The Art of Collaboration – By Jeannie Perales

In late August, Southside Elementary fourth-grade educator, Jessica Gardner, contacted Manager of School & Family Programs at Selby Gardens, Tracy Calla, with a unique field trip request. Ms. Gardner had teamed up with a Ringling College of Art and Design student, Heather Forlong, through the Youth Experiencing Art (YEA) Arts program, and requested to visit Selby with her class so students could locate and photograph Florida native plants with the help of the Ringling artist.

On a Saturday in September, Ms. Gardner, Ms. Calla, and Ms. Forlong met at Selby Gardens to walk the grounds and choose plants for the project. Ms. Calla assembled a list of the plants with their common and scientific names for the students to begin researching with their assigned partner.

Ms. Gardner shared the student-to-plant assignment list with Ms. Calla, and upon arrival at Selby Gardens, with cameras in hand, the students were grouped according to the relative location of their plants. The volunteer guides led the students through the gardens to locate their plants. The class spent almost two hours exploring the gardens, photographing their plants (and more!), and enjoying a picnic lunch on Selby’s lawn.

When the students returned to the classroom, with Ms. Forlong’s help, they artistically edited the photographs using a free photo editing program called Paint.net. The students typed up their research notes and wrote haikus about their plants, adding them to the photos to create a handmade class book.

The book is in its final editing stages and will be printed and bound soon. A special unveiling event at the school is planned for mid-March. This extended, multilayered project fostered the students’ feelings of ownership and investment and conveyed to the students a sense of the importance of the curriculum as well as the importance of their plants.

Editor’s Note: Jeannie Perales is the Director of Education & Visitor Engagement at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

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