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When is a cafeteria not a cafeteria? When it's a aquateria.

Our school, which has been without a lunch program since 1936, recently opened a new cafeteria facility. A wall separating two large kindergarten rooms was removed to create the necessary space. The result was a large, drab, unorganized area: an endless array of doors, window seats, bulletin boards, tiled fountains and sink areas. The challenge was to unify the room and make it appealing to young children. To meet this need, the idea for an Aquateria was developed. It was to be an art project for the fourth grade classes.

Two fourth grade classes researched tropical fish life and their physiology. Larger-than-life drawings of the fish were made and transferred to sheets of corrugated cardboard. Children worked together to make schools of fish. Larger items were created by teams of two to three students. Cardboard drawings were cut out, built up with crushed paper, covered with papier-mache, painted and shellacked. A third class studied sea mammal life. They constructed six life-size dolphins using the same procedure. The last fourth grade class studied the history of sea diving. This group undertook a project to make two comic divers. Solid wooden armatures were made to which the children added chicken wire flesh, old gloves as hands, a Styrofoam head (for the scuba diver) and a papier-mache ball (for the deep sea diver's helmet). Everything was covered with papier-mache and painted. Found metal pieces, flippers, wig, hose and goggles were the final adornments.

While the sea life was being manufactured, the cafeteria walls were painted with a high-gloss enamel in various shades of blue, aqua, green and lavender to create an underwater effect. The theme of a submerged reef was simulated with black shapes. White highlights gave the feeling of light piercing the surface of the water above (ceiling level).

The big day came when all was assembled. The six dolphins were suspended from the ceiling as they dove through hula hoops. The relief-style fish were arranged in groups and nailed directly to the wall. A rowboat bottom with oars was attached to the ceiling. The comic scuba men were placed as guards at the entrance of the Aquateria. A Name the Divers contest was held for the entire school, and it was a first grader who won the honors by giving the characters the title Diver Dan and Aqua Man.

The Aquateria has demonstrated what the unity and cohesiveness of a staff can do. Classroom teachers assisted students with research and encouragement. Our Industrial Arts teacher helped to construct the wood armature for the two divers. He also created the ceiling boat. Our school engineer supervised the project assembly and was ingenious at solving technical problems.

The finished live-in environment of the Aquateria has been a catalyst to the students who take greater pride in their dining area. Lunchroom behavior has never been better because the children respect their own efforts and the creations that surround them. The Aquateria is the warm, child-centered room that it should be.

Constance Gatley teaches art at Stewart Elementary School, Garden City, New York.
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Author:Gatley, Constance
Publication:School Arts
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Words:508
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