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Decor adds to junior kindergarten experience

Heather Marsico is the teacher of the new junior kindergarten program at Graveraet Elementary School. The program will begin Tuesday along with other schools in the Marquette Area Public Schools district. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

By CHRISTIE BLECK

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — A bare classroom with nothing but a chalkboard and blank walls isn’t exactly the best setting to nurture a young child’s mind.

Fortunately for the students in Graveraet Elementary School’s new junior kindergarten program, they will be surrounded by colorful “jungle” decor while learning.

Heather Marsico is the teacher for the new JK program, coming from Alpena Public Schools.

Graveraet’s JK program is geared toward the young set.

“It’s for children who are younger; they haven’t turned 5 by Sept. 1, they might have had a birthday over the summer or they’re going to turn 5 during the fall, like in October or November,” Marsico said.

She noted it was a good age to be in a classroom.

“It will be a perfect fit so that they have that time to grow socially, emotionally,” Marsico said, “and they’re still going to be learning the same things that kindergartners learn, like the alphabet, letters, how to spell their name, math, counting, numbers, how to write.”

It’s a full day, too, with the first day on Tuesday.

And the youngsters will learn more than the basics.

For instance, Marsico said they will take part in physical education, art and music too.

“They’re going to have a new component this year where a teacher comes in and is actually going to teach them social and emotional learning,” Marsico said, “and just, like, how to get along with other people, what to do when you’re feeling angry or sad, or what kind of coping strategies could you use.”

Activities are expected to include blocks, a kitchen set for “dramatic play” and a sand table so the kids can take part in hands-on learning and playing.

“They’re just going to be doing a lot of different activities where they can actually physically do things and manipulate materials, and play and learn,” Marsico said.

She said junior kindergarten already is a part of some Marquette Area Public Schools buildings.

“Some of the kids are coming over from Sandy Knoll (Elementary), because there’s not room for one this year at Sandy Knoll and apparently there was a JK last year,” said Marsico, who noted JK programs also are at Superior Hills and Cherry Creek elementary schools.

Classrooms are unique anyway, no matter what the students’ ages, but Marsico’s JK room is decorated in a jungle motif, complete with things such as palm tree cutouts, a stuffed gorilla and snakes — artificial, of course.

She did all the decorating.

“It’s going to be for the whole year,” Marsico said. “I’m going to do this if I’m going to continue to be the JK teacher. It’s going to be the ‘JK jungle.'”

The kids should appreciate it.

“I just thought it would be something fun,” Marsico said. “It’s colorful.”

Regardless of their surroundings, young children can be “sponges” for new ideas.

“Early learning is essential for proper brain development in children, and research supports the idea that before the age of 6, the brain is more open than ever to growth that leads to emotional and intellectual intelligence in the future,” said Dr. Sarah Kemppainen, principal at Graveraet, in an email. “Junior kindergarten is a perfect time for this early learning to occur, as well as a perfect steppingstone for kindergarten.”

She said Marsico brings a wealth of outstanding experiences in early childhood education, especially her work with teaching social and emotional learning to young children.

“Our junior kindergarten program is a great thing for our students and community,” Kemppainen said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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