KENAI - Some kids have their own cell phones, ponies and Playstations, but that's no comparison to the kids at Mountain View Elementary. They have their own forest.
The school's artist in residence, Graham Dane, is leading students to create a representation of an Alaska rain forest using mixed media, including papier-mache and paint.
Dane belongs to the school for three weeks, and by the time he leaves, every student will have worked with him several times. They get to keep their forest and an original Dane mural, too.
The forest comes complete with Alaska creatures. The inhabitants include area wildlife with which these students are familiar, such as moose, and a backdrop to help the papier-mache animals get into character.
"We're making our own little jungle here plus its living things. We've got three-dimensional things and a backdrop," Dane said. "This is a symphony. The projects are strings, the kids are the players and I am their conductor. I want them to produce something they can be proud of."
Dane constructed the skeletons out of boxes, newspaper and masking tape, while the students patched them up with paste-coated paper. Dane demonstrated with stern direction the careful manner in which to apply paste to the paper and paper to the project.
"Some people think Mr. Dane is too strict, but understand that he has to be. He's a good artist," said third-grader Austen Middick.
"You don't want to drop the paper in the paste, because it gets all gooey and drippy, and that just won't do," Dane instructed the class and proceeded to show them what not to do.
"Eeeeeeew," the third-grade class squealed in response to the obviously bad form,
He showed them "there are no shortcuts, and no fast ways to do this," as he encouraged careful, meticulous work - and got it.
The finished projects will remain in the school as a trophy of students' synchronized efforts.
Third-grade teacher Monica Heath said the project reinforces the importance of following directions and teamwork.
"I don't know how he (Dane) does it, how he finds a way to harness all the kids' energy - especially at the end of the school year when they're all very active and hyper," Heath said. "He's very brave."
She added that using the Artists in Schools program has become more fundamental as time and money are squeezed with increased testing and with curriculum cuts.
"It feels like there isn't any time for these types of things because of all the testing now," Heath said. "I know the kids are really enjoying it. It's nice to have a fun group project like this."
Third-grade student Carlos Moncada explained how much he has been enjoying himself while learning proper papier-mache techniques.
"This isn't something we normally do, and we don't get to do it often. We didn't expect this at all," he said. "We made a moose that's like 6 feet tall. You have to use the paper and glue to make it strong, and your hands get all sticky and gooey. When we're done, we'll keep the animals here and we'll get to show them to everybody."
The 6-foot-tall moose the students made is accompanied by a host of other life-size Alaska critters.
Third-grader Justin Burdick explained what he and his classmates learned about the process.
"You have to squish up the paper and pull it apart again, then you put some paste on it with your finger tips. If you use too much glue, it will fall right off. If it's dripping - that's too much," he said.
The artist in residence program is something Heath says is needed, as education opportunities and funds get squeezed.
"It feels like there's not enough time for art," she said.
Artists in Schools is a program of the Alaska State Council on the Arts and is sponsored at Mountain View by the PTA.
Dane said before moving to Alaska, he had never lived more than 65 miles from London. He said living and teaching art in this state gives him opportunities to see parts of the world that many never do.
"Wherever there is an opportunity to do something like this, I'll do it," he said.
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