Restoration Site Gives Young Artists a New Perspective on Nature

Artists at Schultz Preserve

One of the District’s Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) restoration projects is providing inspiration for hundreds of Hillsborough County art and photography students.

Ten classes of middle and high school students were recently given the opportunity to learn about and explore the Schultz Preserve, located near the Port of Tampa. The field trips to the restoration site and the TECO Manatee Viewing Center were part of an education project funded by a TECO Energy mini-grant.

Cheryl Johnson, a member of the District’s Alafia River Basin Board and a TECO real estate associate, is coordinating the project.

“I learned about the Schultz Preserve through my work with the Basin Board and wanted to incorporate it into a learning opportunity for middle and high school students,” said Johnson. “We hope this project will spur them into being good stewards of the environment.”

group at dedication Phyllis Alexandroff, supervisor of Middle and Secondary Art; Brandt Henningsen, senior environmental scientist; and Cheryl Johnson, Alafia River Basin Board member, worked together to make the field trips possible.

The students have been studying about estuaries, wetlands and manatees as part of the project. They will take what they learned and create artwork, including sketches and photos, which will be on display in April as part of a traveling exhibit. The students’ creations will be featured at TECO Plaza, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Hillsborough County School District’s downtown office.

During the class visits to the Schultz Preserve, Brandt Henningsen, District senior environmental scientist; Kris Kaufman, District environmental scientist; and Megan Sommer, SWIM intern, gave the students an overview of the restoration work that has been completed and is scheduled to be done at the site.

The Schultz Preserve, which was dedicated in the fall of 2004, is maintained by Hillsborough County. It consists of 120 acres of estuarine and freshwater wetlands, artificial reefs, transitional communities and uplands in the northern portion of Port Redwing. The preserve is part of a 204-acre ecosystem restoration project known as the “Kitchen.” This area includes Port Redwing, Dug Creek and the Davis Tract.

map of area General location of the Schultz Preserve, shown in red above.

Since the dedication, many of the native plants have grown and oyster bars are beginning to form in the tidal lagoon. Henningsen says these are signs that the restoration is working, providing valuable habitat for coastal species.

Henningsen also talked to the students about the SWIM program and the connection between art and nature.

“Artists are often inspired by nature, which leads to a greater appreciation of the environment and a desire to help conserve it,” said Henningsen. “Your art can also show others why conservation is so important.”

After the brief overview, the students spread out to explore the preserve, looking for interesting photos or objects to sketch.

Chad Poynter, a portfolio student at Braulio Alonso High School, focused his attention on a palmetto tree.

“I usually draw portraits, but this is really interesting,” said Poynter. “It’s nice to have the chance to see nature in its true form, without a lot of man-made stuff. It’s very relaxing here.”

“We’ve sketched outdoors before, like outside the school, but nothing like this,” said Nickie Vance, an eighth-grade student from Ben Hill Middle School.

The teachers said they were excited to have their classes involved in the project.

“Once students get into middle and high school, they don’t have the opportunity to take many field trips,” said Beverly Owen, a Plant High School art teacher. “The trips my classes have taken are usually to museums to see other styles of art or as inspiration.”

The teachers of the classes involved have all had environmental training, such as participating in an Everglades “swamp walk.”

“My goal is to bring teachers in to get environmental experience they can bring back to the classroom,” said Phyllis Alexandroff, Hillsborough County supervisor of Middle and Secondary Art. “These teachers have prepared their students well.”

“The most exciting part is seeing students not want to leave,” said Johnson. “It makes me feel like the work put into the grant is worth the effort.”