Saco Sixth Graders Re-Design School Entrance Through Art, Science, and Self Reflection

students outside of school

Saco Middle School art teacher Alison Crofton-Macdonald wanted to do something completely different with her students this year. After the pandemic completely changed the way she was able to engage students with art, she was looking for something beyond getting creative with digital art, or other simple materials like paper and pencil that can be found in most homes and are commonly used during remote learning.

Once students were back to school for the year in a hybrid situation, Mrs. Crofton-Macdonald also wanted to get them up, out of their chairs, and outside for her art classes.

“We are all sick of being inside,” said Crofton-Macdonald. “If I’m sick of being inside, then they are really sick of being inside.”

This year with a rearrangement for hybrid scheduling, Unified Arts teachers were linked with teams to prevent cohorts of students mixing. This made it so that Crofton-Macdonald and her colleague, Lindsay Wirsing were on the same team teaching the same students, which allowed them to collaborate on a project.

Crofton-Macdonald and Wirsing decided to create a project that brought together art, science, and social emotional learning for their 6th grade students by redesigning the entrance to the school with a mosaic garden.

Seeing that there was no evidence of students when visitors first enter the building at Saco Middle School, they decided that giving the students an opportunity to change that would be a win all around for the school, the students, and the goals of the educators.

Tying in her own knowledge of the mosaic process, Crofton-Macdonald had each student make a mosaic stepping stone for the entry way. They were all challenged to create an “I am statement” having to do with something they learned about themselves this past year. They each then turned that statement into a design for a mosaic tile that would eventually be placed with the other mosaic tiles of the other students to make a walkway.

The project also had an accompanying science unit, taught by Ms. Wirsing, that aimed to reconstruct the entrance to have a better impact on the environment.

“Students examined the increases in human population per-capita, consumption of natural resources and the impact on Earth’s systems,” said Wirsing. “They study how their usage of water and land impacts the earth. Typically, as human populations and consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on the earth unless the activities and technologies are engineered otherwise.”

“So, our project’s goal was to use the land in front of our school to have a better human impact than grass by planting more diverse flowering perennial plants.”

Each project challenged the students (and educators) to work together, and to be constantly thinking about how each of them can have a positive impact on the world around them.

To embark on the project the teachers were able to obtain some grant funding from SACO Steam, in addition to getting plants donated by the PTO, and borrowing tools from Saco school staff. They also had to find a piece of land at the school that needed a re-design. After pitching their idea to local school leaders, they received full support of the plan that would both provide valuable intradisciplinary learning for the students and improved school property for the community.

In addition to the Mosaic Garden designed by the Saco Middle School 6th graders, Mrs. Crofton-Macdonald also worked with her Gifted and Talented students on an additional section of the entry way that features a pebble mosaic of the Saco Middle School paw prints, to compliment the school mascot.

The project proved to be hard work, but well worth it with many weeks of planning, digging, planting, placing and a whole lot of teamwork. Saco Middle School STEM teacher Sam Blunda even stepped in in the final stages of the project to help cut all the curved stone pieces, finishing the edges to perfection.

In the final stretch of the last days of school, the project was finally finished, providing the building with a beautifully sustainable school entrance that has the most wonderful evidence of students who have and will have a lasting positive human impact on the land and school for many years to come.

Information for this article was provided by Saco Middle School as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.