Students turn artistic eye to Chesapeake wetlands

April 20, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Armed with tweezers, two dozen Corkran Middle School students picked apart the clumps in clear plastic trays to get a look at the food chain from the perspective of a bird's stomach.

"What have you got? I found a mouse head," said Sandie Cunningham, displaying a small, clean skull to two classmates.

The soggy pellets in the plastic trays were undigested lumps of foods owls had regurgitated. Picking apart the soft balls, students found bones and feathers, telltale signs of a barn owl's midnight meal.

The experiment was among several undertaken by the eighth-graders, who are starting a three-week project to paint a scientifically accurate mural of life on the Chesapeake Bay. A bay artist and naturalist at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary near Lothian will help them.

"The kids in the classroom know an awful lot from textbooks about the environment. Our intent today is to get them out in the environment, an environment typical of Maryland," Corkran science teacher Jim Klemstine said during Monday's trip to Jug Bay. "When we think of the bay, we think of rockfish, we think of oysters. What they are seeing are the other little things that work together to make the bay."

Working in pairs -- one as artist, the other taking notes -- the students spent the day exploring woods, a pond, a creek, a marsh and the Patuxent River.

They inspected areas most people would leave untouched: the undersides of rotted logs, wet piles of decaying vegetation, the silt at the bottom of standing water.

They also learned more about the food chain.

Insects eat the dead wood, but are in turn eaten by small birds that are then eaten by owls. If small organisms such as algae and bugs vanish from the water, the fish will starve.

Won Hui Lee, part of one of the student pairs, sketched a May apple by a creek.

She looked carefully at its symmetrical leaves and form, watched it bob in the breeze or turned to sketch it on her pad.

"That is so neat," she said.

Meanwhile, her partner, Janice Custodio, took notes on the plants that grew in apparent harmony.

By midday, most of the students were soaked to their knees from wading into the pond or creek in search of insects, tadpoles and fungi. Even the squeamish touched the molded salamander eggs.

"If we have this kind of experience as young people, we are going to take that into our lives and have an appreciation for the complexity of the world," said Lee Boynton, the artist-in-residence at Corkran.

He uses watercolors and oil paints to depict the bay's marine world. He also has a studio at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and is showing students how to translate their observations into a painting.

His work with the Corkran students is part of the "artist in education" program of the Maryland State Arts Council. Corkran's PTA put $900 toward bringing Mr. Boynton to the school, which also received an $1,800 grant from the arts council. Fund-raisers brought in another $700 for supplies, said Mary Ellen Ouslander, the school's enrichment teacher.

Ms. Ouslander said one of the benefits of the interdisciplinary project is that it brings together students who have different strengths.

In teams of scientists, writers and artists, they will make a mural that is about 6 by 24 feet, explain it with reports and check its accuracy.

In addition, they will make a 5-minute videotape of their experience.

The mural, to be completed by May 6, will be unveiled May 24 at Corkran's schoolwide Showcase Night.


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