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    Tuesday, August 16, 2022

    Integrated Day Charter School students turn bottlecaps into art

    Students at the Integrated Day Charter School in Norwich used 8,000 bottle caps to make this mural.(Glenn Alan Cheney photo)

    So what does one do with 8,000 bottle caps?

    For that matter, where does one find 8,000 bottle caps?

    Arlene Morrison, an art teacher at Integrated Day Charter School, had answers to both questions. In fact, she found a way to make both answers contribute to the school’s annual theme: kindness.

    Her idea: an outdoor mural depicting not just the unkindness of bottle caps but also a vision of a more beautiful world and the essence of a very special school.

    The special essence of IDCS is its overarching curricular strategy of using art to teach all subjects. In the case of the bottle cap mural, kids learned about recycling, biology, color combinations, composition and the power of collaboration. They learned about being kind to their planet.

    Before the end of school in 2020, Morrison put out a call for bottle caps. She wanted every kid in the school to bring in at least a gallon of caps—caps of all colors and all sizes.

    In September, the kids delivered, bringing in enough caps to fill several barrels.

    The next challenge: to sort the more than 8,000 caps by color. This was a good job for kindergartners and first-graders. They grasped the concept and got to work.

    Next challenge: figure out what to depict on the mural. Everybody, grades K-8, got to opine. They agreed to include animals that tend to get sick and die from eating plastic —an albatross, a seal, fish, a dolphin. They also wanted a rainbow and the symbol of IDCS, four children in four colors holding hands around a globe. And they tossed in a sun because IDCS is a HOT school, that is, a school promoting Higher Order Thinking.

    Ms. Morrison sketched out the images on paper. Kids from the upper grades worked out a grid system for transferring and enlarging the image onto several slabs of plywood which, once assembled, would measure four feet by 32 feet.

    Once they had the plywood sketched out, they painted the general background areas. Then they laid out the thousands of bottle caps, matching the colors to the background, sometimes blending one color into another by using caps of similar colors. Sometimes they put little bottle caps inside big bottle caps for a nice effect. The kids made all the decisions of what went where.

    The educational philosophy at IDCS allows kids a lot of choice. In the art room, they can choose any of several activities—painting, sculpting, weaving, etc. The mural project proved very popular.

    Once they had the caps laid out, they started gluing them to the wood. This took many classes many days and many tubes of glue.

    The artists put a bead in each glued cap so the next class could see which still needed gluing.

    Not done yet! Since the mural was going outdoors, on a parking lot retaining wall, each cap had to be screwed down. Many more days of work! Tall kids bearing power drills screwed down the hard-to-reach caps at the center of the plywood; shorter kids handled the edges.

    The style of the mural is a kind of impressionistic pointillism, each bottle cap just a dot in a great big image. The artists couldn’t really see the image they were producing, as a whole, because they were too close to it.

    That process in itself was a lesson. One can make something big and beautiful by taking care of a lot of little details. And one can trust other people — in this case, a whole school of people — to work together toward a common good.

    The common good, in this case, wasn’t just a work of art that represented their school. It was the most common good of all: the planet where everyone lives.

    Glenn Alan Cheney is a writer, translator and managing editor of New London Librarium. He can be reached at glenn@NLLibrarium.com.

    Students at the Integrated Day Charter School in Norwich used 8,000 bottle caps to make this mural.(Glenn Alan Cheney photo)

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