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Ideas flow from enrichment programs

From Gizmotics to math, Community School students learn before and after school


To those among us who couldn’t build a 3D printer or who have never heard of an O’Neill cylinder: You don’t have to consult Google — instead, just ask a student at the Forest Grove Community School.

In addition to regular coursework, the school offers six different after-school enrichment programs: Gizmotics, Math Games, Spanish, Publishing House, touch football and a school garden. The programs last roughly 50 minutes and are offered both before and after the regular school day.

Especially impressive is the turnout for these optional programs. In a school of about 200 kids, Principal Vanessa Gray estimates about 70 join one class or another.

“These kids are learning valuable skills,” she said, “and it helps out working parents who need an extension of the day program.”

Though Gray must approve the programs before they’re adopted, she said, they’re student driven.

“We want students to be participants in their own education,” she said. “It’s a big part of our goal, which is for our students to become stewards, scholars and citizens.”

The students get excellent role models for that in the volunteers who run the before- and after-school programs.

Erin Morgan offers Spanish classes for all grades for a $10 per-semester materials fee (not quite free, but close). A bilingual teacher, Morgan runs the school’s “Out & About” program during regular hours.

Publishing House — a Friday club that’s producing a literary magazine with student writing and artwork — is run by Americorps member Ashley Vincent.

The Gizmotics and Math Games programs are put on by parents Markus and Roberta Roberts.

FGCS also offers an after-school academic support program called Tree House.

PE teacher Rick Boudreau has been supervising a student-initiated touch-football club the past few months. And another parent volunteer is getting ready to offer a theater class.

“Because our resources are limited, we work hard to take advantage of the resources we do have,” Gray said. FGCS gets only 85 percent of per-pupil funding from the state as compared to mainstream public schools, with no access to many revenue streams that support other schools, such as capital-improvement dollars.

“We couldn’t put together a library of our own, but we have the public library down the street. And we couldn’t afford to bring in a math specialist, but we have a parent like Markus.”

“The idea for Math Games came from a paper called ‘A Mathematician’s Lament,’” said Roberts, whose three children attend the school. “Basically what it says is, you wouldn’t try to teach kids to play the violin without letting them hear the great composers and only letting them tune instruments and play scales. But that’s how we’re trying to teach math.”

So now Roberts teaches college-level math such as “group theory” and probability to first- through fifth-graders.

In Gizmotics, Roberts’ students have built a working 3D printer and an O’Neill Cylinder — a theoretical space colony — from a two-liter bottle.

“We start with the motivation: I have a problem I want to solve,” Roberts said, “and from there we’re always upping the challenge. It’s great practice dealing with frustration and, so far, time is the only limitation we’ve found.

“Kids are saying ‘Well, I want to be a mad scientist, but I have homework tonight.’”

The school will soon add two new programs: a drama club and an animation club. The latter is a capstone project dreamed up and organized by an eighth-grader who’s set to move on to high school at the end of the year.

“It’s wonderful to see such a small school touch so many students,” Gray said.

And what has allowed the Forest Grove Community School to do that?

“It’s the culture of inclusivity and openness,” Roberts said. “This is the most open and reasonable school I’ve ever been a part of, and their willingness to try new ideas makes all the difference.”

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