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Kristi Johnson, education director at SteppingStone Theatre in St. Paul, warms up kindergarten through second-graders following an informational skit about birds at Natural Science Academy. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)

Residency combines art and science lessons at St. Paul Park’s Natural Science Academy

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Ten-year-old Esther Lankow lived the life of an American goldfinch last week.

The fourth-grader at Natural Science Academy in St. Paul Park perfected the songbird’s chirp and told her classmates all about the bright yellow granivore’s origins during a performance crafted alongside members of SteppingStone Theatre.


Each year the charter school partners with area performers for a week-long Artists in Residence program, which teaches K-5 students the importance of body language, voice, imagination, concentration and cooperation. The program also incorporates the science curriculum the students are studying, which last week was birds.

SteppingStone’s Educational Director Kristi Johnson, and fellows D’Angelo York and Carina Kaiser, helped third- through fifth-graders learn about the origins of the purple finch, blue hen, willow ptarmigan and other birds from around the country.

To cap off the week-long lesson, the students put together an informational skit for the kindergarten through second-graders to showcase their knowledge of birds from New York to California.

“This is a great opportunity for us to connect with the kids,” York said. He and Kaiser are part of a 10-month fellowship that prepares them to teach theater.

Students interacted with one another as their respective bird, and compared and contrasted traits, colors, sounds, even eating habits.

Teacher Laura Ferguson said the hands-on approach enhances the educational experience.

“We really want to focus on infusing art and science together,” said Kendra Hunding, grades 3-5 teacher. “These are two things that humans do and they complement each other.”

Lankow, who eagerly showcased her bird-like chirping abilities to her classmates, said learning about the American goldfinch was more than just educational.

“I liked learning about the sounds and where they live too,” she said. “And they are pretty. I like the goldish color.”

She added that imitating the bird was a “fun way to learn.”

Following the performance, Johnson led the kindergarten through second-graders in several learning activities.

“SteppingStone has been using these topics to teach the ‘tools’ of an actor to the students,” Ferguson said. “We go on different adventures each month and I think this is a great educational opportunity for all of our students.”

Emily Buss
Emily Buss joined the South Washington County Bulletin in February 2013. She covers local government in Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park and Newport, along with other general assignment reporting. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communications from Minnesota State University, Mankato.
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