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Staff Spotlight: Chris Gudvangen, Park Center Senior High School

Staff Spotlight: Chris Gudvangen, Park Center Senior High School

Chris Gudvangen keeps Park Center Senior High students active and learning unique skills as a physical education and health teacher and the leader of the school’s popular Outdoor Adventures class. 

Chris with his Outdoor Adventures class on a frozen pond

 

Growing up, Gudvangen spent his childhood outside and in nature. He served 10 years in the Marine Corps after graduating from high school, and part of that time included working as a land navigation instructor for the Marines’ officer candidate school. He taught the officers-in-training how to use a map and compass, plotting routes, what to do when lost and more. 

That teaching component of his service led Gudvangen to use his GI Bill to get both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education. He completed his student teaching at Park Center Senior High over six years ago and knew that’s where he wanted to stay. 

Gudvangen said the school’s Outdoor Adventures class has been a phy. ed. class option for a long time, but five years ago he took over leading the class and brought new life to the curriculum through expanded funding. 

To fund the class, Gudvangen spends his summers writing grants and seeking partnerships and scholarships from the broader community, and in doing so he brings in approximately $80,000 in funding per year to provide unique opportunities for Park Center’s students.

Mr. Gudvangen on a field trip out west with his outdoor adventures class

 

The class’s units vary depending on the season, and students can (and often do) take it more than once to experience different things. Some of the opportunities include:

  • Rock climbing
  • Ethical hunting using a bow and arrow and atlatl and paper targets
  • Wood carving, where students carve their own spoons or a pen/pencil
  • Fishing, including learning how to filet fish and hold a fish fry event
  • Trips to Yellowstone National Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and camping at Baker Park
  • Canoeing down the Mississippi River
  • Building catapults to launch watermelons
  • Building igloos and dog sledding in the winter
  • Fire building and learning to cook over a fire


The class’s popularity has grown quickly, moving from one or two classes per year to now having 11 sections scheduled for next school year.

“When I took over five years ago, I wanted to do more,” Gudvangen explained. “My class is all about pushing boundaries.”

Mr. Gudvangen next to a Boundary Waters Canoe Area sign

 

Besides teaching, Gudvangen also serves as the school’s head boys track and field coach. He was named one of Minnesota’s candidates for the 2024 Teacher of the Year award. 

“It’s extremely difficult, but if you set your expectations and you don’t waver from them, it can be so much fun,” Gudvangen said of being a teacher. “Being able to get the kids outside and experience something new is so rewarding.”

As you can imagine, Gudvangen’s interests outside of school also heavily involve the outdoors. He spends his free time camping, climbing, canoe racing and more. Last year he completed a 150 mile canoe race in 26 hours.

“As long as it’s outside, I’ll do it,” he said.