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Kindergarten program counteracts impact of pandemic isolation, while seventh graders present science research

COURTESY PHOTO: GLADSTONE SCHOOL DISTRICT - Royce Markia, Levi Sanderson and Kasen Sandness present their scientific findings at Gladstone's Kraxberger Middle School.

Gladstone teachers are making full use of this year's return to in-person classes five days a week, by leading Discovery sessions to build kindergarten social skills, and by asking seventh graders to give scientific presentations.

To counteract the impact of pandemic isolation, the Gladstone kindergarten program has introduced a new Discovery program to build social-emotional skills. Studies have shown that kids with skills like collaboration and compromise are more likely to succeed academically.

In a program funded by Oregon's Student Investment Account, groups of 10 to 12 Gladstone kindergartners visit Discovery twice a week. During each 45-minute session, they get to choose from an array of small-group activities that include Maker Space (building items for dramatic play), Light Table (exploring patterns and colors) and Big World (constructing with large blocks). Each student can choose other activities like creating with clay, sharing books, designing collages and exploring dramatic play with figurines.

As the kids play, teacher Rachel Gannon asks guiding questions, giving children the chance to build communication, observation and thinking skills, as well as vocabulary and math skills.

"What students learn here are the core skills that help us live fulfilling, connected lives: autonomy, problem-solving and exploration," she said. "My hope is that children develop a joy in learning and identify themselves as investigators and communicators."

Meanwhile, small clusters of Gladstone seventh grade scientists recently presented their research. Two boys performed a puppet show about great white sharks, while another student read a poem about the critically endangered axolotl.

Each student chose a different sea animal to research, and they created posters and models to add interest to their presentations. Students created an enormous stuffed sea otter, a paper maché octopus and a delicate ceramic clarion angel fish.

"I just love these kids, and I'm so excited about these projects," said science teacher Mary Parnell. "This is the best project they've ever done. It's the first time in 18 months they've had the chance to present, and they are doing it so well."

During the project, students practiced research, reading, writing and presenting, preparing themselves for future projects in middle school and high school.

Parnell asked the students to explain why they care about these animals, the role they play keeping ecosystems in balance, and how each species is impacted by water pollution such as microplastics. The classes will write letters to Gov. Kate Brown to share their concerns. COURTESY PHOTO: GLADSTONE SCHOOL DISTRICT - Gladstone seventh grader Amaya Taylor, with her octopus, employs a clever use of Cheerios for the suction cups.

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