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last updated: Mon, Apr 7th, 2014
Jordan Leonard works on his mask and holds the finished piece

Bringing it back to the classroom 

An art teacher at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is like a kid in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. There’s something wonderful and magical at every turn.

During a visit to the Met in October as part of a professional development day, CMS’s Denise Palmisano turned a corner and saw a display that made her mind race. She immediately knew she had a great project for fifth-graders, one that fit perfectly into the art curriculum.

Inside the showcase were traditional ceremonial masks from Papua New Guinea. Made from carved soft woods and decorated with beads, shells, feathers, grass, and other natural fibers, the masks were beautiful artifacts from another culture that could be easily translated into an elementary-level art project.

“I've always been intrigued by art from various cultures and wanted to share my amazing experience at the Met with my students,” Ms. Palmisano said. “I knew they’d not only be excited to create art from a different culture, but would also be interested in learning about a very exotic and diverse region of the world.”

Ms. Palmisano, who in years past had done African and Bahamian masks with fifth grade students, took copious photos at the museum and did a significant amount of research before bringing the project into the classroom.

Kathleen Fiebel’s fifth grade class was the first to do the mask project. Ms. Palmisano began by providing students with background information and cultural insight into this far-off southwestern Pacific land, one of the least explored places on Earth. Also discussed was the fundamentally important role that ceremonial masks play in the rites and rituals of Papua New Guinea’s indigenous peoples. 

The creation of the masks was a time-consuming process. First, an armature of newspaper, aluminum foil, and masking tape was made. Next, layers of paper mâché were applied. Once the masks had at least four layers, students begin to "sculpt" facial features into their masks.  Each mask had to have an elongated nose (characteristic of the masks from Papua New Guinea, specifically the Latmul tribe), and other three-dimensional facial features (such as eyes, mouth, and eyebrows).

Since students only have art once per week, the paper mâché build up alone took five weeks.

Using Ms. Palmisano’s Met photos as inspiration, students painted the masks from a palette of natural, earth tones to simulate the look of real wood. They later added symmetrical designs before finally putting beads and straw raffia on as finishing touches.

It was a remarkable experience for the students as they slowly transformed what initially looked like foiled-wrapped loaves of store-bought garlic bread into works of art. The finished masks were put on display in the showcase near the main office.

“So much can be learned about a culture and people by studying its traditional artwork,” said Ms. Palmisano said. “Through this project, students ‘traveled’ to an exotic destination and learned about the importance of traditional artwork to a different culture, as well as learning to appreciate the artistic beauty in objects they might not have considered as art before. It also taught them about respecting diversity and appreciating differences. I’m very proud of their work.”

Both multicultural art and 3-D art are core components of the fifth grade art curriculum.

Christi Gronemann builds the mask armature and shows off the completed work

Program teaches students math and good nutrition

CMS third-graders loved the recently completed Young Consumers program for different reasons. Some liked the math games and puzzles, others enjoyed the fun way the program teaches nutrition, and still others liked the culminating experience of going to a real supermarket and being in control of what is “purchased.” It all continues to make the joint venture between the district and Ronetco ShopRite supermarkets a student favorite even years after it was first developed.

Young Consumers teaches students about good nutrition and the value of a dollar. But really that’s just the face of it. The program also strengthens their math and logical reasoning skills, and teaches them how to apply their knowledge both inside and outside the classroom walls.

During the fall and winter, an educational consultant from ShopRite regularly visited all CMS third grade classes and engaged students with hands-on math and critical thinking activities. For example, students solved multiplication and division problems by using plastic pizza pies and worked on spatial reasoning puzzles using plastic pretzels and wood pancakes. 

The third-graders also learned about nutrition and the food pyramid from a ShopRite nutritional expert. This information, along with the math skills they honed, were put together and used in the program’s grand finale: a field trip to ShopRite in Flanders. Working in teams, students created a healthy well-balanced four-day menu for a family of four, and went to the store to “purchase” the ingredients with their parents using a budget of just $100.

“Young Consumers provides students with an opportunity to use their problem solving and critical thinking skills in a real world setting,” said third grade teacher Carrie Polglase. “It helps them see the relevance between what they are learning in school and what skills they need in life. Program organizers Cathie Miller and Steve Megna consistently do an excellent job working with the students.”

District to offer summer science camp

This summer, something bold and imaginative is coming to Mount Olive. The district will introduce Innovation Station, a two-week-long program that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Designed for students in grades 1–8, Innovation Station features hands-on learning in various topics ranging from CSI-style investigative technology and kite flying that teaches the fundamentals of flight, to rocketry and robotics.

“STEM isn’t the future, it’s the present,” said Dr. Larrie Reynolds, Superintendent of Schools. “Innovation Station will teach students the principles of STEM and also show how fun they are to apply. The goal is to inspire kids to explore their scientific interests and expand their curiosity. More and more careers will involve STEM and this program will help better prepare students for the world that they’ll live in as adults.”

The program will run from July 28 to August 8 at Mount Olive Middle School. Tuition is $200 per week and includes free transportation for Mount Olive students. Before and afterschool care will be available through the Mount Olive Child Care and Learning Center at an additional cost.

"STEM is the future for our economy and we need to encourage students to think, explore, and create within these subjects," said Peter Hughes, Director of Curriculum and Instruction. "I'd love to take all the workshops myself. Who doesn't want to fly a drone or launch a rocket?"

The registration deadline is May 15.

For more information and to register, go to http://www.mtoliveboe.org/summercamp.

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Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
99 Sunset Drive Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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