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Building relationships and respect: New multicultural learning materials introduced at Perham elementary school

From books like "Same, Same, But Different" to dolls of different ethnicities, the materials gained from a recent 549 Family Foundation grant are already being used in the school's kindergarten classrooms.

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Two kindergarten students at Heart of the Lakes Elementary read through the school's new multicultural books. (Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus)

Heart of the Lakes Elementary School kindergarten students recently got their hands on some new classroom books and toys that promote diversity and multicultural learning, thanks to a grant from the 549 Family Foundation.

From books like "Same, Same, But Different" to dolls of different ethnicities, the materials gained from the grant are already being used in the school's kindergarten classrooms.

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Students in Sarah Ogroske's class play with a newly unboxed toy. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

"We want students with a variety of backgrounds to feel comfortable learning in the classroom, as well as understand and respect others when learning together," said kindergarten teacher Sarah Ogroske.

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One of the new stories, "The School Book," is written in both English and Spanish. Several kindergarten teachers mentioned that there's a growing number of multilingual students in their classes.

"We are always striving to make our classrooms inclusive for everyone, and one way to do that is to build relationships with our students and create a classroom family atmosphere," Ogroske said. "Books and engaging learning materials assist in starting the conversations about a variety of topics as well as grow students' vocabulary with one another."

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Two friends hold brand new dolls in their elementary classroom. (Submitted by Sarah Ogroske)

Diversity isn't the only focus of these brand new materials. Other new books introduced to Perham classrooms feature uplifting stories that tie into Heart of the Lakes' curriculum about emotions. These books help kids learn about feelings, mindfulness and what makes them special.

With the money from the grant, teachers were also able to purchase other kinds of hands-on literacy and math materials. Ogroske recently unboxed some alphabet learning locks for students to try, and kids came rushing across the classroom, excited to learn through play.

"We felt that the materials would not only help students be excited and engaged in learning, but would also be a great way for students to work together to problem solve, socialize and build relationships with one another," Ogroske said.

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Two kids at Heart of the Lakes Elementary read through the new multicultural books. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

Established in 2002, the 549 Family Foundation is a Perham-area nonprofit with a mission to provide the 549 School District's students with educational tools for a successful future.

In addition to helping the kindergarteners get new reading materials and educational toys, the foundation also provided them with several opportunities for field trips through its recent grant, to the Chahinkapa Zoo in Wahpeton, N.D., and Trowbridge Creek Zoo in Vergas.

The 549 Foundation also helps cover the kids' annual field trip to Lubitz Dairy Farm in rural Perham, where students are able to see first-hand how a dairy farm is operated.

"It is one of the highlights of our kindergarten year each spring," Ogroske said. "We are so gracious that 549 provides the funding to make field trips like this possible. For many of our kindergarten students, this is their first visit to a farm."

Grants over the years have helped provide kindergarten students with transportation to live performances and other classroom items that enhance learning, from puzzles to STEM toys. The students have enjoyed them, and the teachers say they're grateful.

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Perham kids smile, showing off their class' brand new toys. (Submitted by Sarah Ogroske)

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The Heart of the Lakes kindergarten teachers had this message for the 549 Foundation: "(The grant) has allowed us to provide many other learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom that our classroom budget doesn’t allow. We are very thankful to have this foundation as part of our school and community, and many students have been impacted by their generosity."

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Two kids share the new books with one another in Heart of the Lakes Elementary. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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