When Frank Allis Elementary garden coordinator Carol Troyer-Shank looked at the green and spacious garden, she noticed something missing.
“Our garden looks so barren in the winter time,” she said, “and we needed something that would sparkle. We needed something that permanently said, ‘This is a children's garden.’”
Since May, students at Allis Elementary have been collaborating with Megan Cain, a local mosaic artist, to make mosaic poles in their school garden. Troyer-Shank first saw Cain’s mosaic art poles at Troy Community Gardens on the north side of Madison.
“I had seen them there, (and) I'd always wanted them,” Troyer-Shank said.
Troyer-Shank called Cain to ask for her help, and together they applied for a Madison Arts Commission grant right before the deadline. Soon after, they found another grant opportunity with American Girl’s Fund for Children.
First, volunteers put up eight cement poles. Then Cain spoke to Allis Elementary’s art teacher, Steve Hurst, in April to come up with a schedule for students to participate with the project.
Students of all grades were able to collaborate on the project during their art classes two to three times a week.
Each pole has a different theme, like compass directions, things grown in the garden, insects found in the garden, shapes, a measurement pole for vegetables and a rainbow pole.
“We really want the poles to be a source of learning for the children as well as permanent beauty,” Troyer-Shank said.
One of the poles includes the word peace written on it with the four different languages primarily spoken at the school: English, Spanish, Arabic and Hmong.
Allis Elementary is among the Madison schools with the highest rate of poverty in the district. A majority of the students are bussed in, according to Troyer-Shank.
“The poles are also to reach out to the neighborhood. We are trying to build the idea that this is a great school even though we have high levels of poverty,” Troyer-Shank said.
Cain has been working with children on gardening and mosaic art projects and is always surprised by what they come up with.
“It's always so fun to see what they do and what they pick out, just how they put some of the mosaics and images together,” Cain said.
Cain said when working with children, one has to find a balance between saying “no” to some of their ideas and allowing them to have freedom when creating art.
“One of the kids wanted to make a face on the corn. I would never have thought about the face on the corn and now that’s what they look for when they come out to the garden,” Cain said.
Fifth grader Darin Beck had the idea for a face on the corn, saying the design made it look less plain. Beck mainly helped with the drawing of the designs, adding that he enjoys all kinds of art but he hadn’t tried mosaic art before.
“It's something new that we haven’t done at Frank Allis and everyone, I think, enjoyed it and liked participating,” Beck said.
Another student who mainly helped put the mosaic pieces together was second grader Antonia Millard. She walked through the garden excited to see the finished mosaic poles and pointed out the pieces she had worked on.
Millard said she will be happy coming back to the garden after she graduates.
“Because they're still going to have the all the poles here, I like them,” Millard said.
Cain finished applying grout to the garden’s mosaic sign on Saturday during their Carniv-Allis event on June 4. Troyer-Shank and Cain invited the community to come and participate.
“That's a way of pulling the whole community together to participate and have ownership in the garden and in the project,” Troyer-Shank said.