Environmental Charter teacher's blend of art, science earn recognition

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Shannon Merenstein did not have a background in science when she interviewed for a job at the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park the summer before it opened in 2008.

But the graduate of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn knew she wanted to find a way to use her training as an artist to help children understand science.

“I was really excited and motivated to be an art teacher,” said Merenstein, 26, of Lawrenceville. “But it's always been really important to me that art and science be connected, so students can learn scientific concepts by making art.”

Merenstein's ability to meld the disciplines won recognition by the Carnegie Science Center, which selected her to receive a Carnegie Science Award in the Elementary Educator category.

“The ... awards spotlight some of the most innovative minds today,” said Ron Baillie, the center's co-director. “These individuals are making a global impact, starting with our own region. We know they are already inspiring a new generation of leaders.”

Merenstein began mixing art and science in the classroom by including rudimentary science lessons about land forms while teaching students how to draw the foreground, middleground and background of a picture, she said.

The process of merging art with science “really took off” when she and science teacher Chelsea Young obtained a grant last year to create a space called the Thinking Lab, where they co-teach classes.

“We took our science curriculum and our art curriculum and meshed them together so they are taught simultaneously,” Merenstein said. “We try to make it seamless, so the students coming into the lab don't know whether they are getting science class or an art class.”

Tawana Cook, principal of the school in Point Breeze, said she was “not at all surprised” to learn that the Science Center will honor Merenstein.

“Because she is such an inspired person, she serves as an inspiration to others,” Cook said.

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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