January 2013

Our Town: River of Words

Author: Samantha Carnes

River of Words is not a new program; it’s not even new to Hilton Head Island Middle School. The game changer this year is that every single seventh grade student at Hilton Head Island Middle is involved. By inviting all students to participate in the experience, their passion and ownership is surpassing all previous years of involvement in the program.

Oysters glisten in our marsh…

Since 1995, River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things, has focused on providing a location based watershed education model. It integrates art and poetry curriculum to promote literacy, creativity and, most importantly, the awareness among young people of their local eco-system. The environmental component at the heart of River of Words is water. Here in the Lowcountry, this is especially important, as we are surrounded by water. The salt marsh and its ecological inhabitants are cornerstones of our community’s beauty and relevance.

The Spartina grass blows in the wind…

In the science classrooms of Deborah Colella and Heidi McAllister as well as on field trips to Waddell Mariculture Center and the Coastal Discovery Museum, students learned about the salt marsh and its importance. In the English language arts classrooms of Cathy Shaw, Joy Reznich, Patricia Drane, Katie Hilton, and Patsy Truett, students learned how to write poems that pack a punch and motivate change, as well as educate others to help our coastal eco-system. Students wrote poetry about all aspects of the salt marsh, from its wild inhabitants: crabs, snakes, alligators, fish, and birds, to the pluff mud and Spartina grass that make up our coastal habitat. In fact, the lines embedded throughout this article are excerpts from multiple student poems.

The icky sticky pluff mud is everywhere…

In each seventh grade art class, students created artwork that highlight aspects of the salt marsh using watercolors, pencil sketches, and pastels. Eighteen students were given the opportunity to work with their new art teacher Samantha Szwak Chisolm and Mary Pratt of Atlanta, an artist in residence, on a mural for the hallway of Hilton Head Island Middle School. Over three days, these students and their educators recreated the life of the salt marsh, capturing the essence and beauty of a Lowcountry sunset, a shrimp boat at work, and a perching pelican.

Skittering silently through the night…

The most outstanding pieces of art and poetry from across Beaufort County School District, grades K-12, will be showcased this spring in the annual River of Words publication and at ARTworks in Beaufort. The idea of being a published poet or artist thrills many of our seventh grade students. While they would love to have their creative efforts featured and their work immortalized for all to read, most students are happy to have simply had the experience. Students now understand and appreciate that they are the future keepers of the salt marsh and its inhabitants. The future of our splendid and beautiful home is in their capable hands.

Hermit crabs make homes in the grass…

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