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‘The bosque is alive’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Scraps of paper covering tabletops, glue sticks perched without their lids and paintbrushes bathing in liquid, white glue.

That was part of a bustling scene Tuesday afternoon at Janet Kahn School of Integrated Arts Elementary School in which fourth- and fifth-graders get to craft for about an hour as part of a new learning initiative.


Kele glued flowers on the nose of a mask, which she is making for class at Janet Kahn School of Integrated Arts Elementary School. The mask project is an art-centered way for the kids to learn about the bosque and the Rio Grande. The initiative is part of a partnership with the Sierra Club and OffCenter Community Arts Project. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Jeminye Ortega was in the middle of making a gray fox mask, its eyes made of blue, fuzzy pompoms.

Jullien Urvina chose a bobcat because he’s fond of cats in general. After all, he explained, “They’re cute and fluffy.”

Chris Patterson was busy constructing his fish, telling the Journal – with scissors in hand and an intent stare on some construction paper – that he really enjoyed using different materials in one project.

Each of the 9-year-old’s crafts have something in common: they’re animals that live in or near the bosque.

Through the hands-on art being done at Janet Kahn, the kids are learning about the different organisms in the bosque and the geography of the Rio Grande, ultimately being taught on the human impacts on the environment, said teacher and librarian Terri Gaussoin.

“We learned a lot of stuff in the bosque is alive,” Chris said.

Gaussoin facilitated the Bosque Life project for the Janet Kahn fourth- and fifth-graders through a partnership with the Sierra Club and OffCenter Community Arts Project.

After taking her own child to OffCenter’s art studio, she knew she wanted to start a partnership and integrate their art-making into Common Core teaching at the elementary school.

With the Sierra Club teaching kids about conservation and OffCenter providing the supplies and artistic direction, the Bosque Life project was a serendipitous fit for the elementary school as fifth-graders are slated to learn about human impact and ecosystems, and fourth-graders are to learn about the Rio Grande and bosque.

“We looked at how we can integrate arts to teach the core,” Gaussoin said.

From there, Gaussoin, Sierra Club Conservation and Legislative Organizer Brittany Fallon and OffCenter Program Manager Sarah Mandala looked at Common Core standards and built the curriculum for the program.

Mandala said while OffCenter has some after-school initiatives, the work at Janet Kahn is the first during the school day program that the nonprofit has done.

And the kids seem to enjoy it.

Jeminye said her mask has been a lot of work and taken days to make, but she liked using cardboard to make the fox shape.

The Bosque Life project kicked off at the school last month and will wrap up Sept. 30 when the students are invited to don their masks in a puppet parade during the OffCenter’s Folk Art Festival at Robinson Park.

But Gaussoin said she hopes to partner with the Sierra Club and OffCenter again for similar efforts.