RINGGOLD, Ga. -- The dark brown clay under the fingernails of Larry Hullander's third-graders links them to people who lived along the Rio Grande over the centuries.
Woodstation Elementary School students Lilly Black and Ema Hodge sit side by side Tuesday, winding ropes of clay into pottery at a table in the Beth Kellerhals Center for Visual Arts Education.
The center has become an integral part of Catoosa County's school curriculum, with more than half the system's elementary students visiting and learning in a hands-on, artistic environment that connects with their lessons, officials said.
"The clay is called red clay, and it will turn out to be an orange-ish red color," Lilly said, explaining activities she and her classmates are doing. "We're learning about the Rio Grande river. Last time we came here we made storytelling dolls, and they were made out of red clay, too."
Ema said she learned about "people who lived in houses on cliffs" from center Director Dr. Larry Bunch, who was teaching the girls and more than a dozen more third-graders to duplicate the pottery made by people who lived along the Rio Grande.
In the center's third year, more than half of Catoosa County's elementary school students take part in curriculum-linked activities there in a year's time, officials said.
"In third grade, one of the objectives they have is to learn the major rivers in the United States, and that's why (Dr. Bunch) opened with, 'What are these rivers? Who were the people who lived next to these rivers? What did they do? How did they live?' And that led us into the art activity," Woodstation's Mr. Hullander said, making a pot of his own alongside his students.
Over the last two years, Dr. Bunch worked out lessons incorporating art activities into Georgia's academic standards for a bookcase full of K-5 topics ranging from butterflies to the Norwegian tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff and the history of the Russian Revolution.
For Mr. Hullander's group, the center is "addressing multiple standards that they have to learn in third grade," Dr. Bunch said.
Mr. Hullander will take back to his school a packet that Dr. Bunch developed around the art activities and writing lessons following curriculum standards in social studies, history and geography. That link creates the hands-on connection from the art center to Mr. Hullander's classroom, Dr. Bunch said.
As part of the Ringgold High School campus, the center also serves as art classes for high school students who take part in Dr. Bunch's program.
Senior Afton Jones, a diversified cooperative training student at Ringgold High, said working with the Woodstation students on Tuesday was "really neat," and the experience will help with her future career.
"I'm going to college to be an elementary teacher," said Ms. Jones, 18.
Sher Kenaston, a retired veteran teacher and volunteer at the center, said students' artwork shows the result of learning their curriculum in an artistic context.
"It's much more than refrigerator art," Ms. Kenaston said.
ABOUT THE CENTER
The Beth Kellerhals Center for Visual Arts Education is housed in the former city library building on the Ringgold High School campus. It opened in August 2007 under the direction of Dr. Larry Bunch, who oversees its use for students, community members and continuing education for teachers. It is named for former Catoosa County Public Schools Superintendent Beth Kellerhals.