On the corner of County Road E just past Highway 61 in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota, sits a private school unlike any other. The three-story brick building is home to roughly 110 students from fifth through 12th grade who are both academically and athletically inclined (most with a specific focus on Minnesota’s most beloved sport, hockey). And while the aim of Gentry Academy, like every school, is to help foster students’ athletic and academic abilities, in the process it’s also teaching them important lessons of another characteristic valued by hockey players: leadership
“I think the biggest thing that makes Gentry unique is our culture and our curriculum that is really turning these kids into leaders,” Gentry Academy’s athletic director Joe Jensen. “We have leadership class for 35 minutes every day for both the high school and middle school, teaching the kids all the attributes of being a leader: accountability, character, determination those types of things. They learn about how to be a leader at school and they’re held accountable during their training and through competition.
“It’s one thing to learn it but they have to apply it throughout their day and life so everything they’re being taught by our coaches and teachers, we’re making sure we’re also telling them how to apply that in life, too.”
The original academy first opened its doors in Blaine in 2014-15. With seven sports of emphasis, hockey is the biggest. And while the Schwan’s Super Rink was a great option for ice time, Gentry Academy wanted a new school building, and a new facility. A relocation to its current home on the Vadnais Sports Center campus occurred in 2016-17, with Gentry students having full access to the Vadnais Sports Center — a two-sheet ice facility complete with a five-field sports dome — across the parking lot.
During the relocation process, HTG Architects took on the unique challenge of creating a building and environment suitable for STEM, robotics, history and English classrooms, combined with a top-notch athletic facility, too.
“HTG got it right on all fronts,” Jensen said. “We are delivering a phenomenal experience today and have great capacity for the future thanks to the complete layout of this building, and the adjacent sports complex. We couldn’t ask for much more.”
In between your typical school-day classes like math and English, students at Gentry participate in W.I.N (What I Need) time, a two hour free-time block that allows students to dictate what they learn. Yet another application of their leadership education.
“We are able to pick and choose what we want to do during that time, which is really pretty great,” said Chloe Heating, a senior at Gentry who is committed to play Division I hockey at Union College. “You’re able to really apply those leadership skills and select what area you want to explore every W.I.N time. You can go skate, play lacrosse, play soccer, do yoga or work on something for school.
“It’s provided us a really unique way to learn, I love it.”
Providing even more excitement for W.I.N time is the 10,000 square-foot PowerHaus gym on the school’s lower level. Chloe’s sister, Grace, compared the weight room/gym combo to a Division III school’s weight room. Stock-full of top-of the line weight-lifting machinery — all complete in Gentry Academy’s blue, red and yellow school colors — it’s an incredible addition to an already incredible building. With an emphasis on developing hockey players, the PowerHaus gym is perfect for dryland training along with a synthetic ice surface to help develop skating, shooting and other hockey-related skill sets.
Eighth grader Zach Reim, said the PowerHaus gym is “his favorite part of the school.”
“You can go down and lift, stretch, and it’s all on really nice equipment,” Reim said.
Zach Reim, eighth grade. “Some of it is what the [NHL] pros use.”
It’s just one more element to an already spectacular building. With smart boards in the classrooms, chemistry labs and space for team and school meetings, Gentry Academy accomplishes the perfect balance of academics and athletics — leading a new wave of educational promise.
“We are really lucky to have a school and facility like this here in the area,” said Jensen. “We have professionals on both the academics and athletics side that provide the very best for our students. There are so many positive benefits in what we are accomplishing here.”
HTG Architects designed and created plans for both Gentry Academy and Vadnais Heights Sports Center.