Fort Cherry project combines history, art

Fort Cherry students transform school for ‘The China Experience’

Photo of Emily Petsko
by Emily Petsko
Staff writer
Emily Petsko / Observer-Reporter
From left, Fort Cherry sixth-graders Katie Nemec and Abigail McCarty stand underneath a large Chinese dragon that students constructed for a project called “The China Experience.” Order a Print

In just a few weeks, Fort Cherry Elementary Center was transformed to recreate a distant land in a bygone era.

A paper dragon snaked through the hallways and greeted students as they entered “The China Experience.”

Students walked across a thriftier version of the Great Wall constructed from cardboard boxes and admired dozens of hand-crafted clay soldiers.

Students were the artists, historians and tour guides of this ancient Chinese journey.

For their class project, sixth graders created an installation art piece and displayed their knowledge by giving tours to younger students.

“It’s kind of like a little field trip,” social studies teacher Jim Brucker said.

Brucker said sixth-grade teachers coordinated this project for the past five years, and last year students created a medieval experience.

The project combined elements of history and art, but it also incorporated lessons on technology and problem-solving.

Students enrolled in gifted classes learned how to link six iPads together to create a trivia game, and also created a computer game using a program called Scratch.

“It’s a lot of 21st-century learning,” said their teacher, Keara Welsh.

“It was a lot of organization, higher-level thinking, working as a team and a lot of problem solving.”

Art teacher Kim Harvey helped students construct sculptures, designed to look like terra-cotta warriors, using clay and cardboard cones.

Sixth-grade student Katie Nemec said she found it interesting that the clay warriors were believed to protect the Chinese emperor in his afterlife.

“All the warriors were unique,” she said.

The Great Wall was constructed by wrapping and decorating cardboard boxes, which Harvey picked up from Sam’s Club every morning.

She said students spent countless hours working on their projects, often during homeroom and part of their lunch periods.

The sixth-grade class also took field trips to the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Mattress Factory Art Museum in Pittsburgh, where they were exposed to the concept of installation art.

“You become a piece of the artwork … It surrounds you, and you become part of it,” Harvey said.

She said she is always amazed students can pull off such a large project in a short period of time.

“It’s scary while we’re building it,” Harvey said, “but it always comes together.”