On May 18, Portsmouth City School District celebrated the opening of their Human Rights Garden.
Made possible through an Ohio Arts Council grant and other contributions, the garden is the result of year-long endeavor led by art teacher April Deacon and students.
Deacon had been dreaming of the project for several years, but knew it would not be possible without funding. Her original plans for the garden were much smaller than what stands today. She applied for several small grants but was denied time after time.
Over the summer, Donna Collins, executive director of the Ohio Arts Council contacted superintendent Scott Dutey and informed him that Portsmouth had been selected for the TeachArtsOhio Initiative.
“I had the project already to go. I met with Mr. Dutey and we had a phone conversation with Donna. I explained the idea, which involved multiple grade levels, multiple academic disciplines and she was immediately very excited about it,” explained Deacon. “The goal of the TeachArtsOhio Initiative is to improve academic achievements through the arts. We were very fortunate to received such a generous grant.”
The garden was also funded through the Lowe’s Toolbox for Education and the Paul E. Johnson Memorial fund through Main Street Portsmouth.
The project aimed to bridge the arts with other disciplines like science, social studies and math. Throughout the year, 330 students participated in some way. The project sparked five different field trips and allowed five artists and educators to visit and speak with students.
Participating students included: fifth grade science students, seventh grade gifted students, all eighth grade social studies courses, two and three-dimensional high school art students, art one students.
The first phase of the project began on September 21, and included an archaeological site survey led by the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park’s Education Technician, Susan Knisley. Afterwards, students took a field trip to the park and the Southern Ohio Museum to learn more about the Native Americans who first populated Portsmouth and the surrounding region. To honor Native American culture, two sundials based on the Hopewell Culture were created by students and placed in the garden.
The seventh grade gifted students and high school Art I students worked alongside visiting artists Kevin Lyles and Brian Thomas to create paper castings based upon the rights they’ve studied. These paper castings were then used to create ceramic tiles that are featured in the garden.
The high school Three-Dimensional Art students also worked with Lyles on the designs for the large-scale bronze, aluminum and stone sculpture placed in the center. The students were also invited to the University of Rio Grande to observe the process of lost-wax casting.
Finally, the plants were selected with the help of Garet Martin. Martin is a former Portsmouth student and now serves as a Horticulture Designer at the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus. Dr. Mark Miller also visited with fifth grade students to teach about ecosystems. Students were also invited to the Conservatory for field trips. Students also visited the Wright Gallery in Columbus where Deacon’s work was featured.
Planting took place May 1 with the help of student and parental volunteers.
The garden is now open to the public, and is located on the Applegate Green, just behind the football stadium.
“It started with just a little seedling of an idea and has blossomed into something fantastic,” said Deacon.
Deacon is already conceptualizing plans for expansion and seeking funding to continue new ideas for the space. Donations can be made to Portsmouth High School.
Reach Ciara Conley at 740-353-3101 ext. 1932, Facebook “Ciara Conley - Daily Times,” and Twitter @PDT_Ciara.