In the Gillis art room students are crowded around microscopes, eagerly taking turns peering into the viewers and passing between them microscope slides like rare trading cards. Under the lenses they are studying cross sections of plant stems and insects, above them on a projector screen tiny organisms swim in a water droplet; a swirl of eating, dividing, and growing. Yesterday they looked at the intricacies within a drop of blood.
By the microscopes lay sketch pads and pencils for the students to use to capture shapes and patterns they like. Drawing pages lay everywhere covered in circles and squiggly lines. As other students draw a girl sits on a back stool staring intensely at the projector as a protozoa snakes around clusters of algae. Later these students will present paintings inspired by what they saw with a written paragraph on their experience and observations. This is the kind of ambitious and exciting programming that a kind donation from Opus and Time Warner Cable have made possible at Gillis.Beyond this project students have explored weather, energy, and astrology while making plans for a huge expansion of the Gillis outdoor learning center Growth Grove. This expansion consists of a series of learning stations devoted to the earth sciences. Outdoor learning stations like the soon to be finished Ecology Station.
The Ecology Station is especially exciting to Outdoor Education Manager, Theo Bunch. “It wasn’t that long ago that 40% of Kansas City was prairie with hundreds of varieties of grasses, wild flowers, and prairie specific insects and birds. We thought what better way to bring ecology alive then to involve our students in the creating of a mesic prairie: the now most at-risk of the three main prairie ecosystems.” Create they did, planting Indian Grass, Marshmallow flower and dozens of other varieties of plants along a pathway that has become the entrance to the Gillis Growth Grove.
The Growth Grove Ecology Station starts the journey through a total of 8 currently planned and under construction spaces covering everything from dendrology to entomology. “I think where art, science, and play begin to meet is where things get interesting. We have to help our students fall in love with the subjects we are asking them to learn, not just have them memorize data for tests. With the help of our supporters we are building a space for students to become inspired learners.” The image of the Gillis art room, where students viewed and drew their world on a microscopic level comes to mind. Theo gestures to the developing and established learning stations and rows of plants swaying in front of a back drop of brick school buildings and orchard trees. “That is what this is all about.”