Teachers blend art and the environment at Cheaha workshop
by Laura Gaddy
Jul 12, 2013 | 3907 views |  0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Barbara McMullen from Mobile makes mixed medium art during a teacher workshop at Bald Rock Lodge at Cheaha State Park. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Barbara McMullen from Mobile makes mixed medium art during a teacher workshop at Bald Rock Lodge at Cheaha State Park. Photo by Stephen Gross.
CHEAHA STATE PARK -- Kindergarten teacher Kathy Bechtel lifted a white sheet of paper from an ink-covered surface and revealed an oak leaf pattern to her colleagues Wednesday.

Bechtel and about 20 other teachers were part of a print-making exercise during the third day of a workshop based out of Bald Rock Lodge. The workshop, labeled Arts and the Environment: Making Connections, is just one of several similar events taking place across the state this summer, but it’s the only one that is about teaching art in nature.

“I am beyond thrilled,” said workshop organizer Renee Morrison, assistant director of Jacksonville State University’s Field Schools, a public education program designed to teach people about the natural world. “We’ve had this idea but we had no funding for it.”

This year the Alabama-based organization, Legacy Partners in Environmental Education, offered to fund the Cheaha workshop and six other similar workshops this summer.

Morrison and Legacy employee Toni Bruner organized the Cheaha workshop.

Each of the workshops focuses on a cross-disciplinary approach to teaching Alabama’s students about the environment, said Legacy director Paige Moreland.

The first of the six workshops, Preserving Alabama’s Natural Treasures, took place at the Anniston Museum of Natural History. Others will be hosted in locations throughout the state and will explore matters related to forestry and watersheds.

Moreland said her organization is trying to teach people about natural diversity and resource management in Alabama. It makes sense, Moreland said, to do that by reaching out to the state’s K-12 teachers.

“If we teach 20 teachers in each classroom and each of them have 25 children in each classroom, you can see how it grows exponentially,” Moreland said. “What we’re trying to do is open people’s eyes.”

Legacy is familiar to many Alabamians because of the organization’s specialty car tags, the sale of which raises money for the group.

Though the workshop at Cheaha was designed for 20 people, organizers said 40 teachers tried to sign up for the event. Those educators who were able to participate in the program said the experience has been invaluable.

JSU artist Allison McElroy and local writer Sherry Kughn were on hand as instructors, too. Together with direction from Morrison, a longtime environmental educator, and Bruner, they guided the visiting teachers through nature tours and art and writing sessions.

At the same time the teachers, who came from schools across the state, made journals that incorporated elements of nature with artistic techniques, such as printmaking.

While working on the print-making exercise and mixed-medium art lesson from inside the lodge, the teachers said they will leave the workshop with the knowledge they came for — more information and new ideas about how they can fuse environmental education and the arts into everyday learning.

“It’s just built up my base of understanding of all our natural resources that we have in this state,” said B.B. Burnett, who teaches gifted children in Montgomery County. “I want to bring the love of Alabama’s resources to the students.”

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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