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Grade school students exhibit artworks at KWEC
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Shannon Wedel, elementary art teacher, fills a display case at the District Education Center with student art. The DEC is now one of two places that artwork is showcased on a regular basis. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

Art is meant to be shared. That’s why Shannon Wedel, elementary art teacher, is so excited about a new partnership that has been developed between USD 428 and the Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC). The facility, located at Cheyenne Bottoms, is the site of a rotating exhibit by elementary school artists.
The first show was up throughout November and Wedel is working on pulling together the next exhibition. “Pamela Martin (KWEC educator) saw our DEC display and learned that due to the limited space available, we don’t always have room to display all the work that we’d like,” Wedel said.
“A few days later, she contacted me and said that if we had nature-themed artwork, she would like to display it out there,” she explained. “I was in the middle of doing an Impressionist-inspired pond with frogs with my fourth graders and knew it would be perfect.”
After a few e-mails to hammer out the details, 22 pieces of works were selected for display. The first show exhibited 12 fourth-grade frog pond projects by Wedel’s students and 10 kindergarten butterfly projects made by Melissa Watson’s students.
Families were sent letters about their distinguished artists and were invited to view them during open hours at the center. “We are very excited about the partnership,” Wedel said.
“We are always looking for ways we can promote what we’re doing and give our students a chance to see their work in a gallery-type of setting. I think it will be beneficial to both parties – people who wouldn’t normally see our students’ work can see it there and students and their families that might not go out to the KWEC may go and discover all the wonderful things they have,” Wedel said.
“Anytime students get to see their work in a ‘museum’ as many call it, they love it,” she said. “Some have commented that if their work is displayed, then they are ‘real artists.’”
The best work from each class, based on the parameters of the assignment, creativity and the quality of craftsmanship, will be selected for an exhibit. Nature-based projects will be displayed at the KWEC, the others will be shown at the district education center.
“It is similar to an ‘A’ math paper being posted on the teacher’s bulletin board,” Wedel said. “It helps students understand that they have accomplished something of value and that their talents are being recognized.
“Some students have lots of recognition, but others do not. We want them to get that recognition whenever they’ve earned it. For some of our students, art is their time to shine, since they may struggle in other areas,” she said.
Wedel said the curriculum can easily be adapted to allow for more nature-inspired artwork. “For instance, we are always trying to expose our students to different artists,” she said. “I have been doing a project with my third graders that relates to John James Audubon.
“This year, I went to the KWEC website and took a look at their listing of birds that have been seen at Cheyenne Bottoms recently. I altered the way I’ve done the lesson slightly so that those are the birds that we are looking at and having discussions about. If they go to Cheyenne Bottoms, they may be able to see these birds there in real life. “Those are the birds the students are basing their projects on in Audubon’s style,” Wedel explained. “I am currently doing this with them and we should have them ready to show out at the KWEC sometime in January.”
Wedel noted that KWEC will not always have a show, but it should be fairly frequently. “It will be in cooperation with them and making sure it won’t be in their way if they have events of their own,” she said.
“We are always looking for new ways to get students involved in what we do at the KWEC,” said Manager Curtis Wolf. “The arts are often overlooked when it comes to environmental education, but we have embraced it here at the KWEC. “Art can be a great way to interpret and express our natural resources and wetlands and the KWEC is a great venue to showcase these expressions.
“We hope to continue to feature USD 428 art projects that relate to Cheyenne Bottoms throughout the rest of the school year,” Wolf said.