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Chesapeake Bay conservation theme of Harford Day School's annual 'smARTs week'

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Concrete oyster reef balls sat in their metal molds, a contraption resembling a World War II-era land mine or tank trap, dotting the athletic field at Harford Day School. The reef balls awaited their release from the molds Thursday afternoon and eventual sinking in the Chesapeake Bay to create oyster habitats.

The reef balls are one of the many conservation-themed projects that middle-school students at the Bel Air private school have been working on over the past week during Harford Day’s annual "smARTs week."

About 100 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders took the week ahead of spring break off from academics and worked on a variety of art projects that tie in with their curriculum, such as learning about art history, cooking, poster making, photography and video, origami, screen painting, even using plant seedlings and soil to create terrariums.

The themes for the week have been conservation and the Chesapeake Bay, according to Donna Decker, the school’s director of advancement.

The oyster reef balls, which the students developed with support from the Coastal Conservation Association-Maryland, were released from their molds during a “hatch” Thursday afternoon.

The CCA’s Maryland chapter has been working with students in the Chesapeake Bay region to create artificial reef components, such as the concrete balls, through its Living Reef Action Campaign.

Oysters help keep bay waters clean and health and provide habitats for other wildlife, said David Sikorski, the CCA-Maryland executive director who has been working with the Harford Day students.

Representatives from the CCA will take the balls, cover them with baby oysters and later deploy them in the bay. The organization has been working with multiple state and nonprofit agencies to help fulfill the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance’s goal of growing 10 billion new oysters in the bay by 2025, according to Sikorski.

“I tend to think we’re making leaders in conservation for the future,” Sikorsi said of working with young people.

He recalled instances of other students telling their parents they want a pet oyster.

“Any time you can increase that intrinsic value of that animal and its role in the ecosystem, I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

Students in Tracy Lyon’s art class worked on Chesapeake Bay-themed screen paintings Thursday morning, under the guidance of artist-in-residence John Iampieri.

Iampieri, known to the Harford Day students and faculty as “Mr. I,” is a resident of Worcester County on the Eastern Shore. This is his second year as an artist-in-residence at the Bel Air school.

Iampieri said screen painting, which he described as “blue-collar folk art,” was popular in Baltimore City in the early 20th century as artists were hired to paint various scenes on the front of screen doors on rowhouses.

The paintings allowed rowhouse residents to keep their dwellings cool while preserving their privacy, as the artwork blocked the view of anybody looking into the house. People in the house could still see out through the screen, though, according to Iampieri. He noted screen painting began declining in the 1940s as central air conditioning started being installed in houses.

“This is a vanishing art form that should be explored as much as possible before it disappears completely,” he said.

The students painted animals and plants living above and under the water, as well as typical Chesapeake Bay infrastructure such as bridges and lighthouses. Iampieri said those scenes connect with the “conservation program gong on with the oysters.”

Sixth-grader Vivian Carrico painted a lighthouse on her screen.

“I like this, it has a lot of history to it,” the 11-year-old Forest Hill resident said of the art form.

Her classmate, 11-year-old Ava Patino, of Bel Air, painted the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. She and Vivian recalled making the oyster balls earlier in the week, using a mixture of cement powder, sand, rocks and water.

“We’re going to help the oysters that are contributing to the health of our Bay and other ecosystems, to make them healthy for all the other animals,” Vivian said.

Ava recalled taking a canoe trip on the Bay during a fourth-grade field trip.

“Even now that we’re helping as kids, it will make a huge difference later in our lives,” she said.

Seventh-grader Jasmine Flowers, 13, of Bel Air, painted a scene of an eagle catching a fish with a rising sun behind the bird.

Jasmine, who also serves as Harford Day’s student council president, said the scene brings back “happy thoughts” of vacations with her family, such as a trip to Chincoteague, Virginia, when she saw the island’s famous ponies as well as an eagle catching a fish.

“It’s one of my favorite things to see in the bay, to see an eagle swoop down and catch a fish — it’s always fun,” she said.

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