Lake Norman & Mooresville

Students craft art around character traits

Students and teachers arriving at Woodland Heights Elementary School this fall had something new waiting to greet them as they entered the building.

Over the summer, art teacher Sydney Jokubaitis - "Mrs. J," as the students know her - along with many volunteers, installed a mosaic by the front entrance.

The mosaic, which weighs more than 350 pounds, is a visual representation of the school's Character Counts program.

Character Counts is a national program that encourages schools to incorporate six basic character values into their school system. The values are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

"Woodland Heights Elementary School has been involved with Character Counts for four years," said principal Ethan Todd. "The goal of (Character Counts) for Woodland Heights is that each student learn about the traits and integrate them inside and outside of the school."

In the effort to accomplish that goal, Todd requested the help of Jokubaitis and local artist Lee Ann Harrison.

Harrison and fellow artist Shari Crouse created the idea of incorporating the Character Counts traits into a mosaic.

"The idea for the mosaic really came together very quickly," said Jokubaitis. "Lee Ann created a rendering of the mosaic, and we went from there."

Harrison and Crouse put students to work on the mosaic during the school's annual art show, held in spring.

"In previous art shows, we had tried to set up a nice display where the kids could watch us throw clay and work with it," said Harrison. "We quickly found out that all the kids wanted to put their own hands in the clay and create."

For this year's spring art show, Harrison and Crouse created an interactive clay station. Each student was given a flat piece of clay and told to be creative. The children then were able to cut, create and paint their own pieces.

"It was so much fun to see what the kids created," said Harrison. "Some of our favorite pieces were a bird walking with upright human feet, a hotdog created by a hungry student and whimsical dogs and cats."

Three hundred pounds of clay were used at the art show, and students created more than 1,000 pieces that would eventually go into the mosaic.

"What was so neat about this project was that it was truly was a collaboration of children's work," said Crouse.

Todd said, "I hope the kids take away a deep sense of pride and accomplishment in being part of something so positive and relevant to everybody."

Over the summer, Jokubaitis, Harrison, Crouse and many other volunteers worked to complete the mosaic and get it installed.

"It has been fun to see the students' reaction to the mosaic," said Jokubaitis. "They like to go up to it, look at all the shapes and try to find the pieces they created.

"I encourage them to go up to it and touch it. There is nothing better than creating art and getting to feel art," she said.