Piece by piece, sixth-graders give their school the world

Sixth-graders give their school the world with a mosaic sculpture and a globe fountain made of copper.

Published May 24, 2007

SPRING HILL -- West Hernando Middle School's sixth-grade students gave the school a gift that will be long remembered.

Under the supervision of teacher Kevin McManus, 150 students created a mosaic tile land-elevation map of the world and a copper sculptured globe fountain for the school courtyard.

A yearlong project, the mosaic is composed of thousands of pieces of tile. Students handled every aspect of construction, from breaking tile to putting the 600-pound map in place in the garden.

They began last fall, during history and geography classes. Students could work on the project once they finished regular classroom assignments.

There was no division by gender for the job assignments, McManus said, but some tasks appealed to one gender more than others. Some of the girls, he noted, enjoyed the tasks requiring concentration, such as gluing the tiles. Many of the boys liked to smash the tiles.

The project went like this: The kids chose a topic - the world map - to tie the garden into their studies. They involved their math classes in planning and calculating elevations. Art classes helped with the design. Other classes did traffic surveys to determine location.

The students made a frame of 2-by-4 pieces of wood, covered it with backer board and plotted the design. They projected the map onto the backer board so they could follow predefined colors and patterns.

"I didn't think it was going to work - but we all worked together and those 2-by-4s got bolted and then it all happened," said sixth-grader James Braden.

Then they smashed, sorted, picked, set and glued the colored tiles.

Meanwhile, other students learned to bend and weld copper refrigeration tubing to create a large replica of the world globe to place in front of the mosaic.

By May, after 300-plus hours, the work was completed. Teams trundled the massive undertaking to the courtyard for installation. Students designed and planted a 20-by-30-foot garden around the art works, then mulched and cleaned up.

Kealton Belken and Zach Chambers say they had no idea such art could come from plumbing supplies and broken tile.

"This is so cool," Zach said. "I loved putting the countries up."

Ebony Hutchinson said she enjoyed finding she had new skills and learning about the world in an unusual way.

The courtyard at Hernando Middle School stands out. There's a two-story aviary with brilliantly colored live tropical birds who live next door to baby alligators.

The foot-long alligators come each year from state programs to be fed, sheltered and returned at year's end.

A garden commemorating the Holocaust decorates the other end of the campus. Last year's seventh-grader Trey Adams and sixth-grader Jacob Currey designed tall mosaic sculptures for that tribute.

As boys and girls cross the campus, they greet the animals and listen to classical music piped in overhead. They wind their way down paths around gardens and sculptures by fellow students.

The newest addition, called Hands Across the World, is a legacy from 2007's sixth-graders to classes who may not even have begun kindergarten yet. McManus thinks of it as hands across time.