With all the hype about science education these days, what are arts students to do?
In Hillsborough County, they headed to the Florida Aquarium to prove the two disciplines aren't exactly oil and water.
About 300 students from the county's five magnet arts schools and Rampello Downtown Partnership School recently incorporated marine science themes into music, drama and visual art displays. Their goal was to show educators from across the country that art can thread its way through science — or maybe it was the other way around.
The teachers and school officials were attending a weeklong conference of the Arts Schools Network, a nonprofit professional association that promotes the development of new arts schools, facilities and programs. The conference, which ends today at Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort in Lake Buena Vista, drew 150 from specialized arts schools.
About half of them traveled to Tampa for the showcase Tuesday. While here, they also toured Orange Grove Middle and Blake High magnet arts schools, along with the Straz Center for Performing Arts and the Patel Conservatory.
At the showcase, Suzanne Owens, arts coordinator for Anne Arundel County schools in Annapolis, Md., took dozens of photos. She was especially intrigued by Progress Village Middle School costume design students, who wore garments made of trash bags and hard plastic in front of a watery fish tank to illustrate how litter pollutes the waterways.
She said her school district is just beginning to establish dedicated arts schools, and she was trying to get curriculum and teaching ideas.
"The Tampa Bay area has such great models," Owens said. "We thank them for sharing this event."
Deborah Barron, the Hillsborough school district's liaison to magnet schools, said the event took about a year in planning. Students had to study marine subjects to illustrate through art.
Taylor Hodel, an eighth-grade drama student at Progress Village, described how she studied the life cycle of the soft-shell turtle. Then she began imitating some of the turtles swimming in the aquarium's spring-fed stream exhibit.
Jayden Harris, a Progress Village sixth-grader, said he memorized the movements of stingrays before sketching them into a landscape portrait.
Jessica Blatz, an eighth-grade Orange Grove student, participated in a dance team that studied how schools of fish move and interact with their environment.
"When we went to the corner and all fell back as one, that represented protecting ourselves against a predator," she said, describing part of the team's dance routine.
Chorus students from Blake, Progress Village, Orange Grove and Muller and Philip Shore elementary schools performed a song that simulated the sounds of ocean waves. They also took turns blindfolding one another, singing and trying to judge the direction of sound to demonstrate the echolocation skills of some marine animals.
Orange Grove principal Scott Rudes has been active in the Arts Schools Network for four years and in 2011 saw Orange Grove recognized as an exemplary arts program by the organization.
Educators were interested in seeing the Orange Grove program, so local school officials expanded the invitation to include a full day in Tampa, culminating with the showcase.
Rudes said artistic expression provides important tools educators can use to reach students with a wide variety of interests.
"When they can find the relevance to the real world … they are more apt to understand (academic) concepts," he said.
Susan Marschalk Green can be reached at email@example.com.