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South Allegheny students to learn about science, technology through art

| Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, 1:51 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
South Allegheny Elementary art teacher Gail Ungar checks in with Mary Brenholts of Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and artist in residence Laura Jean McLaughlin.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Discussing South Allegheny Elementary's 2013-14 'Water, Art and Us' project, from left, are principal Alisa King, reading teacher Jennifer Wachs, Mary Brenholts of Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, artist in residence Laura Jean McLaughlin, art teacher Gail Ungar, science teacher Mike Fallert, technology teacher Jackie Moranelli and public relations coordinator Laura Thomson.

South Allegheny Elementary students will put a creative twist on science and technology through an artistic afterschool program called “Water, Art and Us.”

“This is something we've wanted to do for a long time,” elementary art teacher Gail Ungar said. “We want to show our students how art and science can be connected.”

Throughout 2013-14, the elementary school will be home to Laura Jean McLaughlin, an artist in residence who will supplement classroom lessons with a mosaic project on school property.

“Laura Jean is an amazing ceramicist on her own, and that's one of the things she will share with students,” said Mary Brenholts, director of school and community programs at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. “The mosaic project will draw so much student participation. There will be a core group of students who learn the entire process, but there are opportunities for others to participate along the way.”

McLaughlin comes to the district through the arts center's partnership with the Arts in Education Division of Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

The project is designed to fully immerse students in an art form to see how it connects with life and learning. It is intended to remind teachers and administrators that the arts boost student creativity and critical thinking skills.

Teachers will accept applications at the start of the school year, and a core group of 25 students will be chosen to participate in weekly sessions beginning Sept. 30. McLaughlin will be present for 20 of the meetings and work days.

McLaughlin, who worked with students from districts across Allegheny County to make a mural at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit offices in the Waterfront, will build a three-dimensional, mixed-media piece with South Allegheny kids, who will generate ideas from across their curriculum.

“I like the imagery to come from the students,” McLaughlin said. “We play surrealist games to bring out their creativity. Then we start thinking of ideas. The final design will have elements from all the students so they truly feel it was done by them.”

District teachers said water has depth across the curriculum. It has a history and culture. It's covered in literature and applies to many scientific principles.

“If you know in your youth that you want to be an artist, you'd better pay attention in math and science, even in social studies and reading,” Brenholts said.

Students will visit the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium and explore water life on a RiverQuest trip of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers.

Technology will come into the mix as students track their progress with digital photography and a blog that will be shared with fellow students and the community.

The finished “Water, Art, and Us” mosaic will be revealed during the school's annual art opening, attended by students, parents and community members.

A location has yet to be chosen for the mosaic, but district staff is working with McLaughlin to decide before the project begins in September.

“There are a couple different areas to choose from,” principal Alisa King said. “We have a lot of white, institutional walls where I would love to see some color.”

Also new in 2013-14:

• The MAD Science afterschool program will be open to students in second through sixth grades. It's a hands-on, exploratory science program that will be operated in October and in the spring. There will be a fee to participate.

• The elementary school will use STAR Assessments as benchmark evaluations. The test will replace 4Sight and Terra Nova assessments.

• The Middle school will continue the district's environmental science commitment to Project Polar Bear, a program that for two consecutive years brought national and international accolades to district students.

• The middle school curriculum will include career exploration classes for seventh- and eighth-graders.

• Seventh-graders will engage in a year-long project with local senior citizens to modernize oral history by making a “visual scrapbook.” The program is called “Experiencing the Past through Modern Technology” and is funded by the Consortium for Public Education,

• The high school will introduce two Advanced Placement courses: psychology and human geography. A life skills class has been added.

• This will be the first year for university-based cum laude distinction upon graduation from South Allegheny High School. The valedictorian and salutatorian designations have been eliminated.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or

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