For Gillian Engelbrecht, 11, a fifth-grader at Jeffers Hill Elementary School, one of the best parts about creating a mosaic for the school has been working on a team. Instead of working on one section from concept to completion, the students share responsibility.
"They made us work on different things," she said, as she scraped grout between spaces on a near-completed section of the mosaic last week. Like other students involved in the project, Gillian came up with an idea for a section, but then worked to place bits of broken pottery, shells and other objects on a design created by someone else. Last week, she was grouting a part of the mural she had never worked on before.
The finished project, she said, will be more meaningful because of that cooperation among students.
"Then you can say, `Oh, I did that and I did that and I did that,' instead of just saying `oh, that's my one piece,' " she said.
Teamwork has been a major theme of the project, which will result in a 4-by-20-foot, garden-themed mural that will decorate the outside of the Columbia school, near the entrance. The finished product, made of recycled materials including old toys and marbles, will be installed next month, with a celebration scheduled for Earth Day in April.
Fourth- and fifth-graders, under the guidance of visiting artist Tara Holl, worked together for four weeks to make the mural during art classes.
PTA member Jillian Storms said she was interested in having students create something to brighten the school, and Holl was her first choice to help with the project. "The whole point was to bring the school together," she said.
Holl said the intertwined themes of working together and respecting the planet can be seen in the use of recycled materials. "We wanted to tie in with Earth Day," she said. "Mosaic is a natural that lends itself to that."
Holl, who is based in Montgomery County and visits schools through the Maryland State Arts Council, said she collects items including broken pottery, Legos and marbles at every school and lets kids use the materials from other schools to create their mosaics.
"The kids are great," said art teacher Mark Luce, who has been at Jeffers Hill 22 years. "They brought in a lot of the materials." He noted that tiles were also donated by two firms, Capitol Tile & Marble Co. and Columbia Tile & Marble .
The students at Jeffers Hill spent the first week of the project creating designs, which included ladybugs, butterflies, fountains, flowers and other things related to gardens. For the next two weeks, they made the mosaics by gluing the materials on pieces of cardboard. Finally, last week, they were ready to grout.
After fifth-graders arrived in Luce's art class, they sat on the floor as Holl discussed the day's activities. "OK, what are we doing today?" Holl asked the students. "We're grouting. What does that mean?"
She explained that the students would be putting cement in the spaces between the pieces of tile and other materials. Then she went to one of the tables and demonstrated, showing the students how to push the gray, gritty substance around with a flat stick and how to rinse off the residue with a sponge. "The most important thing you're going to remember today - out of everything - is wring out the sponge," she said.
The students wore gloves as they worked. Michelle DeNicolis, 10, had designed a butterfly, but she was grouting a different section of the mosaic last week. "It's really hard to get the grout in the spaces," she said. Overall, she said, the project was both fun and complicated.
Working with her was Heather Glasser, also 10, who had drawn a squirrel the first week. She said placing the tiles on the cardboard was "kind of hard because you had to keep getting the tiles that would fit," but she seemed satisfied that she had been able to meet the challenge.
David Silva, 11, agreed that "figuring out where each piece goes" was challenging, and he said the project has been fun.
As the students worked, a few parent volunteers moved from spot to spot to help or offer advice. Denise Davidson was one of them. "I think it's a great idea," she said. "In the end, they'll be very proud because it will be part of the school."