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Helping art grow

Art teacher Katherine Hutchens, music teacher Robin Cogan and science teacher Dee Chinault are the perfect models of collaboration for their students at Endhaven Elementary School.

(Left to right) Robin Cogan, Dee Chinault and Katherine Hutchens.

(Left to right) Robin Cogan, Dee Chinault and Katherine Hutchens.

Starting with just a dream last August, the three teachers have spent the year working together to bring a school-wide project to fruition that not only honors Endhaven’s 10th anniversary, but also will benefit students for years to come. Called the Endhaven Arts Garden, the new space located beside the school’s outdoor classroom on the backside of the campus encompasses learning with science, art and music and creates a space for students to experience more hands-on learning.

“Really, every aspect is art, every aspect is science, every aspect is music,” Chinault said. “All of the pieces are inspired by nature. This is how our students can leave their mark on our school.”

The Arts Garden consists of six raised garden beds, which include flowers and vegetables, as well as several mosaics, a tree sculpture and a sound garden structure. The three teachers came up with the idea for the space after expressing interest to the Arts and Science Council, which awards grants to schools each year, about using grant money to integrate arts and science. In most cases, Hutchens said, the ASC grant money is typically used to bring in special musicians, plays or other attractions for students.

Hutchens, Cogan and Chinault wanted something more permanent. Inspired by the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, they formed their garden plan. And with the help from Erica Somerwitz and Laura Allison at Bechtler, as well as numerous other community and parent volunteers, the project was dedicated Thursday, May 8.

“Bechtler acted as an inspiration to our students,” Hutchens said. “They gave us materials up front, and then Arts and Science Council reimbursed them.”

But it’s the students’ work that will really shine with the project, the teachers said. Students from all grade levels had a hand in getting the garden off the ground. The space already consisted of some garden beds that were level with the ground, but Chinault said the school previously had trouble with upkeep of the beds, so they decided to start over.

The teachers first went to Lowe’s Home Improvement with representatives from ASC on a shopping trip to buy supplies for the project. Every grade level has a bed of its own and planted its own plants. Fourth-grade students were in charge of painting the baseboards for the gardens, and fifth-grades helped move and distribute the soil.

“Every grade level has been planting and down on their knees with their hands in the dirt,” Chinault said.

Hutchens worked mostly with third- through fifth-graders on the art projects in the garden, who had the opportunity to go on a virtual tour of the Bechtler Museum via FaceTime, where they were introduced to work of mosaic artist Nikki De Saint Phalle, who designed Charlotte’s “Firebird” that sits outside of the museum. Fifth-graders made mosaic tiles of animals and insects for the garden. Third-graders had the chance to learn about Dale Chihuly, a glass blowing artist. Using recycled water bottles and paint, students cut the bottles into different shapes inspired by Chihuly’s work, making a tree.

The sound garden was constructed using PVC pipe and two-by-four boards. Inspired by a musical sculpture at Bechtler, Cogan encouraged her students to brainstorm and come up with nonconventional items to make unique sounds. The sound garden piece includes kitchen gadgets like pie plates, muffin tins and slotted spoons and even tin cans, flip flops and small paddles. Now, all of Cogan’s students are working on their own songs inspired by the noises and beauty of the Arts Garden.

“It’s interactive. If we had music, we knew it would draw students down there,” Cogan said.

“What we really wanted was play and inspirational learning to happen all at the same time,” Hutchens added.

This is the first major project combining the three subjects and collaboration of the three teachers, they said. The three hope to continue to build and add on to the garden in the future, as well as continue to work together to enhance student learning.

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