School Notes: April 2019

Local artist Christy Yates talks with Murray Elementary kindergarteners about materials, perspective, and knowing when you’re done. Photo: Lisa Martin.

An Artful Perspective 

Two Murray Elementary kindergarten classes recently invited local artist Christy Yates into school to talk with them about being a painter for a living. Art teacher Abbi Pence prepared the students for their visitor ahead of time by discussing art materials and methods. “We explained that this person was a professional artist, which means her artwork is her job,” said Pence, “and they said, ‘That’s so cool!’” 

Pence and Yates connected via social media and through the artist’s work at an art auction. “It’s great for the kids to see this,” said Pence. “The kindergarteners are working on a collaborative project about spaces for our spring festival. They’re working in groups painting scenes based on weather, as in ‘what colors would you use for cold?’ and ‘how would you paint wind?’ During the festival they’ll be reading and singing with their projects as the backdrop.”

For Yates, who lives near Sugar Hollow and has four kids of her own, the kindergarten art talk was a first. “Mostly I’m in the studio by myself so it’s good for me to get out and integrate a bit,” she said. After describing to the students how she became an artist, she discussed two small works that she had brought along, one of which wasn’t totally finished, she told the class.

“This canvas is linen, and part of the linen [beyond some images of mountains] has no paint on it,” she explained. “Do you all think I should fill that in or leave it the way it is?” Lots of opinions were shared, and the students were even more intrigued when Yates turned the canvas on its side, and then upside-down, to encourage them to look at their work from all angles, particularly when they’re stuck on what to do next. “It looks like the ocean!” said one, and another called out, “It looks like space!”

Yates will be exhibiting her work during 2019 at U.Va.’s Darden School of Business, NPR’s WVTF Gallery, and Covenant Upper School, all in Charlottesville. More at

Resource Protection

Crozet Elementary fifth-graders teamed up with the Rivanna Conservation Alliance in a project to plant a riparian buffer along the edge of Parrot Branch Creek where it runs next to school property. A riparian buffer is a line of trees or vegetation near a stream that helps shade and partially protect the stream from the impact of adjacent land uses like the school building and parking lot, which are at a higher elevation than the stream.

Students, staff, parent volunteers, and representatives from the Rivanna Conservation Alliance plant trees for a riparian buffer near Parrot Branch Creek. Photo: Lisa Martin.

“We are using all native plants,” said fifth-grade teacher Brandy Garbaccio, who spearheaded the project as part of the school’s water conservation efforts. “It’s really about shade for the creek. Too much sunlight creates blue-green algae and when the water’s not moving, that can cause problems.” Garbaccio worked with RCA program director Lisa Wittenborn to secure grant funding to purchase more than 150 18-inch tree seedlings for the project.

Superintendent Matthew Haas, Crozet fifth-grader Kacie, and fifth grade teacher Brandi Garbaccio. Photo: Lisa Martin.

Crozet Elementary students partnered with high-schoolers from WAHS to dig holes along a thin strip of land marked with flags denoting which type of tree should go where. Black willow, river birch, willow oak, sycamore, hazelnut, and dogwood varieties were mapped into a color-coded plan rendered by landscape designer Melissa Morrison of Osceola Land Design. Wittenborn and Garbaccio set out the flags and other materials the day before the planting event so the students could dig right in.

Crozet Elementary students team up with WAHS high-schoolers to plant over 150 tree seedlings in a riparian buffer near Parrot Branch Creek. Photo: Lisa Martin.

“I just love this,” said CES principal Gwedette Crummie. “Each tree has a tag with the student’s name who planted it, so they’ll always be a part of this.” Mrs. Crummie is enthused about the school’s ongoing water conservation work. “We sent student-made podcasts about this project in to a contest at NPR—I hope we win!” she said. “This is year five of our water project, and I’d like to take it further, maybe into other countries. Chris Long’s ‘Waterboys’ project in Africa is so great, and I’d like to find out how we can help him support the wells and the water quality there.”

Each little tree was encased in green mesh tubing to protect it from deer and wind while it establishes roots, and the RCA will help monitor and maintain the riparian buffer as it grows. Garbaccio says that the project fits well with the curriculum. “Right now the students are all about sources—primary sources, credible sources—so how about the source of life?”

Causing a Stir

Western Albemarle High School’s Leadership Program orchestrated a newly-expanded “WAHS with a Cause” day, organizing all of the school’s 1,100-plus students into good works projects both at the high school and out in the community on March 25. The school building and grounds were bustling with groups of busy, chatty students and upbeat music in every quarter.

Students weave paper placemats for Meals on Wheels during WAHS with a Cause. Photo: Lisa Martin.

The types of available activities ran the gamut of skills and taste, from troupes of artists painting geometric murals on the off-white cinderblock walls of stairwells and halls, to shovel-wielding diggers clearing space for a mulched area and picnic benches in a courtyard, to a cafeteria packed with students creating cards with appreciative messages for military service members and woven paper placemats for Meals on Wheels.

Students help sort inventory and clean at Green Olive Tree during WAHS with a Cause. Photo: Lisa Martin.

Other pockets of students tucked away in classrooms were sorting and refurbishing computer lab equipment and making “plarn” (plastic yarn) mats for The Haven.

Students and staff clear a square area in a courtyard for a mulched bed and picnic tables during WAHS with a Cause. Photo: Lisa Martin.

Some groups traveled as part of their extracurricular squad out to various locations in Crozet: the swim and dive team cleared branches and debris from the trails at Crozet Park, the girls basketball team played with young children at the Virginia Discovery Museum, and the football team helped out with projects at Murray Elementary. The Crozet United Methodist Church food bank got a hand with organizing and painting, and a dozen or so students went to the local thrift store Green Olive Tree to help with springcleaning and to sort and bag up excess inventory. 

Students paint geometric murals on stairwell walls during WAHS with a Cause. Photo: Lisa Martin.

In all, more than 50 projects involving the entire student body gave a huge boost of energy and generous spirit to the Crozet community. Well done, WAHS! 

Students clear twigs and limbs from Crozet Park trails during WAHS with a Cause. Photo: Lisa Martin.


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