I am somebody

Maxfield Elementary School makes a difference in the upbringing of the children in the Rondo community by providing its students with resources to promote self-esteem and values stretching far beyond the classroom.

by Zac Villarreal | For The Clarion

3 p.m. May 18 – Fifth grade Maxfield scholar Myeesha and fellow students rush to Ms. Pottle’s classroom following the end of end of the day bell.

Myeesha and other scholars hustle to change into their running gear and get situated with a snack. After a short life-lesson, the girls warm-up for a cardio workout.

“The workout is laps, how many laps you can get around the school. Whether it’s running, skipping, walking, we just want them to move.” Maxfield teacher Brandi Pottle said.

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Maxfield students huddle up for a cheer just before they run a practice 5k around Maxfield Elementary School, May 17. They’ve practiced every Monday and Wednesday over the last few weeks. | photo by CARLO HOLMBERG

Maxfield partnered with “Girls on the Run,”  a non-profit program to encourage pre-teen girls to develop self-respect and healthy living. “Girls on the Run” does this through a dynamic of  interactive curriculum and workouts with the end goal of empowering every girl with an intrinsic belief that they are capable of anything. The Maxfield participants are training for the Twin Cities “Girls on the Run” 5K run June 3 at 9 a.m.

“The self-esteem and confidence piece builds in the girls. It is so awesome to see them bring what they learn from Girls on the Run to the classroom.”Maxfield teacher Janelle Hill said.

The Maxfield staff have witnessed the program’s curriculum translate from the training sessions, to the classroom for the Maxfield scholars involved.  

The Maxfield teachers have seen a large difference in behavior and attitudes for the girls involved in the run. However, not every student is open to the idea of running for a better self esteem. The resistance from the students who would most benefit is something the teachers involved would like to see change.

That’s when you can feel a little defeated, and you’re like dang … Because, the girls who really need it, miss it, and there’s nothing we can do.

The Maxfield scholars involved in Girls on the Run have exhibited an outstanding turn-around in their individual growth as learners. Pottle recalls a year ago, when student Myeesha was regularly receiving behavioral referrals. Now this year, she is one of the primary examples of what Girls on the Run embodies for Maxfield.

“I will take the positive energy to middle school with me, so I can give positive energy to everyone at junior high with me.” Myeesha said.

Ryan Vernosh, Maxfield Principal, cheers on Girls on the Run as the practice their 5k at Maxfield Elementary, May 17. Vernosh has seen progress in the girls over the past seasons of Girl on the Run.

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Ryan Vernosh, Maxfield Principal, cheers on Girls on the Run as the practice their 5k at Maxfield Elementary, May 17. Vernosh has seen progress in the girls over the past seasons of Girl on the Run. | photo by CARLO HOLMBERG

“I will take the positive energy to middle school with me, so I can give positive energy to everyone at junior high with me.” Myeesha said.

Girls on the Run helps Maxfield female students learn to believe in themselves, and to never give up when facing difficult circumstances. Maxfield provides the community with numerous resources to help all students at the school, such as partnerships with the second harvest food shelf, and the cultural wellness center.

“What is in it for us is knowing we have done everything we can for our Maxfield girls in building their self esteem,” Pottle said.


1956, St. Paul, Minn. – The community on the North and South side of Rondo Avenue has always been diverse. Roughly 85 percent of St. Paul’s African American community resided in the Rondo area. In the 1960’s Rondo was destroyed for constructing today’s I-94. Nearly 600 African American Families homes were lost.

“I feel it was an intentional decision by the federal government to disseminate the thriving African American community,” Vernosh said.

Despite the obstacles, the community would not crumble.

The remnant of the Rondo district now sits at the busy intersection of North Victoria road and St. Anthony Avenue at Maxfield elementary school. The school has served the Rondo community for the last century. Many generations of families dating back to the Rondo days, have attended Maxfield.

It’s just a bedrock of this community and it is incredibly humbling to be apart of the history of Maxfield.

Vernosh, and teacher Brandi Pottle have witnessed numerous accounts of Maxfield scholars reflecting the Rondo spirit in overcoming the hardships of being marginalized for generations. The difficulties are still present today. According to Maxfield Principal, Ryan Vernosh, Ninety-five percent of the students are living in poverty, and 30 percent have experienced homelessness this year alone. This contributes to a certain level of trauma in each Maxfield scholar.

In the face of adversity, the Maxfield scholars prevail. Much of this is because of the Maxfield staff’s undying belief in every child’s ability to be somebody great.

“Poverty and hunger are huge barriers, but we are not going to let our kids be defined by those barriers. Pythagorean’s theorem might not be on on the forefront of your mind if you’re worried about where you’re going to sleep at night, or have dinner that night. Those are very real challenges our school faces,” Vernosh said.

Once, a student’s mother approached Principal Vernosh at one of the school’s family nights to inform him of a sudden and abrupt change in her son’s behavior. She credited this change to the slightest tweak in his morning routine. The particular scholar had been struggling with his behavior at school, in addition to dealing with difficult circumstances at home.

“Every morning he’s looking at himself in the mirror and he starts flexing and saying, I am somebody, I am capable and loveable.” The Maxfield parent told Vernosh.

The teachers and staff also noticed an improvement in behavior and attitude for the student. All the components of what it means to be a Maxfield scholar were growing in this particular child.

“To hear that from the parent and see that from the kid, it’s such a wonderful feeling, to know that we are a part of a community that is each of us taking responsibility in the upbringing of the children in this community,” Vernosh said.

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Maxfield, Girls on the Run participant and her running buddy complete the first lap of their practice 5k at Maxfield Elementary, May 17. Before the practice, the girls enjoyed a healthy snack. | photo by CARLO HOLMBERG

Maxfield’s journey begins every morning at 9 a.m. by establishing an intrinsic belief in each other. The students and teachers recite a daily affirmation call and response. The pledge stands as Maxfield’s battle cry and its impact goes far beyond the classroom.

I am somebody, I am somebody, I am capable and lovable, I am teachable therefore I can learn, I can do anything if I try, I can be the best that I can be,  each day, each day, each day,  I will not waste time because it is too valuable and I am too precious and bright I am somebody I am somebody, I am somebody.

“I Am Somebody” wasted no time in impacting the persona of the Maxfield scholars. Vernosh learned the call and response teaching in Madison, Wisconsin at the African American Ethnic Academy. He brought “I Am Somebody” with him to Maxfield when he was hired as a second grade teacher. The Principal at the time adopted the speech, and ever since it has been Maxfield’s philosophy.

“When I came back as principal I wanted to make sure it is still thriving and that every classroom that our students are in they hear that same consistent message,” Vernosh said.

The ramifications of the “I Am Somebody” call do not stop in the classroom. Maxfield scholars strive to be lifelong learners in all aspects of life.

Multimedia by Connor Hanson, Zac Villarreal and Carlo Holmberg