Photo by Marcy Stamper

Artist-in-residence Laura Gunnip makes a suggestion to Gage Wilson for enhancing his linoleum blockprint of a fish taco. Classmate Graham Sheley prepared to work on his print.

Sixth-graders’ project links learning, creativity

By Marcy Stamper

When Methow Valley Elementary sixth-graders picked “Water Provides” as the theme for this year’s National Free Fishing Day, it showed how completely they had absorbed the interconnection of water for farmers, fish and virtually everyone in the community.

Early this month, the students translated this theme onto linoleum blockprints in a project led by Methow Arts. While Methow Arts has done this project in the schools for the past 25 years, the blockprints now tie in with a lesson called Salmon Recovery in the Classroom. In this multi-disciplinary unit, the students have spent the past several months learning about the ecology of the Methow watershed and salmon.

“This project provides real-world examples of how we, as a community, depend on the health of the watershed for our livelihood — and how all our lives are closely tied to water,” said John Crandall, Methow monitoring coordinator with the Methow Restoration Council, who has been helping teach the salmon-recovery unit. “We all value the water we have, and we all use it and see it in different ways.”

Photo by Marcy Stamper

The students have been rearing 175 summer Chinook in tanks at the school. These fish will be released in the Twisp Ponds – which the students chose as prime habitat for the young fish – within the next few months.

In addition to learning about the watershed and salmon biology, the students are rearing 175 summer Chinook in three tanks at the school. During their study of the salmon life cycle, the students have watched the fish hatch from eggs and seen them grow into tiny fish, still barely 2 inches long. Before the end of the school year, they’ll release the salmon to the river to start them on their journey to the ocean.

The salmon unit lends itself to interdisciplinary learning, part of the International Baccalaureate approach that the Methow Valley School District adopted two years ago. The classes recently tromped through the snow to collect data at two potential release sites — the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife floodplain on the Methow River off the Old Twisp Highway, and the Twisp River Rearing Ponds.

After analyzing riparian vegetation, water quality and temperature; measuring pebbles; and looking at macroinvertebrates, the students graphed their data to figure out which site would provide better habitat for the fish, said Methow Elementary sixth-grade teacher Tyler Slostad.

“That was the cool thing about the data — it was very real,” said Slostad. Students had to weigh the parameters carefully to choose the best spot, since certain macroinvertebrates were more plentiful at one site, but pebbles were better at the other, he said. The students ultimately chose the Twisp Ponds.

The sites were different enough in riparian cover and water temperature to show how much variation there can be, even in a relatively small area, said Crandall. “Whether they knew it or not, the kids were doing some big-time math and science,” he said.

In another segment of the unit, the students conducted a town-hall meeting where they represented different roles — such as an irrigator, a director of a conservation organization, a dam operator, a tribal member, or a hatchery manager — to understand how interconnected everyone’s use of water is.

The discussions showed that, regardless of role, we all need clean, cold water, said Crandall. “We’re dependent on salmon — and they’re dependent on us,” he said.

Art project

For the blockprint project, three artists-in-residence from Methow Arts helped the students create bold designs, patterns and texture. “This turtle is a fun image — it has all these geometric patterns,” said Emily Post, who has been co-leading the blockprint unit for 10 years with printmaker Laura Gunnip.

Because blockprinting involves so many steps — from the initial drawing, to transferring the design to linoleum, to carving and inking it for printing — it’s a satisfying project for young artists, said Post. It’s not uncommon for students who have trouble focusing on other subjects to become completely engrossed when working on art, she said. “It’s super-engaging the whole time,” she said.

Student art has been integrated into fishing day since at least 1992, when kids first designed a T-shirt, said Jennifer Molesworth, a fisheries biologist and artist who was helping with the blockprints.

Photo by Marcy Stamper

Working with artists-in-residence from Methow Arts, the students created linoleum blockprints on the theme “Water Provides.” There were turtles, swans, whitewater rafts, and even a fish taco.

Many of the prints are featured in a free calendar about Living with the Methow River, which is produced by the Methow Restoration Council in collaboration with Methow Arts and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. But all the students make multiple prints so they can take home originals.

Kids seemed to revel in the freedom of the “Water Provides” theme. One drew a dolphin, one created a beaver, and another a bear. Some carved delicately branching flowers and trees.

Lucy Tobiska Doran carved a swan under a moon. “I really love birds, and a swan is so majestic and beautiful, so I aimed for it to be surreal,” she said.

Mariah Paz created a wolf with fish leaping out of the river. “I liked the idea of a lone wolf,” she said. “At least, in my house, my family calls me a ‘lone wolf’ — because I’m just different.”

Rhain Wagan, who’d never carved blockprints before, used her experience with white-water rafting to capture an unusual, aerial perspective of a raft, resulting in a distinctive geometric design.

Gage Wilson decided to draw a taco. The students learned that water is connected to everything, so he asked, “How else could you raise beef and lettuce?” said Post. Before he was finished, Wilson did more sketching to turn it into a genuine fish taco.

“Everything is related to water, so it’s pretty open,” said Post.

This year’s National Free Fishing Day, complete with arts booths and hands-on trout-fishing and fly-casting opportunities, is June 10 at the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.