Art is class act for a day at elementary school

NEIGHBORS

April 14, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SUN STAFF

SOMETHING seemed to be seriously amiss recently at Bollman Bridge Elementary School in Jessup. In one hallway, pupils were throwing paper airplanes, and their teachers were allowing it.

In a classroom, pupils were covering a dead fish with paint.

High-schoolers were roaming the halls, that is, when they weren't taking over classes or eating lunch.

What was going on? No need to panic. It was just this year's installment of a wonderful Bollman Bridge tradition: Awesome Art Day. This year, the daylong program was held March 31.

Awesome Art Day is nearly as old as the 15-year-old school, although nobody seems to know exactly when it started.

Kids in all grades abandon their regular curriculums and devote the entire day to art projects that are guided by teachers, parent volunteers and visiting students from Hammond High School.

Peggy Coulson, an art teacher at Hammond, said this was her fourth year taking her students to Awesome Art Day. It's for volunteers: She asks her students if they want to go, and the ones who do sign up.

"It's a great experience, both for the little kids and the older ones," she said. About 25 of her students volunteered for the miniature field trip this year, she said.

The PTA pays about $1,000 each year for art supplies, the bus for the Hammond students and paper products for the lunch provided by staffers. This year, cold cuts, macaroni salads, chips and drinks were served.

"The kids love it," said art teacher Ray Henry, in his second year at the school. "There's a lot of work that goes into it, but it's all worth it." Besides giving the kids a chance to explore their artistic talents, it also gives other teachers a sense of what art teachers do, he said.

About 50 to 75 parents volunteer, said Denise Venezia, Bollman's other art teacher, who has been with the school for four years.

Venezia and Henry have the daunting responsibility of thinking of the bulk of the ideas for the art projects. Each grade has as many as six projects to complete during the day. First-graders, for example, are making clay pots, puppets, wooden stick frames and more. Of course, the art teachers also have to find the supplies and then match the high school students, volunteers and regular teachers with the projects.

Many ideas are recycled from year to year, but Venezia and Henry work to ensure no pupil is stuck doing the same project two different years.

"It's a great learning experience," said Joy Grimes, a team assistant for the fourth grade. "They have fun doing it because it's art, and I think most kids like art."

In a third-grade classroom, pupils were putting paint on a real fish (though not a live one), then using the slimy creature as a stamp. Students created underwater scenes, then added the print of the fish. The small, crowded room smelled, well, fishy, but nobody seemed to mind.

"Art is one of my favorite subjects," said Rachel Bragg, 9, who was adding plankton to her scene. "Art is one of my favorite subjects, too," agreed 8-year-old Earl Chambers, putting the finishing touches on his underwater vision.

In another room, high school students Anna Cathcart, 15, and Leon Chao, 16, were showing pupils how to make puppets. Anna explained that her mother, Katie Cathcart, is a puppeteer as well as a substitute teacher in the school, and that's why Anna knew a lot about making puppets. Her mother also was at the school, helping in a different classroom.

Elsewhere, fourth-graders were testing their just-constructed paper airplanes in the hallway, while their classmates created origami collages. Other fourth-graders were creating wall pockets out of clay, or painting some of the 120 wooden birdhouses that had been constructed by Venezia's dad, Alfred Furman, who lives in Pennsylvania.

Joyce Murray, 17, was helping fifth-graders make animals from papier-mache. This was her second year volunteering to help with Awesome Art Day. Why does she do it? "I get to work with little kids," she said. "It's also fun to take the day off from school and come here."

Last year, she worked on the fish stamp project. "We had to open the windows," she said, remembering the smell of the dead animal.

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