she says. And it’s the type of person that Athlos looks for.

“One thing I noticed about my interviews with teachers from places like Bethel is that they can engage in a conversation about what it looks like to build character and community in the classroom and the importance of having relationships. Not a lot of brand new teachers can do that.”

— Jennifer Geraghty, principal at Athlos Leadership Academy

Fall 2014 ushered in a new season for Athlos, and a number of Bethel graduates came during this period of transition. Previously located in Minneapolis and known as New Vision, the school relocated to Brooklyn Park, under a new name, in partnership with Utah-based Athlos Academies. That first year, classes were held in a local church building while they waited to complete the move. Numbers shrunk to around 150 students, but Athlos went into the 2015-2016 academic year with their new school building and over 1,000 students enrolled.

This exponential increase in student numbers required Geraghty to hire 70 new teachers, and around 75 percent of those were first-year teachers. “One thing I noticed about my interviews with teachers from places like Bethel is that they can engage in a conversation about what it looks like to build character and community in the classroom and the importance of having relationships,” she says. “Not a lot of brand new teachers can do that.” 

Fourth grade teacher Caroline Walker ’16 started work at Athlos in fall 2016 after graduating from Bethel that May. Though she was a first-year teacher when she began at Athlos, she now reflects on just how equipped she felt stepping into her teaching career. “I think something that is unique to Bethel, is all the professors really help teachers to focus on students as whole people,” Walker says. “I felt prepared to mediate with students, as well as ready to listen to tough things they are experiencing. If those needs aren’t being met for those students, they are going to have a difficult time learning in any classroom space.”

Amanda Isom

When Amanda Isom ’14 first interviewed for the social worker position at Athlos, she felt at home. Five years in, she says that the sense of community there is deepened by the other Bethel graduates peppered throughout Athlos’ 115-person staff.

Athlos takes a multi-faceted approach to student development, focusing not only on academics, but athletics and character as well. The comprehensive education model bears resemblance to the Bethel experience, particularly when it comes to values. “Our charter focuses on the whole body, one aspect being developing positive character traits…” School Social Worker Amanda Isom ’14 says. Athlos incorporates 12 character traits into curriculum: social intelligence, curiosity, courage, integrity, leadership, creativity, optimism, humility, energy/zest, focus/self-control, initiative, and grit.

“I think these traits align with Bethel and how we want to grow in a faith-based community,” Isom says. “So Bethel grads are able to take what they already value and are encouraged to implement these values and character traits within the classroom setting.”

In addition to character-building, another quality Geraghty looks for in educators is the ability to foster community—and people who know good community tend to do community well. For Isom, the supportive environment at Athlos felt very familiar when she started her job at Athlos in 2014. “There is a good sense of community here, similar to what you’d find at Bethel…” she says. “And there’s an even deeper sense of community at Athlos because there are many of us from Bethel.”

Walker agrees. “It’s awesome to know that we share the same values and I think we’ve seen the impression we’ve made on students at Athlos over the years,” she says. “I love knowing the other Bethel grads always have my back, and it’s awesome to watch each other learn and grow as teachers.”

Reflecting on the number of Bethel alumni that have found their home at Athlos, Geraghty clarifies that it’s not about religion, but rather she searches for applicants who appear to have an “extra gear.” These are people like camp counselors, coaches, and youth leaders—roles that frequently appear on the resumes of Bethel graduates. “Those are hard jobs,” Geraghty says. “If you do those jobs, you truly love kids—and that’s what we’re looking for.”

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