They interviewed more than 20 business owners, toured the historic spots in Oregon City, learned to identify trees, wrote poetry about those trees, made a three-dimensional model of the city and a trifold brochure to illustrate their knowledge with a public presentation to family members about what they learned.

And all of this was done by kindergartners in Jessica Bernert and Anna Shapiro’s class at The Marylhurst School, a primary school in the historic Barclay Building on 12th Street in Oregon City.

Neighborhood study

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Aidan, 6, left, tells Hudson, 7, that OC firefighters taught him how to drop and roll to get away from a fire.The public presentation was made in early June, right before the end of the school year, but the project itself was the result of a yearlong study about tradition and stories in the community, Bernert said.

“We wanted to walk around and get to know the people in our neighborhood,” but it evolved into so much more, she said.

Bernert graduated from OCHS in 2005, and began working at The Marylhurst School in 2009. She also grew up in Oregon City, so she was able to share her own childhood experiences with her students.

She spent her spring break talking to business owners to see if they were willing to participate in the study, and after they recovered from the initial shock of finding out that the students were in kindergarten, “they were excited and honored” to be part of the project.

Students then toured sites in the city; as a class they toured the Oregon City Library, the fire station, the Clackamas County Courthouse and Mi Famiglia, and then individual students chose other businesses and sites to visit.

It was also important to Bernert and Shapiro that their students familiarized themselves with their natural environment, so when they toured the neighborhoods, students learned to identify different species of trees, like cherry, maple, Douglas fir and sequoia.

Then “it was fun for them to go out into their own yards and identify the trees,” Bernert said.

Awareness grows

The project really began to take shape as students built a big, three-dimensional model of Oregon City, researched the city’s history, made a piece of art to represent the tree they researched, wrote poetry to honor that tree and prepared to present their findings to an audience.

Students created posters and stood in front of them on presentation day, answering questions about the business they researched and the trees they identified.

Britta Daubersmith, a first- and second-grade teacher at The Marylhurst School, brought her students to the presentation.

She said it was important for the students to learn the names of the trees, because it broadens their knowledge of their community, in the same way that learning the names of streets does.

“They start to look out. It’s like a pebble thrown in a pond — kids’ awareness expands out and they are ready for it,” she said.

After the students and guests had looked at all of the posters, the kindergartners recited their poems in front of the audience, took one more tour of the city and ended up eating pizza at Mi Famiglia.

Real community interest

“They connected with their community and got a sense of belonging here. Instead of just going to school and going home, they can walk down Seventh Street and talk to the firemen and the owners of Singer Hill Cafe. Nothing is more important than being part of a community and feeling good about the community,” Bernert said.

What surprised her about the project?

“Their investment in it — where they took it. We heard the stories behind the McLoughlin House, and I was surprised by all their interest in the minutiae of it.”

The students’ “excitement and joy” was palpable as well, she said, noting that when they were walking back from the Clackamas County Courthouse, the students knocked on the window of Mi Famiglia and the owner came out and talked to them.

“They were so excited to know someone,” she said.

Bernert added: “It is fun to see how aware of things they have become. They are now global citizens and local citizens.”

Marylhurst School

The Marylhurst School is a 40-year-old, nonprofit school housed in the historic Barclay Building of Oregon City since 1986, when it moved from the Marylhurst College Campus. To learn more about the school, visit

Participants in the neighborhood-study project include: Barclay Park, Barclay School, Bigfoot Bakery, the Carnegie Library, City Hall, the Clackamas County Courthouse, Coin Corner, Dutch Bros. Coffee, the End of the Oregon Trail Museum, Friends of the Oregon City Library Used Book Store, the McLoughlin House, Mi Famiglia, the Oregon City elevator, firehouse, pool and train station, Singer Hill Cafe, Spicer Brothers Produce, the Stevens-Crawford House, Super Torta and You Can Leave Your Hat On.

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