Local teacher shares projects at arts conference

by Kate Evans

Warm Springs Intermediate School art teacher Marianna Ruggiero was one of three educators that led presentations at the “Arts in Our Communities” conference which took place in Charleston on February 25-26. Ruggiero spoke about two classroom project collaborations with local artists-endangered animals sculptures and a recycled plastics ocean mural-and shared around 50 slides of kids’ work and the projects.

Other featured educators were artist Robert Villamagna who worked with Weir High School art students on a project about the past and possible future of Weirton, West Virginia and Cabell Midland High School band director Tim James who led performances of his state champion Cabell Midland High School Marching Knights.

The conference offered arts organizations and individual artists workshops on fundraising, grantwriting, advocacy and photographing artwork along with student performances and roundtable discussions.

Warm Springs intermediate School fourth graders Owen Gray and Braedan James from teacher Tia Myers’ class are seen with some of the endangered animals sculptures they made with art teacher Marianna Ruggiero and artist Lynn Lavin.

Endangered animals

This fall Ruggiero’s fourth grade students learned about endangered animal species while they created five different animal sculptures with local ceramics artist Lynn Lavin during an eight-week course provided through a Morgan Arts Council Arts Integration grant. Ruggiero and Lavin have done the class for several years now.

Ruggiero said that Lavin began each class with teaching students about a specific animal, its habitat, diet and reasons why its numbers are declining. Then Lavin demonstrated how to make the animal’s shape and features out of clay.

Warm Springs Intermediate School art teacher Marianna Ruggiero is seen with artist Robert Villamagna at the “Arts in Our Communities” conference in Charleston on February 25.

Kids learned how to add texture and personality to their animals. Students built and glazed four endangered animals and made a fifth animal of their choice. This year kids voted to learn about polar bears, pandas, sea turtles and elephants, she said.

Ruggiero and Lavin also collaborated on a 2017 STEAM summer camp project where fifth graders built ceramic food chain totem poles for the intermediate school entrance. The two also gave community workshops in November on making bowls for the Empty Bowls event.

Ruggiero said that students’ skills really grew from the first to last class with Lavin and that they also learned to be patient and persevere-“strengthening some of those ‘soft skills’ that will help them throughout their lives.” Students also formed positive relationships with Lavin as a role model.

Ocean mural

Another project Ruggiero shared with conference attendees was the ocean-themed mural made of repurposed plastic that all intermediate school grades worked on with Ruggiero, Martinsburg bottle cap artist David Heatwole and several community volunteers. The project was funded by a STEAM Power WV grant and was completed at the end of last school year. The mural is permanently housed at the Ice House.

Ruggiero said they taught students about plastic and how it’s become a threat to the environment. Kids saw video clips about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and learned about the harmful effects of plastic pollution on marine life.

They collected plastic caps and bottles and students drew plans and posters of what should be included in the mural, Ruggiero said. Heatwole and Ruggiero looked at the kids’ drawings and made a rough sketch of the mural.

After the design was sketched onto three plywood panels, students painted, screwed the caps in place, explored library books and created plastic bottle fish and seaweed. Heatwole worked with the classes six different times, she said. They brainstormed over all the collected materials and kids got to share their ideas.

Students started paying closer attention to the use of plastics in their daily lives, Ruggiero said. One student asked the principal if the school could start recycling plastic, which they now do for numbers 1 and 2 plastic. Another student raised the issue of styrofoam trays being used in their cafeteria instead of reusable lunch trays.

“Instead of just scaring students with this environmental challenge, the project taught students the power of art to inspire change. It showed them that they can make a difference and gave them a sense of accomplishment,” she noted.

Working with Lavin and Heatwole has been a wonderful experience for her and her students and Ruggiero hopes to continue collaborating in the future.