Beaufort County students let knowledge flow down by the river

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMarch 21, 2013 

Cover art for the new "River of Words" book produced by Beaufort County School District students is by Hannah Van Dam, an eighth-grader at Robert Smalls Middle School.

If for a day we could all fly like eagles, maybe we would better appreciate the watery batik of Beaufort County.

We could see that the Port Royal Sound estuary is a constantly heaving inland ocean, rushing its salty waters over what is fully half of the state's salt marshes.

We can't fly, but we can plunge like pelicans into the waterways, marshes, beaches and creeks. We can go eye-to-eye with lumbering sea turtles and darting ghost crabs.

That's what 3,000 students in 22 Beaufort County public schools have done over the past three years. They've gone down to the river to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, science and art. They've looked at the watershed from all these angles, and produced a book unveiled March 15 called "River of Words: Musings on Port Royal Sound Through Poetry and Art 2013."

They learned from the heron, periwinkle and spottail bass. More than 100 teachers crafted interdisciplinary lessons for first- through 12th-graders. They also learned from local experts: master naturalists, visual artists, a children's author and a photographer. A dozen institutions -- such as the Hunting Island State Park on the ocean and Nemours Plantation on the Combahee River -- welcomed them into classrooms with walls that stretched to the horizon.

"In today's world when children are playing more games online than outdoors and increasingly viewing nature 'virtually' rather than directly, there is a growing concern that ecological literacy is becoming extinct and that our 'sense of place' is becoming a lost sense, disintegrating into a vague feeling of nowhere," Margaret D. Rushton writes in the foreword.

Rushton oversees the project as fine-arts coordinator for the Beaufort County School District, which published the book with the help of five benefactors: the LowCountry Institute, Port Royal Sound Foundation, Arts Council of Beaufort, the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina and the Foundation for Educational Excellence.

River of Words is a national program started in 1995 in the school of education at St. Mary's College of California.

But Rushton has been breaking down classroom walls for local students about as long. As a parent volunteer at Lady's Island Middle School, she helped students publish a series of "Downtown as a Classroom" books. Students went into graveyards and old buildings to bring history to life.

Now, members of a new generation are learning about their special "place," with a not-so-secret hope that they will want to keep it special.

Bluffton Elementary third-grader Emily Alejandra King calls her piece in the book, "Marsh":

Wet, mushy

Flowing, hissing, crackling

Soggy, mushy, creepy, crazy

Walking, pinching, scratching

Soft, smooth

Crab

Emily can't fly like an eagle, but maybe she doesn't need to.

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