Garden Hills Elementary partnership with Young Audiences takes shape as a new sculpture

UPDATE: Check out the photo gallery here.

Thanks to a partnership with the Woodruff Arts Center‘s Young Audiences, Garden Hills Elementary celebrated the installation of a sculpture on school grounds Tuesday morning. Faculty and students cheered as Principal Amy Alderman and art teacher Cissy Cohen honored the work of Young Audiences “site sculptor” Jeff Mather. His colorful and geometrically dazzling masterpiece was inspired by sketches provided by fourth- and fifth-graders. The artwork features triangles and benches that form a circle and could easily double as an outdoor classroom.

Alderman noted that Garden Hills’ relationship with Young Audiences dates before her six-year tenure at the school. She was excited when Cohen — along representatives of the school’s PTA — approached her with the idea of a student-inspired sculpture through the organization. “Many of these projects are modeled on how to integrate Georgia Performance Standards through the arts,” said Alderman, who’s also partnered with the Woodruff on such programs as Smart Start and an artist-in-residence project last year. “We’re fortunate in that we’re one of four schools in the state of Georgia that’s a pilot school with the Woodruff Arts Center.

Fourth- and fifth-graders spent the first phase of this outdoor art project creating sketches of a proposed sculpture. Mather (nicknamed “Mr. Spaceman” by students) incorporated common elements from the sketches into the final design. Then students actually helped construct the sculpture, sanding wood and even driving in screws.

“There was so much collaboration,” said Mather, who’s worked in about 20 other schools around APS. “At one point a student is holding a 2-by-4 of wood while the other sands it, but even before that they were sharing their different ideas of what it should look like.”

Cohen, who has worked with Mather on other projects and is in her ninth year at Garden Hills, loved the sheer scope of this project. “Teachers already have expressed interest in holding writing and math classes out here,” she said. “To me, that alone helps it be in line with the Georgia Performance Standards.”

Representatives from the fifth grade — Arielle Lestandie, Damaris Zamudio and Osaze Tisdale — said they could see some of their ideas in the sculpture. For Lestandie, it was the use of curved branches (complete with Jackson Pollock-inspired splatters of paint). For Zamudio, it was the use of benches to encircle the work. For Tisdale, it was the use of red, green and blue triangles to border the structure.

“This is really fun because you’re doing this with others, and you’re working outside instead of in a cramped room,” said Zamudio, who’s been painting since an early age and says art is her favorite class. “I like to build things,” noted Lestandie, who’s worked on science projects at the school and has made a structure out of recycled objects. “It was fun because I got to use the electric sander, and it was easy to learn,” said Tisdale. “I liked working with other people while still having fun.”

The project could not have happened without the support of Garden Hills’ PTA, and one of the parents was thrilled with what she saw on a recent visit as the sculpture was taking shape. “I saw kids learning new math skills, life skills (sawing, digging, drilling), teamwork/cooperation, concepts related to art, and even heard several [kids] planning their future!” said parent Melissa Lawson. “As we were digging, one child decided to be a gardener and another wants to be a paleontologist! How sweet! It’s not very often in education that folks take the time needed to include students in all steps of a project … from start to finish!”

Mather warmed up the gathering crowd with a little juggling act. Alderman presided over the ceremony with the school’s “principal for a day”: second-grader Elizabeth Clippinger. After the ceremony, students were allowed to pass through the sculpture as they returned to class — through a gauntlet of cheering classmates.

2 thoughts on “Garden Hills Elementary partnership with Young Audiences takes shape as a new sculpture

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  1. We are pleased and proud of the work done by the students of Garden Hills under the direction of Young Audiences artist Jeff Mather. All of this was made possible because of the dedication of the PTA and their commitment to the arts. Through experience like this students find new and creative ways to learn. They also learn to work as a team and gain 21st Century skills that help prepare them for college and career. How wonderful it is too to have a lasting legacy from their time spent with Jeff!

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