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3/26/2014 10:42:00 AM
A Passion for penguins in second grade
St. Anthony School photoSt. Anthony students, Katie O’Reilly, Dorothy Courtox and, on white board, penguins.

St. Anthony School photo
St. Anthony students, Katie O’Reilly, Dorothy Courtox and, on white board, penguins.

TIGARD — In Dorothy Courtox’s second grade classroom at St. Anthony School here, a key to creating avid readers, strong mathematicians, creative writers and curious scientists is penguins.

Courtox's fondness for penguins began when her son was 3 and adored the flightless Antarctic birds. The passion really took off in 2004 when a fellow teacher gave her copies of “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” for the entire class. After that, Courtox introduced penguins into the math curriculum by having students research the height of different species of penguins and then transfer the measurements to construction paper.

Each year, second graders take a field trip to the Oregon Zoo. With penguins playing such a role, the trip took on new meaning with students being able to observe the zoo’s population of Humbolt Penguins.  

Dorothy’s students are responsible for two penguin research reports. The first is to create a PowerPoint on one species of penguin. The second is to research and write about eight different varieties of penguins.

Jeanne Havlik, the music teacher, has gotten into the act by teaching second graders an energetic song called “Rockhopper” with lyrics that speak to rock-hopping penguins. In art, Karen Cruickshank helps the students create clay penguins.

In January, both 2nd grade classes gathered around 2B’s large screen and skyped with Jean Pennycook, education and public outreach specialist stationed at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Pennycook was “in the field” and surrounded by Emperor Penguins. Students asked questions and enjoyed receiving replies in real time.

After reading an article in the Catholic Sentinel on Katie O’Reilly, University of Portland biology professor, Courtox invited O’Reilly to come speak to her class about an extensive study of penguins, specifically New Zealand’s Little Blue Penguins. O’Reilly was surprised by the students’ depth of knowledge concerning the different characteristics and varieties of penguins.  

Courtox’s passion for penguins ignited something in one of her former students, Sophia Marthaller.  

“My love of wildlife and penguins started when I was in Mrs. Courtox’s class,” says Sophia, a third grader. 

It is hard for her to choose, but Sophia’s favorite penguins are the Galapagos Penguins and the Little Blue Penguins of New Zealand. For her last birthday, she invited family and friends to her “Endangered Animal Birthday Party.” She created her own web page through the World Wildlife Fund with a goal to raise $250 and asked attendees to donate to the fund rather than give gifts. Sophia far exceeded her goal and to date has raised more than $650.  

When asked what she would like to be when she grows up, Sophia replies matter-of-factly: “A scientist.” 

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