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DALLAS — Did you know that you are supposed to wash your hands for two minutes to effectively remove germs?

Whitworth’s fifth-grade class does, thanks to a visit from a critical care nurse and community educator from Salem Health.

Their timely visit was in May during the classes’ study of infectious diseases, and they demonstrated ways that the students could prevent getting sick or making others sick.

Heather Yancey, a nurse at Salem Hospital, encouraged students to use “the Dracula move,” meaning that they should sneeze and cough into their elbow.

“Who goes around touching stuff with their elbows?” she asked the class.

As a critical care nurse, Yancey said an essential part of her job is washing her hands to protect her patients, co-workers and herself from avoidable illnesses.

“We are professional hand-washers at the hospital,” Yancey said. “Every time I leave a room, I’m washing my hands. I’m wearing gloves, so I’m not spreading germs.”

She told the class the best way to make sure you scrub your hands for two minutes is to make the time pass in a fun way.

“I know a better trick which is a lot more fun: You can sing a song,” she said. “If you are singing a song, you don’t have to worry about watching the clock and it’s fun, right?”

Alyssa Gaiser, Community Health Educator at Salem Hospital, was the next to visit Mrs. Graber’s classroom.

“This is the fun part of my job where I get to go talk to a bunch of cool people like you,” she said.

Yancey and Gaiser’s visit was coordinated through the South Metro-Salem STEM Hub, which pairs educators with professionals to expose students to careers in stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

Penny Jahraus, the Oregon Connections Training Coordinator with South Metro-Salem STEM Hub, said a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation helped pay for outreach efforts in rural districts around Salem.

She said she talked with LaCreole Middle School Principal Jamie Richardson and Whitworth teacher Jena Vessell about what the students were studying to find a topic professionals could speak about.

She said they mentioned that Whitworth’s fifth-grade class was doing a unit on infectious diseases.

“It just kind of evolved as we are talking,” she said. “Then I go try to find people in the community (to present to students).”

She said the hope is to encourage more children to explore stem careers.

“Part of the job is connecting teachers with industry people in their community, because it’s a really impactful way for the kids to deepen their learning and to learn about careers they might not have known they were interested in,” she said.

Gaiser did more than just talk about why people should wash their hands, she brought an experiment to illustrate why it’s important. It involved three slices of potato in plastic bags.

She said she put on gloves, peeled the potato, but didn’t wash it before placing three slices in three separate baggies. She brought those to Mrs. Graber’s class.

“This is your potato. I did not take the same potato to any of the other classes,” she said. “They all have their own potato. This is your potato.”

The first slice she left in the bag and labeled it as the “control” slice, uncontaminated by anything in the classroom. The second slice she had the students handle and look at, passing from one person to next until everyone in the class had looked at it.

This one she labeled “hands.”

Gaiser told the class she was going to rub the third slice on the floor, to which several students reacted with, “Eeewww.”

After labeling that slice “floor,” she said they would have to wait a few days to see what happened to the potatoes. She asked the class about its hypothesis on the outcome.

“Do you think between the hands potato and the floor potato, that they are going to be different or are they going to be the same?” Gaiser said.

Some students said the hands potato would incubate more germs.

Another student optimistically projected the floor potato would be the worst.

“So, you’re kind of hoping there’s more germs on the floor than there are on your hands,” she said.

Fifth-grade student Nolan May, 11, was in the camp that believed the hands potato would the ickier one after a few days.

“I think that the hands one is probably going to be a little bit more dirty because everyone touched it,” he said. “Mr. Hiebenthal (building maintenance) cleans the floors and people probably have not washed their hands recently.”

May could have been correct about the potato experiment. Gaiser gave the class a big hint at what she thought would be in the outcome of the experiment at the end of her presentation.

“If some of you want to wash your hands after touching the potato and haven’t already, please go do so,” she said.

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