Pin-hole cameras, trash, invasive plant species and elementary school children have come together in the city of Richmond in an environmental studies project that relies heavily on the arts.

Throw in a university and a major corporate partner, and the project, “Experiencing Environmental Stewardship through the Arts” became more than just a typical science project for 235 K-fifth grade students at Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, a charter elementary school in the city.

Patrick Henry teachers developed the project while attending the 2013 Joan Oates Institute, sponsored by Partners in the Arts (PIA), a program of the University of Richmond’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies that seeks to encourage and support teachers in incorporating the arts into all K-12 subject areas. PIA awarded a grant to implement the project during the 2013–14 school year.

“Students combined the scientific study of nearby Reedy Creek with arts projects, such as documenting their research with pin-hole camera photos and creating drawings and fact sheets on paper they made from invasive plant material they removed from along the creek’s banks,” said Liz Sheehan, PIA director.

Eighty-one volunteers from Capital One, a Fortune 500 financial services company, constructed the pin-hole cameras. The company is hosting an exhibit of the students’ work, including their photos, found objects and audio recordings of the children taken during their walks along the creek, from April 4 – May 30 at Capital One’s main Richmond campus at West Creek in Goochland County. Anyone wanting to view the exhibition should contact the Capital One Art Program at

“Capital One is proud to partner with Patrick Henry School and Partners in the Arts to engage students in exploring their environment and cultivating their creativity in ways that are both educational and fun,” said Anne Fletcher, art administrator, Capital One. “It’s a wonderful example of experiential learning and provided our associates with an opportunity to work directly with the students to bring the project to life.”

The children met every Friday in mixed-level age groups to work on the project, often receiving guidance from visiting artist Mark Strandquist, who teaches at VCU, Corcoran Gallery of Art, PIA Joan Oates Institute and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

“The project provided students with the social, creative and analytical skills to be responsible witnesses of their communities,” said Strandquist. He led the students in using their senses to describe and document what they learned and experienced along the creek.

One lesson they learned involved the science behind the effects of invasive plant species on the creek ecosystem as they cleared areas along the creek of those plants, and then harvested and pressed the plants into paper.

As they cleaned up trash along the creek, they selected some items to clean and display in the exhibit as archaeological objects. They labeled the materials, noting their presumed date of entry into the ecosystem and hypothesized a story of how each object ended up along the creek.

“Patrick Henry students, teachers and staff have truly enjoyed this experience. This initiative has enhanced our integrated curriculum, and it has provided extraordinary educational benefits for the students. We especially enjoyed the opportunity to take full advantage of Forest Hill Park, our favorite classroom,” said Eileen Atkinson, principal of Patrick Henry charter school. “We are so very grateful to Mark Strandquist, the University of Richmond and Capital One for providing us with this tremendous learning experience, and we are looking forward to sharing the fabulous student projects with the community at the exhibit.”

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