Educator Mollie Gruennert: Creating School Environment with Joy, Beauty, and Shalom– Part 1

Mollie Gruennert is passionate. She has always desired to make a difference, exemplifying this outlook:

“I alone cannot change the world, 
but I can cast a stone across the waters 
to create many ripples.”   ― Mother Teresa

This desire has taken many routes, primarily in education. She received a B.S. in Education from Calvin College (my own alma mater), then she . . . 

–Taught 4th Grade at National Heritage Academy’s first school, Excel Charter Academy in Grand Rapids, Michigan — 4 years
–Taught in Private Home School — 1 year
–Traveled 13 Countries in 3 months viewing ministries 
–Taught 3rd Grade at George Washington Academy, Casablanca, Morocco — 2 years 
–Taught 4th Grade then MS Literature and HS Drama at Heritage Christian Schools, Milwaukee, WI — 2 years 
–Was Literacy Coach, Assistant Principal, Director of Operations at Hmong American Peace Academy — 8 years
–Taught as an Emergency Home School Aunt – 1 year

Mollie Gruennert

Before all of that occurred, Mollie was my high school art student at Heritage Christian School (Milwaukee, WI). She was intelligent, thoughtful, and creative–a joy to have in class. She’s still all of those things, now as principal of Cross Trainers Academy (CTA) since June, 2014. 

CTA is the Milwaukee Rescue Mission Elementary School. Here’s the mission statement:

“Cross Trainers Academy exists to provide an academically rigorous, Christ-centered education to equip students from a wide variety of backgrounds, including those who are or have been homeless, to serve their communities and lead responsible, God-honoring lives. We do this by nurturing the whole child, empowering each student to build a strong foundation for the future.”

Mollie uses her creativity to cultivate an environment of learning for children and to stir their muses. One way this happens is by partnering with local organizations, including “Learn Deep,” “Arts @ Large,” and “Mad Hot Ballroom.” In addition to volunteers who teach music, CTA has a partnership with Marquette University to design a playground that is natural and adventurous.

Students preparing for the Mad Hot Ballroom competition.

What do you love to create?

Mollie: When it comes to people, I love to create a vision for the potential use of each person’s gifts, both collaboratively and individually, in our environment and beyond the school walls. As a school principal, I have to get to know the people on my team personally to understand what their gifts are and explore how those gifts can be used to develop the gifts in the students we serve.

I have to navigate personalities
and preferences to best utilize talent.  
Sometimes this requires role shifting and unique job descriptions 
that are not typical in other school environments. 

For example, one teacher asked to explore how his acting ability and connections to the wide community can help our students find a place in radio drama or film production, telling stories the students relate to that will inspire their community. 

A secretary may also lead a praise dance group, or a teacher may teach courses as diverse as engineering and literature because both are passions.

Ultimately, the goal is to draw out student talent 
and find unique ways with the community 
to give our students opportunity 
to allow their gifts to develop 
and eventually flourish. 

Artistically, I enjoy using my love for art to organize school performances, projects, and even staff member celebrations. Color, flavors, sound, and personality are some of the mediums used to create the environment needed for people to enjoy learning, and feel like family at our school.  

At the dance competition.

Where do you get your ideas?  

Mollie: Problems!

Problems are the fertile soil for creativity 
in the school environment.  

Sometimes the problem is the need for a new playground that helps meet a need for students in Milwaukee to experience nature. Other problems include the need for higher literacy which will require engaging methods like radio drama or film for students to want to tackle challenging text.

Another problem we were having as a school was attention to detail. We decided to develop a drum line, recorder, and ukulele programs to help students develop their ability to listen. As students learn to attend to musical sounds, they tend to transfer this developing listening skill and note reading skills into the classroom, sustaining their focus on text.

Learn Deep In their Own WordsIn monthly Collab Labs, educators and community partners come together to share ideas and solve problems. They provide a chance to hear what other schools are working on and how they’ve overcome hurdles to implement innovative practices. Partners link up to work on projects that emphasize innovative education.

The demand that students develop skills 
(communication, collaboration, problem solving)
that will enable them to survive and thrive
in the 21st century is rising. 
This, in turn, is forcing a big shift in education — 
away from the mass production, 
content-centric model in use for the last 100 years 
to student-driven work on real-world projects. 

As this transition unfolds we fear Milwaukee and its students will be left behind. Learn Deep aims to put Milwaukee out in front.


How do you create? Say something about your creative process. 

 Joy, beauty, and shalom are critical ingredients 
in my creative process. 

Mollie:  Whether I am refurbishing a dollhouse for a Christmas present, or developing a student’s ear to be able hear the nuances in spelling out words, or helping create a work environment that is rewarding and productive, I believe the human soul seeks these qualities and is satisfied when these qualities coexist.

Shalom at our school, is defined as 
“The way things are suppose to be.” 
in terms of relationships with God and man. 
It speaks to our highest potential. 

Being in a Christian environment, I tap into the creativity of God. I spend time in prayer, asking Him to show me how things could be and then following through with the insights I am given.  

Because God is naturally joyful and a worker of beauty, 
those qualities tend to inspire us, 
since we are made in his image. 
My belief in God’s profound genius and deeply creative nature 
keep me looking for ways to go beyond 
whatever obstacle or problem 
needs a creative solution. 

I know there is a beautiful way to resolve it! I want to find that way and enjoy that journey with my colleagues, school families, and with my own family. 

Mollie with her nieces & nephews, 2015. She home schooled the older ones in 2014.

There is nothing technical in what I do.  Perhaps the most technical thing I do is rest on a thought and enjoy exploring it in my long car ride home. If I am not a talkative person, this might be why. My mind is very busy piecing together information that I am taking in and constantly reorganizing to form into new opportunities that might meet current problems.


Next time I’ll share about CTA’s collaboration with Arts @ Large and Mad Hot Ballroom. 

Learn more here:

I’d love to hear from you!

Do you recall particularly engaging art activities or collaborative projects from your own schooling? Or in your children’s classrooms?

Ever musing,


By clicking “subscribe,” you agree with the terms of the privacy policy noted on the bottom of our website.

14 thoughts on “Educator Mollie Gruennert: Creating School Environment with Joy, Beauty, and Shalom– Part 1

  1. I wish that I had had more collaborative art activities as a kid in school. I remember feeling like group projects were more a hindrance than a benefit because of the individualistic culture otherwise promoted in the classroom. Being in the work world has shown me that our current economy could greatly benefit from more collaboration and creativity in the classroom – these are two primary skills that computers will not be taking on anytime soon, thus there is great job security for those who are good at these skills.

    I really like the idea of problems leading to creativity. I think this is pragmatic creativity – the bulk of what humankind has generated over its civilized history.

    1. You’re absolutely right about the need for collaboration and creativity in the classroom. Surely that’s why more schools are implementing such collaborations. In fact, I think my son’s STEM middle school had more group projects than individual work!

  2. How inspirational! This is yet another prime example of what God can do through people who heed His voice and answer His call to do His bidding for children! The experiences she has provided for students will remain as precious memories for student and teacher alike! Awesome is a word that comes to mind!!

  3. The one downside of our profession is that we do not always get to see the fruits of our labors. Many times, students don’t blossom or bloom until long after they have left our care. Yet, it is the early work we do and the care we give that lay the foundation. It is super special when we can see the great work our former students now do, as in the case with Mollie!

  4. I’m afraid Art is the only class where I ever got a C!! My art teacher in England appreciated abstract art, was a strict grader, and did not appreciate me! So since I was about 11 years old, I have considered myself to be awful at art. I’m glad that I found writing to fill that creative need in my soul because it I’m terrified of paints and a brush!

  5. This is amazing. It would be wonderful to see more schools like this and more educators like Mollie. To answer the question at the end: while I was less-than-impressive at most art (as my teachers often informed me), I could usually find creative ways to express myself when helping with school plays. While not an actor (something my teachers also told me) somehow I could contribute something fun and original to sets and scripts. A great outlet for an insecure wallflower!
    Glad you are going to tell us more about Cross Trainers Academy!

    1. That’s the great thing about collaboration. Actors can’t do much without a script and a set. Glad you found your creative outlet!

    2. Collaboration allows each person to find their niche! You don’t have to be good at everything to have an amazing outcome. Students (and teachers) empowering each other to be the best they can be. It warms my heart. 🙂

      1. Yes, that’s definitely the benefit of collaboration! Each person can shine in his or her own strengths, and, hopefully, everyone gains a stronger appreciation for what each contributes as they complement each other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *