“They’re leaving a legacy, these kids,” says Jennifer Perlick about her Summit Middle School students' new sculpture about pollution and environmental responsibility.
“I try and teach kids to be social activists,” says Perlick, who has been teaching for fourteen years.
The students’ new sculpture — dubbed “Wire You Polluting?” — is large, nine feet by nine feet, comprising juxtaposed waves made of ornamental metalwork meant to represent the ocean’s surface. Below the waves, hanging from thin wires, are seaweed made from collected plastic bottles and swaying metal fish.
The sculpture was conceptualized in a Catalina Island Travel elective class that Perlick and her colleague Adam Perkins co-teach at Summit. The class is a mixture of social action, conservation science, history, oceanography, art, and hands-on experience. Students research marine life, environmental subjects, the flora and fauna, as well as the Native American history of Catalina Island. Then they travel to the island off the coast of California to study and experience the ocean for themselves with the team at Catalina Island Marine Institute.
“For many of these students, this elective changes their lives,” says Perlick. After the trip, the students return to Colorado to focus on ocean conservation projects, implementing everything they’ve learned.
In Colorado, the 49 students in the elective worked with the Inland Ocean Coalition, cast members of the Chasing Coral documentary, volunteers from the Waterkeeper Alliance, and artists from Naropa; the youth picked up hundreds of pounds of trash from Boulder Creek, ran drives to collect recycled plastic bottles, educating their fellow students and families along the way. One group wrote and illustrated a children’s book and read it to elementary schools in the Boulder Valley School District.
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Jessica Adams, a mother of a student in the Catalina Island elective, offered up resources from her metalsmithing company, Living Design Studios. Based in Lafayette, the company is committed to craftsmanship and sustainability and gives kids “an opportunity to experience the joy of making something with their own two hands,” says Adams.
Adams offered artistic and project management skills to the students to bring their vision to life. They used belt sanders, welded, operated metal-bending machinery and drew sea creatures that were then traced into a CAD program. In addition, they collected and cut up over 300 plastic bottles that then became the “seaweed” hanging down from the sculpture, spending their free time, lunch hours and vacations creating the installation.
The sculpture now hangs in the halls of Summit Middle School.
“We took the saddest thing I can think of and turned it into art by using the trash that is killing nature today,” says Una Basta, a seventh-grader who worked on the project. “It just might inspire somebody to create the first trash cleaning machine or an affordable plastic-like material that doesn't hurt nature."