Creekside Middle School is no stranger to beautiful artwork thanks largely to the efforts of art teacher Jeriel McGinness. The main corridor of the school is adorned with a massive ceramic tile and glass mosaic depicting various nature scenes. This year, Mr. McGinness, along with Prairiewood Elementary School art teacher, Chuck Jones, were awarded the Ellyn Wrzeski Impact Grant, by the District 200 Education Foundation for their collaborative proposal to develop a newly designed ceramic tile and glass mosaic to affix to the school sign structure at the entrance to the property. The winning proposal creates a six (6) foot by sixteen (16) foot mosaic depicting prairie wildlife. Annually, the Ellyn Wrzeski Impact Grant is awarded in honor of retired former Superintendent Ellyn Wrzeski, in recognition of her many years of service to District 200. The grant exemplifies the innovation, originality and passion for education that Wrzeski brought to District 200 along with her love for the creative arts. As a result of the $1,500 impact grant that was awarded, McGinness and Jones were able to purchase most of the materials required for the project, including the Wedi board to mount the mosaic pieces onto thanks to a generous discount from the Tile Shop in Algonquin, along with mortar, grout, clay and glazes, plus some tools required for the project.
The prairie wildlife theme chosen for the project was generated as a result of the natural surroundings near the two school. In sharing their vision for the project, McGinness and Jones stated, “We wanted something that represented both schools, a joint effort. We also wanted something attractive to be one of the last things people see as they leave our school’s property. When the schools were first built, the thinking was that our entire campus would be surrounded by new homes. However, during the first and second year in the buildings, the housing market crashed and the building near the schools stopped. This turn of events allowed us to have a few more years to enjoy the natural environment by which we are surrounded. It is our hope that the Prairie Mosaic will one day stand as a testament to what once was. Can you ask anything more of a piece of art?”
McGinness and Jones went on to state, “We have a family of cranes that like to congregate on the school’s campus. They have become a bit famous among our students and staff, so we decided to make the cranes a focal point of the piece of art. We also have a snapping turtle who seems to like crossing Hercules Road as he crosses to and from the nearby retention pond. Consequently, he’s also earned a spot in the planned mosaic.”
Several hundred students from both schools will be actively involved in the project, as well as the Art Club from Creekside Middle School. Student involvement will focus on creating and glazing the individual tiles, cutting the glass pieces to be incorporated into the mosaic, as well as helping with the design template for the overall project. Student creativity comes to play in the selection of the design(s) to be incorporated into the individual ceramic tiles for the project. For example, the leaves for the trees will be composed of hundreds of small tile pieces that have students’ shoe tread imprinted into the clay leaf, making each one unique to the individual student who created the tile.
When completed the project will have accumulated over 150 man hours of student and staff work as the process is very labor intensive. Everything from initial design to rolling, making and glazing tile, cutting glass pieces, mounting the tiles and the eventual affixing of the panel to the school sign will be completed as a result of student and staff efforts at the two schools. The finished project is estimated to weigh over 300 pounds upon completion.
The project has created a lot of added value to the art curriculum at the two schools. McGinness and Jones shared that, “The project allows students to be part of something “big” and lasting. It also allows them to learn how to make a part of something, donate it and then feel like a part of a bigger project, all while demonstrating how visual art enhances our daily lives.”
Receiving the annual “Ellyn Wrzeski Impact Grant” for 2018-19 was especially meaningful to the two long-term District 200 teachers. They stated, “Ellyn was and is a supporter of the visual arts. Her encouragement has always been appreciated. We especially appreciate the recognition that this project is something different because it involves such a large number of students and results in a permanent outcome that enhances our two schools and the community.”
Mark Heckmon, Trustee
W.C.U.S.D. 200 Education Foundation