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South Allegheny students' design near completion

| Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 7:15 a.m.
Emily Carlson | Daily News
South Allegheny Elementary student Madison Claflin decides where to place a tile on the mosaic with the help of science teacher Jenna Whitney.
Emily Carlson | Daily News
Ayden Sloss hovers over the mirrored pieces in the mosaic. Resident artist Laura Jean McLaughlin encourages the use of the mirrored pieces because it lets the viewer become part of the artwork.
Emily Carlson | Daily News
South Allegheny Elementary students decide where to place a small piece of colored tile and glass to create a larger picture. From left are Megan Zrenchak, Jamie Riggs, Elyssa Kirkwood and Ethan Kirkwood.
Emily Carlson | Daily News
South Allegheny Elementary students Erin Uziel and Madison Claflin converse as they place tiles on a section of the mosaic.
Emily Carlson | Daily News
South Allegheny Elementary students Ayden Sloss, Troy Mitchell and Eric Rausch show off the unfinished section of mosaic that they have been working on.

An after-school program designed to teach South Allegheny Elementary students about science and technology through the use of art is nearing completion.

The program, “Water, Art and Us,” began in October with students in third through sixth grades submitting ideas for a mosaic to artist in residence Laura Jean McLaughlin.

She then designed the artwork from their submissions, and a select group of about 25 fourth- through sixth-graders began working with ceramic tile, stained glass, mirrors and other materials to bring an aquatic adventure to life.

Students continued their efforts on Monday afternoon. McLaughlin will return to the school on May 16 to teach them how to grout.

“It's easier when you work together because you can get a lot more done,” said fourth-grader Megan Zrenchak.

“We used marbles (to) add some details,” fifth-grader Angel Losteter noted.

The mosaic is separated into 15 30-by-32-inch panels and features images such as an octopus, waves, a treasure chest, fish, a school bus and the sun. Its final form is projected to be 15 feet wide by 7 12 feet tall.

It will be hung in the elementary school lobby before the end of the school year. The reveal date has not been scheduled yet.

“They're doing really well,” elementary art teacher Gail Ungar said. “They know what they're doing. They can make their own mosaic.”

Students visited the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and explored water life on a RiverQuest trip on the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers.

“They're very clean,” Megan said of the rivers. “They have a lot of cool stuff in the water that you can see.”

“They taught us about the plankton and phytoplankton,” Angel said.

Fifth-grader Vienna Petruzzi said she liked working on the project with her fellow students better than doing such a project during the regular school day.

Fifth-grade reading teacher Jennifer Wachs said students read “Flush,” a book about water pollution in the Florida Everglades, as part of the program.

The program is a multi-funded effort with McLaughlin coming to the district through the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts' partnership with the Arts in Education Division of Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Students used technology to take digital photos of their progress and write a blog about their experiences. A link to the blog is posted on the district website

The district hosted staff and community days so employees and residents could take part in the project.

The next community day is Monday from 6-7:30 p.m. at the elementary school.

Sponsors of the project are the school district, the Consortium for Public Education, Pennsylvania State Education Association and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Fourth-grader Breena Komarnisky designed T-shirts for program participants.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965 or