Winding path to learning, perfect balance

Rolling Knolls Elementary students blend history, design in labyrinth project

June 01, 2008|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,special to the sun

Students at Rolling Knolls Elementary have designed a spot to seek inner peace.

Or at least a spot to get away from it all.

A group of 16 fifth-graders in the Gifted and Talented Program at the Annapolis-area school have built a 20-foot-by-20-foot labyrinth on one side of the property. Students had to learn about the history of labyrinths, surveying and grading land, drawing to scale, and creating a site plan.

A labyrinth is not a maze, said Moira Plantier, a member of the labyrinth club. A maze is a game that has dead ends and more than one entrance and exit. The designer's intent is to trick someone into getting lost. A labyrinth, on the other hand, has one route from the outer edge to the center. Its purpose is to bring calm to the one walking it.

"It's like your happy spot," said fellow club member Hannah Miller.

Students started the labyrinth club Feb. 8 and met before classes every Friday and during recess to work on the project. The club was scheduled to hold a ribbon-cutting of the completed labyrinth Friday.

Each student had to create a design, then vote on the best one. Teachers broke the deadlock over the two top vote-getters: a circle and a square design.

Chris Borges' square design won. It was less complicated, said Ainsley Tetreault, the talent development director who oversees the club.

The students had studied complicated labyrinths with paths that make as many as 13 circuits, Tetreault said. Borges' labyrinth has five. Each circuit is 1 foot wide and is separated by a 1-foot wide patch of grass. Students enter and end the labyrinth facing the woods - a design that is meant to have a calming effect, Tetreault said.

"It's just perfectly balanced," she said.

Borges' said he had only a little help from his mother Terri Borges, a landscape architect who showed him how to draw to scale.

For the past three years, Terri Borges has also helped students design mosaics for their outdoor mosaic sculpture garden in the front of the school. Money raised by auctioning off the mosaics helped pay for some of the bricks needed for the labyrinth. Most of the bricks were left over from a walkway installed at the front of the school during another landscaping project.

Students had to present their project idea and design to Principal Jane Taylor. Students have since talked about creating a labyrinth pass for those who want to come outside and meditate.

"We do have kids who need to come out here and refocus," Taylor said.

The school's landscape plan also calls for an outdoor classroom and a bird and butterfly garden to be installed over the next few years, Taylor said.

"We want to get kids involved in projects that relate to school, but that all aren't paper and pencil projects," she said.

Tetreault, who studied industrial design in college, helped students make their labyrinth blueprint a reality. Parents got together one Saturday in May to spray-paint the design on the grass and dig the trench for the walkway. The students poured sand over it, placed bricks into the sand, then filled the grooves between the bricks with more sand.

Although the school has run lawn mowers over the labyrinth, students came out Wednesday to trim wayward blades of grass around the brick edges. They used a rubber mallet to pound down uneven bricks. They also poured more sand into empty grooves.

Future students will contribute plants and trees around the labyrinth, Tetreault said. The entire fifth-grade class chipped in this year and bought a purple plum tree for one of the inner corners of the labyrinth.

"It's going to be really elegant in a few years," said Moira Plantier, a club member.

Nathaniel Settineri, who will go to middle school next year, said he is excited that students will be able to use the labyrinth for years. The students paid $12 each to get their names engraved on pavers that will be placed in the center of the labyrinth.

"I think the most fun part is still to come," Nathaniel said. "This is going to be here for all the kids."

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