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Children learn the finer points of art and nature

John HartGrizzly Hill students Jessica Rogers (left), Kymberly Coffin and Dillon Hayden stand Tuesday in front of the mural they helped create titled "Birds of the San Juan Ridge."
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Every year, sandhill cranes fly over the campus of Grizzly Hill School, passing over the San Juan Ridge as they head south from breeding regions in Alaska and elsewhere.

It’s also not uncommon for red-tailed hawks to swoop overhead, searching for rabbits, snakes, lizards or rodents native to the area northeast of Nevada City.

These and other birds have fascinated Diana Pasquini for years, so much so that she worked for two years to ensure that the birds’ presence would always be felt, whether they were flying above the school or not.



The end result is a bas-relief campus mural created by some of Grizzly Hill’s youngest students, depicting a dozen varieties of birds that call San Juan Ridge home for at least part of the year.

The project, funded by a variety of arts grants, began in 2001 as students in kindergarten, first and second grades roamed the area near campus, keeping field journals on the birds’ feeding habits, their mannerisms, habitat and physical adaptation.




During the course of the project, the students learned much about the birds and their time spent near the wooded campus. For example, cliff swallows live under eaves at Oak Tree School.

“We hope this project shows that if people love their community, they will take care of the land,” said Pasquini, an art instructor at the school.

The 112-tile mural, “Birds of the San Juan Ridge,” will be unveiled tonight at 6:30 p.m. as part of Grizzly Hill School’s back-to-school night.

The mural combines practical and artistic elements, Pasquini said.

“It’s not extracurricular,” she said. “A kid cannot produce this kind of work without understanding science.”

Dillon Hayden, 9, sculpted a heron on the mural as a third-grade student last year.

“I know I’ve seen these birds around Bullard’s Bar,” said Dillon. “When you like something so much, it’s like fun, not hard.”

Kym Coffin, 8, painted a woodpecker native to the area.

“We could hear them outside as we were learning about them in class. I’ve seen lots of them around,” she said.

The children used plastic knives and forks to mold the figures before they were fired in an oven.

Nancy Lorenz, who retired last year after spending her final year teaching the children the finer points of art and nature, said it wasn’t hard to get the children interested.

“Even my rough-and-tumble sporty boys got into it,” she said, “especially when it came to glazing the tiles. I’m very proud of all these children.”


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