ConVal School District
Collaborating for a better education
Great Brook School, Harris Center help students navigate the outdoors
One of the completed three-dimensional field guides, with extra animal cards on display. The guide includes animals that reside in the area behind the Greak Brook School in Antrim. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Jenn Sutton works with students Tuesday afternoon with painting a mural authentic to the animals lifestyles throughout the year. From left to right, Oren Robblee, 10, of Antrim, Angel St. Pierre, 9, of Bennington, Lizzy Jessie, 9, of Bennington and Mary Visingard, 10, of Antrim, all fourth grades at Antrim Elementary School. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
From left to right, Monica Riffle from the Arts Integration Program for ConVal, Jenn Sutton, teacher naturalist for the Harris Center, Brianne Bastarache and Fabiola Woods, both fourth grade teachers at Antrim Elementary, hold up the four canvas panels in-progress, Tuesday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
ANTRIM — Every year, the Antrim Elementary School works with the Harris Center on a project related to the common core standards for learning. When fourth grade teachers Brianne Bastarache and Fabiola Woods were brainstorming ways for kids to learn the next science module and integrate the outdoors, the idea of a month-long project was born, involving lots of collaboration and multiple mediums.
The two teachers sat down with Jenn Sutton, teacher naturalist at the Harris Center, and Jeannie Connolly from the Arts Integration Program for the ConVal School District (formerly the Arts Enrichment Program), and the brainstorming continued.
In a group interview Tuesday with most of the collaborators, Bastarache said the four discussed how to integrate the science curriculum focusing on vertebrates and invertebrates, land and water. Sutton said Tuesday she had suggested the idea of having the students develop, allowing them the experience of exploring outside, as well as doing their own research.
The group decided the students would explore the wetlands area behind the Great Brook School, and with Connolly’s input, the idea of a mural based on the animals observed in the area emerged to coincide with the guides.
With the increasing components to the project, the number of collaborators also grew. Library Media Specialist Linda Tenney helped the students learn research methods and find information about the animals they found or tracked outside. Arts teacher at Antrim Elementary School Carole Storro and Monica Riffle from Arts Integration continue to help the children paint the mural.
Peter Connolly, a graphic designer and Keene State College graduate, designed the landscape and background for the mural. Keene State students Haley Brittain and Michael Vetack have helped the students as part of their college program, and the parent-teacher organization for the elementary school provided funds to pay for the mural supplies.
Before heading outside, Sutton said she spent time with the kids comparing and contrasting different field guides. Students decided what types of guide features they liked and would apply to their own guides. “We tried to keep the students’ perspective throughout,” Sutton said Tuesday.
In late October, the students went out behind the Great Brook School and explored. The group was graced with the special appearance of a barred owl flying by the group quite low to the ground.
“That would not have happened if the children were not in the moment and quiet,” Bastarache said in an interview Tuesday.
Students didn’t just record animals they saw. Sutton said they also took note of animals they heard, or animals they could prove lived in the area. They learned different bird calls, how animals use different trees and more.
Each student chose one animal to research. They drew their animal and made multiple information cards on their animal of choice. Since each student will have their own copy of the field guide, students will give each of their classmates one of their animal cards to help complete each other’s guides, which are three-dimensional.
“Everyone has a piece of each other’s work,” Bastarache said.
Bastarache said she wanted to show the students that learning doesn’t just happen in a class with a teacher. “I can learn on my own in the world,” Bastarache said.
“We wanted to create experiences that were richer and deeper and will stay with them,” Woods said.
Tuesday, the fourth graders described what they learned and how much they enjoyed the research. “I had fun researching and coloring,” Lizzy Jessie, 9, of Antrim said. “I had the red-breasted nuthatch, and it’s mostly seen in the winter.” Her bird will be painted on the winter panel of the mural.
“I liked getting to draw and paint and research an animal I didn’t think I would research in a million years,” Mary Visingard, 10, of Antrim said. “My animal was the muskrat. It’s bigger than a rat, and it’s known for its musky smell.”
Bastarache said the unveiling of the mural will take place Nov. 20 for family and friends. She said there are also plans to have the students interviewed by the school and have their responses videotaped to play on loop next to the mural for when the School Board sees it Nov. 19.