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School Notes: Indian River School Students Make Mural Depicting Mascoma River Watershed

  • Jamie Sudduth, 14, left, and Alex Schwarz, 14, reach out to feel a relief of their school on Watershed, a cooperative art work created by Indian River School eighth graders and artist-in-residence Emile Birch. As the class studied all aspects of the Mascoma River watershed, Birch guided the class in the West Canaan middle school in creating the sculpted mural to parallel the lesson.  Watershed is now a permanent fixture at the school. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Jamie Sudduth, 14, left, and Alex Schwarz, 14, reach out to feel a relief of their school on Watershed, a cooperative art work created by Indian River School eighth graders and artist-in-residence Emile Birch. As the class studied all aspects of the Mascoma River watershed, Birch guided the class in the West Canaan middle school in creating the sculpted mural to parallel the lesson. Watershed is now a permanent fixture at the school. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Artist-in-residence Emile Birch addresses Indian River School eighth-graders before the unveiling of Watershed in the school’s amphitheater last month. Birch’s wife, art teacher Cynthia Cummings, is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Artist-in-residence Emile Birch addresses Indian River School eighth-graders before the unveiling of Watershed in the school’s amphitheater last month. Birch’s wife, art teacher Cynthia Cummings, is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • This detail of the mural shows clay reliefs of the Canaan Meeting House, a fish and a turtle. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    This detail of the mural shows clay reliefs of the Canaan Meeting House, a fish and a turtle. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jamie Sudduth, 14, left, and Alex Schwarz, 14, reach out to feel a relief of their school on Watershed, a cooperative art work created by Indian River School eighth graders and artist-in-residence Emile Birch. As the class studied all aspects of the Mascoma River watershed, Birch guided the class in the West Canaan middle school in creating the sculpted mural to parallel the lesson.  Watershed is now a permanent fixture at the school. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Artist-in-residence Emile Birch addresses Indian River School eighth-graders before the unveiling of Watershed in the school’s amphitheater last month. Birch’s wife, art teacher Cynthia Cummings, is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • This detail of the mural shows clay reliefs of the Canaan Meeting House, a fish and a turtle. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Through the eyes of an eighth-grader, the Mascoma River Valley may not seem like the most exciting place in the world. Sure, the scenery is beautiful, but entertainment options are few and cell phone reception can be spotty. Winters are long and summers don’t last long enough.

The eighth graders of Indian River School in West Canaan learned this fall that there’s more to the Mascoma River watershed than meets the eye. It’s a place where creatures like hummingbirds and butterflies and frogs peacefully coexist, where the land has sustained generations of settlers turned farmers. A multi-disciplinary unit about the Mascoma watershed, which includes all five towns that send students to Indian River, culminated on Dec. 14 with the unveiling in the school’s amphitheater of a sculpted mural that students created with artist-in-residence Emile Birch. The mural is shaped in the outline of the watershed and depicts its flora, fauna and landmarks — the covered bridges and churches that dot the landscape.

Even though they live near the banks of the Mascoma in the towns of Enfield, Canaan, Dorchester, Orange and Grafton, the idea of living in a watershed was a foreign one for many Indian River students. Before beginning the unit, “I didn’t actually know about the watershed in general,” said Jennifer Monmaney, of Enfield, summing up the watershed knowledge of many classmates.

In each academic discipline, students took a different approach to understanding the watershed and how it works. “Basically we wanted to teach the students what a watershed was and what are the connections to their lives within the watershed,” said science teacher Paul Dunne.

In Jamie Hill’s math class, that meant working with students on the proportions and scale of the watershed. Scott MacPhee’s history students looked at the geography of the watershed, and the history of the five Mascoma Regional School District towns. And in Heidi Fisher’s language arts classes, students wrote haikus and journaled about their newfound watershed knowledge.

“We all got to connect with the kids on different aspects of this project, (and) on this project as a whole,” Fisher said.

The crowning achievement of their time studying the watershed is the permanent sculpture that students made with Birch, a Canaan-based sculptor, whose residency was funded by Indian River’s PTSA. The sculpture took 12 class days to complete, with each of the eighth-grade classes spending two days with Birch. Each of the approximately 100 Indian River eighth-graders added a personal touch to the mural by creating a clay sculpture representing an animal, plant or structure found in the watershed, which they painted and sanded before adding to the mural.

“We worked with lots of sketches and ideas for what it might be … The project is always evolving,” Birch said.

Working with an artist of Birch’s stature — his public sculptures can be found in Meriden, Portsmouth and Exeter, N.H., among other places around the state — who took their ideas seriously was a highlight of the project for many students.

“It was really cool to be sharing ideas with a professional artist and talk about art,” said Maia Zawilinski of Enfield.

“He definitely helped us take what we saw in our heads and put it on paper,” added eighth-grader Emily Tevere of Enfield

Creating their contributions for the mural helped students better appreciate the institutions and the wildlife of their towns, and learn where their talents lie. “I’m not big into painting, but I like sanding,” said Derek French of Canaan, who sculpted a frog for the project.

Prior to the watershed unit, it’s unlikely that many eighth-graders were aware that those stone walls they see in the woods date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, when much of New England’s forested land was cleared for pasture land and the stone walls marked property boundaries. Or that certain species of endangered animals live within the watershed, and that human activity can have a negative impact on the river and the wildlife that live in and near it. As a result, “I kind of appreciate what we have and how we use it,” said Rebecca Warren of Canaan.

Achievements

Chloe Brisson, a jazz vocalist and senior at Hanover High School, has been selected to participate in the 2013 Grammy Camp — Jazz Session. One of 32 high school students chosen, Brisson will fly to Los Angeles in February for a week of performances leading up to the Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, which she’ll attend with other Grammy Camp participants.

∎ Gettysburg College students Melanie Emerson of Orford, Madison Hill of Hanover and India Hitchcock of Hanover were awarded the college’s Presidential Scholarship, given to Gettyburg’s top-ranked first-year students.

Deans’ Lists

These Rochester Institute of Technology students were named to the fall 2012 dean’s list: Maxwell Affleck of Enfield, Rachel Allen of South Pomfret, Benjamin Hollander of Plainfield, Justin Horton of Bradford, Vt., Meaghan Jones of Piermont, Jonathan Lunt of Quechee, Evan Newberry of Woodstock, Joseph Rich of Randolph, Jonathan Sanabria of Wilder, William Ulz of Post Mills and Kamille Winslow of Hanover.

School notes appears most Tuesdays. Email news and announcements to kbryan@vnews.com