IES teacher matches kids' enthusiasm


Claudette Garcia gives Independence Elementary School kindergartners a "visual" explanation during a teaching session about mammals.

INDEPENDENCE -- The scraped knees. The mad dash to the door before recess. The ever-present refrain of "teacher, teacher!"

It takes a special breed to become a kindergarten teacher. Claudette Garcia of Independence Elementary School has managed to control, and enjoy, that chaos.

"It's because the kids are excited," said Garcia, who's worked at Central School District and IES for almost a decade.

"They have so much zeal for whatever it is that you're doing."

Garcia's students have warmed to her for her enthusiasm and an animated personality that rivals their own.

Among Garcia's peers, it's the innovative approaches to teaching she brings to the classroom and her dedication to kids the first stages of their educational career, said friend and fellow IES teacher Pennie Freeburg.

"When most of these kids come to school, they don't know how to sit down and listen, how to hold a pencil, how to raise their hands," Freeburg said. "All of that has to be taught.

"They are at that primary age where she (Garcia) is trying to turn them into school kids."

Garcia said the seeds for a career in education were sown early. Living with 12 brothers and sisters on a farm outside Missoula, Mont., helped prepare her for the action of a kindergarten classroom.

Inspiration, however, came from her father -- an elementary school principal -- as well as her own teachers.

"When I was a sixth-grader, our teacher had us tutor first-graders," she said. "That was probably my first real notion that teaching was something I wanted to do."

Garcia earned her teaching degrees from Western Oregon University, including a Master's in bilingual education -- which she pursued after three years of substitute teaching in the Central School District.

She's also one of 148 teachers in Oregon to have certification with the National Board for Teaching Standards, a prestigious credential achieved through a rigorous one- to three-year performance-based assessment.

At IES, Garcia, along with Freeburg, are credited with championing a "buddy system," in which Freeburg's fourth-grade students act as mentors to Garcia's kindergartners.

The older students tutor the younger ones in learning colors, numbers and shapes, and teach them basic social skills, such as how to assemble for the lunch line.

Garcia has also championed Guided Language Acquisition Learning (GLAD) at IES, a model of teaching that makes heavy use of visual elements to convey concepts and information.

For example, Garcia has been teaching a unit on mammals; Photographs and pictures accompany each description of the animal and its behavior.

"If you're teaching orally, you do your spiel and those concepts vanish," she said. "Having a visual of something makes it more concrete."

While GLAD was originally designed to assist those with limited English proficiency, Garcia integrates the program into lessons for all of her students.

She has also been building units for other IES teachers and is close to receiving her certification as a statewide GLAD trainer.


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