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Arts, environment converge at J.W. Smith

A splash of color is springing up at J.W. Smith Elementary School as students combine the environment and the arts.

With the help of two artists-in-residence, students are creating banners representing the 13 Ojibwe moons and painting murals portraying Minnesota's three biomes.

J.W. Smith is focusing on the environment and the arts this school year through an $80,000 Magnet School and Program grant from the Minnesota Department of Education. The school also received a Magnet School and Program grant for the prior school year.

"Our children learn about the environment and then express what they learn through the arts," said J.W. Smith gifted and talented teacher Cindy VanBrunt, who is coordinating the grant.

Artist-in-residence Bambi Goodwin of Bemidji is working with students to create 3-foot-by-3-foot felt banners representing the 13 Ojibwe moons.

She said the project represents the American Indian way of keeping track of time.

"They had 13 moons throughout the year," she said, noting that each was named according to the activities that occur during the full moon.

In teacher Hallie Baldwin's first-grade classroom, students cut trees, deer, a turkey and other shapes out of felt for the banner representing the November moon -- Gashkadino-giizis, or Ice is Forming Moon.

"It's really fun," first-grader Elise Fladeboe said. "I liked making up ideas for it."

"We're learning about Objiwe," added Harper Toward, who is also a first-grader.

First-grader Chloe Clark said she enjoyed drawing shapes on the felt for the cut-outs.

"It's really fun," she said.

Once finished, the banners will be permanently installed in the school library.

Susan Kedzie-Webb of Waterford, Wis., is also working with students at J.W. Smith. Through songs, humorous skits and art, the artist-in-residence is focusing on the state's three biomes: prairie, deciduous and coniferous.

"I'm hoping to paint the general picture of what the function of each biome is," said Kedzie-Webb, who has a master's degree in plant ecology and a passion for art.

With her help, students are painting panels portraying the different biomes. The panels will be permanently displayed as murals in the school's three corridors. Each corridor will feature a different biome.

Kedzie-Webb said the students have shown interest in both the science and art aspects of her program.

"They're very engaged," she said. "They're very outgoing and I think they're very eager to learn what I have to offer."

"We're learning ... what the deciduous forest is like," said fourth-grader Katie Buckanaga as Kedzie Webb worked with Joy Barclay's fourth-grade class. "I like doing the crafts."

"I like doing the crafts too, and the skits," fourth-grader Jordyn Caulfield added.