Hilton Head Elementary students combine art, science with rain harvester

Hilton Head Island Elementary School students soon will have a new work of art to show off. But the whimsical sculpture in front of their school will be more than adornment -- it's part of a rain harvester.

About 20 students in an after-school art group began work Tuesday on the project, which merges art and science, local artist Amos Hummel says. The students will create small clay sculptures that catch and funnel rain below ground into the 250-gallon harvester, which will be filled primarily from a gutter from the school's roof.

The students were eager to get started and quick to begin molding the clay as they chattered about ideas. Hummel and potter Liz Delatore told the students to let their imaginations flow. The only rule was that their sculptures had to have a clear entry and exit point for water.

"That's why this is so important; it allows children to use their imagination," Delatore said. "So often the kids are inundated with things like MAP tests -- I don't think there's anything wrong with that -- but then there's no focus on creative thinking."

The sculptures will be mounted to a recycled piece of bright-yellow aluminum and spin and tip as they fill with water. Hummel and Delatore encouraged the students to work together to create designs that allowed water to flow from one sculpture to the next.

The art and the rain harvester will be installed in front of the school near the main entrance. Hummel said he hopes to have it finished in a few months.

Students said they were excited to eventually see their art displayed where hundreds of parents and kids would pass every day.

"It's like we're going to be famous," fourth-grader Tessa Beck said.

Fourth-grader Laney Sewell said the sculpture will give her something to look forward to when it rains.

"I think seeing it move will be exciting," she said.

At the end of the school year, students can take their sculptures home, and another group will mold clay into chutes and tubes to transport water. That way, more students can be involved and the children will have a way to remember the project.

Hummel said he hoped the memory would remind them to focus on conservation.

Larry Cooke, a stormwater-management consultant helping with the grant-funded project, said rain harvesters help diminish runoff, which can add pollutants to streams and cause erosion. Water from the rain harvester could be recycled and used to water plants around the school.

Hummel said he talked with Hilton Head Preparatory School and Hilton Head Island Early Childhood Center about installing harvesters there.

He also hopes the rain harvester will be the catalyst for an outdoor classroom at Hilton Head Elementary where students can learn more about the environment.

"The only way to do that is to stick your hands in the dirt," Hummel said.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.