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Central Elementary School second-grade teacher Kathy Stark, left, and Meganne Nelson, a student teacher, discuss the work they are doing to prepare their classroom for the first day of school. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
What are the 10 top ways to become a better reader? Students in Kathy Stark’s second-grade class at Central Elementary School will soon be able to recite the answer without relying on any memory tricks.
A small laminated poster at the entrance of Stark’s classroom lists in numerical order 10 tips for improving reading skills. Beside each tip, is one word — read.
“That is one of my favorites,” Stark said Thursday morning.
The better reading tip sheet is a small but important part of the decor of Stark’s classroom. A room filled with elements meant to help motivate children to learn and feel welcome.
Stark and teachers throughout the La Grande School District are working feverishly to prepare their classrooms for the first day of school on Monday.
The teachers’ work is often so creative and colorful that it is making Central’s classrooms, all of which are about six-decades old, look bright and new.
Central fifth-grade teacher Jill McKinley is adding elements to her classroom, meant to share information about herself and her family that will make it easier for students to connect with her, including photos of her young children and her husband, Parker, who teaches sixth-grade at La Grande Middle School. The latter will be meaningful for McKinley’s students because most will be attending LMS a year from now.
The decor of McKinley’s classroom also reflects her interest in sports, something designed to help her connect with athletically inclined boys and girls. An example is a poster she made encouraging children to become active in community service. The poster is of a baseball diamond and words over the top read “Pitching In.”
McKinley’s classroom also has subtle things reflecting her areas of emphasis, including four pencil sharpeners. The intent is to prevent students from having to stand in line to sharpen their pencils. This reflects McKinley’s focus on efficiency.
“I don’t want students to waste time,” she said.
A big part of preparing classrooms for the first day of school is producing name tags for students that are placed on desks and in other areas of the classrooms. Central first-grade teacher Judy Cadwell said this is particularly important for her students since all of them will be new to the school. None of the first-graders attended Central because all of the school district’s kindergarten classes are taught at Willow Elementary School.
“It is kind of scary for them,” Cadwell said. “We want the incoming first graders to feel especially welcome coming into a new school.”
Cadwell said that rushing to get her classroom ready for the first day of school is always a hectic experience.
“It is kind of crazy,” she said.
Classroom preparation work is easier this year for Stark because of help she is receiving from Meganne Nelson, who is serving as her student teacher. Stark said that having someone like Nelson, a student at Eastern Oregon University, to consult for advice on decor and help set items up makes a big difference.
It is doubtful that many teachers in the La Grande School District have big plans for the weekend since they will be in their classrooms preparing for the first day of school.
“I’ll be working all Saturday and Sunday,” McKinley said.
She will not be alone.
“A lot of other teachers will be here,” McKinley said. “It will be a busy place.”