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For Rebecca Carlson, the first grade is about watching students grow

"I absolutely love their transition into becoming readers, and them growing into more independent students. It's just a year of discovery and growth." -- Becky Carlson

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First-grade teacher Rebecca Carlson helps student Andrea Boggs with a solar system project Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, at Washington Elementary School in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

The first-graders in Becky Carlson's class are more than willing to tell you what they love about school: the artwork, the physical education, the math.

But press a little harder, and they'll also tell you about the teacher who's helping them learn all those exciting things.

"She's nice and sweet," Khadija said of Carlson, in a soft voice.

Carlson has been a teacher in Rochester the past 26 years, all but one of which has been at Washington Elementary. Her whole career has been focused on the first grade, which she describes as a time of growth for the students that is exciting to witness.

Carlson is teaching in her hometown. In fact, during her first year of teaching, she worked with a handful of the same teachers she had had when she was a student herself.

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First-grade teacher Rebecca Carlson teaches a lesson on the solar system Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, at Washington Elementary School in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

"I went to Gage (Elementary), and then my first year of teaching was at Gage, so that was really fun to work alongside four of my former teachers," Carlson said.

First grade is a good fit for Carlson. It's an exciting age -- one where the students are soaking in everything they can, fueled by all the excitement they can muster.

"I absolutely love their transition into becoming readers, and them growing into more independent students," she said. "It's just a year of discovery and growth."

On Tuesday, her class was busy learning about the solar system. Out came the glue sticks. Out came the crayons and markers and stickers. The students each took a black strip of paper and started pasting the various planets in order -- first the rock planets, followed by the gas giants, and so on.

Like teachers across the board, Carlson had to learn how to cope with the pandemic and all the changes it inflicted on the education system.

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First-grade teacher Rebecca Carlson helps her students with a solar system project Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, at Washington Elementary School in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

But she's also excelled at finding ways to make the best of the situation. Washington Elementary principal Chad Schroeder said Carlson has been innovative about meeting the needs of her students in unique ways.

As Carlson made her way around the room Tuesday, she carried a small speaker on a cord around her neck that she can use to project her voice when needed.

"This really helps with social distancing," she said.

The school bought teachers microphones for just that purpose, but Carlson got creative and found a way to take it one step further. She bought a second microphone to help the students speak a little louder too, such as when the class is having a group discussion.

"I just added it to a pointer to make it like a boom mic for the kids -- to make it like TV," Carlson said. "I think it really helps them be engaged when they can hear each other a little better. Because they're young, they don't always project their voice super far."

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