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Saturday Academy comes to Riverdale

Nonprofit educational group is celebrating its 30th anniversary


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Science teacher and herpetology expert Liz Johnson has 20 pet reptiles, including Nero, an American alligator.Earlier this week in a Riverdale High School classroom, Payton Wooldridge, 10, gazed steadily at Nero, a 3½-foot-long American alligator, before slowly reaching out and gingerly stroking the reptile’s bumpy back.

After observing the tame, cold-blooded gator for a few minutes, Payton, of Clackamas, said reptiles are “fascinating” and “more unique than mammals or marsupials.”

Science teacher and herpetology expert Liz Johnson brought in 16 of her 20 pet reptiles, including the lap dog-like Nero, for her class — Herps: Lizards & Gators & Snakes, Oh My! — one of more than 20 classes offered this week through Saturday Academy.

Nero is “one of the animals that everyone’s kind of shocked that I bring, and he’s probably the nicest with the kids,” Johnson said. “He’s very gentle with them.”

Johnson, who works about 90 miles south of Lake Oswego at Sweet Home Junior High, has special permits to own some of her more unusual animals, such as a nonnative red-eared slider turtle named Shelly. Johnson rescued many of her pets from people who could not take care of them.

Hundreds of students from grades second to 12 participated in Saturday Academy’s sixth annual summer session at Riverdale. Other courses included animal anatomy, chemistry lab, writing, forensic science, wax painting and Lego physics.by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Josephine Courtney prepares a chemistry experiment in which crystals are formed during Saturday Academys sixth annual summer session at Riverdale High School.

The academy is a nonprofit organization that’s affiliated with the University of Portland and emphasizes hands-on learning in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Johnson said students gain critical skills in such classes even if they do not plan to pursue a career in one of the STEM fields.

“One thing that all STEM subjects have in common is to inspire inquisitive minds and problem-solving, which I think is valuable for whatever you do,” she said. “I think that’s what’s so great about Saturday Academy and the classes they offer because they all have to do with kids solving problems and thinking outside the box.

This year, the Portland-based organization, which offers classes in the metro area, celebrates its third decade of enhancing pre-college students’ lives with classes, camps and internships.

One of the distinguishing qualities of the academy is the involvement of expert instructors with professional experience in the fields they teach, including Johnson, who worked in a reptile breeding facility in Corvallis, said Ashton McCrate, Saturday Academy operations and marketing coordinator. McCrate added that another important aspect of the organization is tuition assistance, which depends on a family’s size, income or special circumstances.

“It’s really important to us that all students have equal opportunity and access,” McCrate said.

She said the academy’s always looking to expand the places where it holds classes, which include Portland, Beaverton, Clackamas and Marylhurst.

The varying locations “make it easier for parents,” and classes do not involve testing, which is a “different way of learning,” said Glenn Taylor, Saturday Academy director of operations.

The Saturday Academy is offering its What Ho! Olympians class at Marylhurst University, 17600 Pacific Highway, Marylhurst. The class for fifth- to eighth-graders, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. July 29 to Aug. 2, delves into Greco-Roman culture, architecture, theater, science and magic via Rick Riordan’s young adult fantasy series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Clackamas is offering a veterinary medicine class next month for ninth- to 12th-graders, which is already full. The vets offer specialized care: internal medicine, cardiology, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, emergency/critical care, surgery and diagnostic imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging.

Robert Mack, a veterinarian specializing in internal medicine, said many people do not know that vets offer specialized care. Students observe the specially trained vets with clients and ask questions.

“They get to see what our day is like and some of the problems vets can get and some of the things that we can do to help,” Mack said.

Saturday Academy in 2011-12 had 473 classes and camps and 103 Learning Enrichment/Accelerated Pace classes. Plus, there were 140 students participating in Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering, an eight-week internship program that matches ninth- to 11th-graders with science and engineering professionals.

McCrate said the academy does not have immediate plans to locate classes in Lake Oswego, but the academy expanded this year, offering two weeks of summer classes next month in Hillsboro.

“This is keeping us plenty busy for now,” she said.



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