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U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) paid a visit to Hillsboro’s smallest elementary school last week.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, second from right, chats with deaf students at Groner Elementary School with the help of ASL educational interpreter Linda Cornely.


While there, she learned that Groner Elementary School, located near the community of Scholls, may be small, but it is mighty.

Bonamici, a founding member of the Congressional STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) Caucus, visited to learn more about the school’s STEAM program as well as the school’s deaf program.

One thing Bonamici learned is that with just 155 students at the school, strong parent and community support allows for a year-round vegetable garden at Groner.

Just recently, principal Scott Schinderle was presented with a single radish, grown with love, from the school’s garden. Not only had the students grown radishes from seed and tracked their growth, they also had a chance to taste the fruit — well, vegetable — of their labor.

“A lot of kids would not eat a radish at home,” Schinderle joked with Bonamici, but fresh from the school garden makes them much more palatable.

In addition to the science involved in growing vegetables, the students were able to view a cut radish under a microscope, then draw what they saw.

“There’s growing support from the business community where there was some skepticism,” for the idea of STEAM, Bonamici said. Encouraging educators to integrate the arts into traditional STEM study is a new and growing idea.

Groner Elementary also houses the deaf and hard of hearing program, run by Northwest Regional Education Service District. That program has about 10 students who come from Hillsboro and as far away as Beaverton and Tigard-Tualatin school districts.

Bonamici was able to visit with students through an American Sign Language interpreter, and got a demonstration of the school’s Sorenson Video Relay Service (SVRS) , a device that allows deaf and hard of hearing individuals to communicate via voice telephone using video and an interpreter.

Bonamici had a VRS chat with William, who used ASL to communicate to an interpreter in a call center located in Beaverton. That interpreter then translated to English for Bonamici.

SVRS has 100 call centers across the United States.

“Probably the most important application for ... VRS in classroom settings is the simplest: the hands-on experience deaf students have to learn the life skill of using the videophone the same way their hearing buddies use a landline or cell phone,” said Ann Bardsley, director of public relations for Salt Lake City-based Sorenson Communications.

“The phone is such a part of modern life and conducting business, it’s crucial deaf students learn the ins and outs of telecommunication. The VP levels the communication ‘playing field’ for deaf students, teachers, graduates, workers, etc.”

At the national level, a Congressional Deaf Caucus has recently been formed to advise members of Congress on the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing children and their schools.

Beyond the technological gadgets and talk of science and engineering, Bonamici spotted an old-fashioned poster tacked to a bulletin board listing positive behavior characteristics.

“I should take this with me to Congress,” Bonamici joked.

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