By DONNA HARRIS
Students in Abby Hennington’s art program have gone completely crazy for cows.
The Woodland Middle School art teacher wanted to find a way to create some fun for her students in what she knew was going to be very tough year for them.
So she adopted a real-live calf as the art program’s mascot.
Last August, school Café Manager April Silver forwarded an email to Hennington about an Adopt a Cow program, which provided the perfect solution for her quest.
“I knew that this year was going to be challenging in so many ways, and I was looking for fun and uplifting themes to start off our year,” she said. “[I] thought that [the program] sounded like a fun way to connect art with science and math. It fit right in with our school’s current goal of seeking [state] STEM certification by incorporating science and art in the same lessons.”
Hennington applied right away to the program, which teaches students about dairy farming and would work well with her hybrid teaching model of in-person and online students.
“She teaches middle school students from a wide range of demographics, with several of her students living on working farms while others live in more metropolitan areas and have parents who commute to Atlanta each day,” said Emily Barge, communications and marketing manager for the Center for Dairy Excellence in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “She thought the program would be a great way for all types of students to connect with the agriculture side of their community while also building STEM connections.”
In the program, classrooms are paired with calves from host dairy farms across the United States, and throughout the year, students receive photos, video updates and activity sheets that allow them to learn about dairy farming and watch their calf grow.
This year, more than 70,000 classrooms and home-school groups from across the globe signed up for the free program, which is expected to impact more than 1.5 million students internationally.
“I was attracted to the idea of using this theme as an ongoing mascot of sorts for our school year in my art program,” Hennington said. “I made the kids laugh by playing farm sounds when they entered the room. We’ve really had a lot of fun learning more about cows and dairy farms.”
After Hennington applied, she and her young artists were notified that their host farm was Big Sandy Creek Dairy in Madison, and their calf, Fiesta, lived there with her mother, Fajita, and father, Powerball.
Since then, the 177 art students — 157 in-person learners and 20 distance learners — have submerged themselves in all things bovine.
“My students learned about atmospheric and linear perspective through a unit that centered around the Big Sandy Creek Dairy,” Hennington said. “Our host farm shared photos of their family, farm and the cows. This unit tied together art and math. We were inspired by all of the gorgeous land as well as the equipment involved.”
The art teacher said her students also “learned about art and science as we studied more specific facts about our cow and her parents.”
“The kids found out that Fiesta’s mother produces 10 gallons of milk each day and weighs 1,450 pounds,” she said. “We completed timed drawings of Fiesta’s face and became more familiar with the skeletal and muscular shapes of cows to build confidence for their Fiesta-inspired choice projects.”
Besides the timed drawings, the young artists also have created multimedia paintings, charcoal drawings, clay cow sculptures, carvings of silos and comic strips starring Fiesta.
Students have even gotten cow-themed manicures and been wearing cow-themed T-shirts in honor of their adopted calf, Hennington said.
“I’m overjoyed with what this program brought to our art class,” she said. “My students thought I was silly at first when I introduced the fact that our art program was adopting a cow. I played cow audio in class without warning and built up a lot of excitement leading up to our calf being born.”
Two of her seventh-graders, Natalie Wofford and Bree Fennell, “got so invested that they planned a gender-reveal party for our students,” Hennington said.
“There were balloons, streamers and gender-reveal cupcakes,” she said. “It has been so much fun, and we needed something to get excited about.”
Natalie, 12, said she was “so excited” when she found out the art students were adopting a calf.
“I was disappointed that it was going to take so long for our cow to be born but glad that we started our cow projects after Christmas,” she said. “During the project, Bree and I realized that we could have a gender reveal. A family member had leftover decorations from a recent gender reveal, and we decided that we should use those materials to have our own gender reveal for our calf. We also had a sweet treat that had the gender color of frosting on the inside. It was so fun.”
Bree, 13, said she decided to make a clay sculpture of Fiesta for her choice project about bovines.
“Cows are my absolute favorite animal so I loved this entire theme,” she said.
Hennington said even though this school year has been “a tough one,” her students have “shown such resilience,” which became the idea behind their art show, “Mind Over Matter: Resilience Through Art.”
The cow-themed exhibit opened last week at the Euharlee Welcome Center and History Museum at 33 Covered Bridge Road and will be on display through April 15.
Hennington said WMS students have to apply for a spot in her yearlong visual arts program, and those who are accepted have art class every school day.
“Most art students continue in the program for all three years of middle school so they are devoting approximately five hours per week for three years to their art education,” she said. “If you visit our art show, we think you will be impressed with what all of that effort and creativity can produce.”
Seventh-grader Sophie Boyers, who had “just come back from distance learning and had no clue that we had adopted a cow,” created a chalk pastel drawing of Fiesta that not only was chosen for the show but also won the Mayor’s Award.
“When I heard about the project, I was very excited,” she said. “Once everything was explained, I had a really good idea of what to do.”
The 13-year-old said the last chalk pastel drawing she completed “didn’t go as planned so I decided that this was a great time to try to use them again.”
“I wanted to see if I could do a better job now that I had more experience,” she said. “I had a great outline and started to add color, but things didn’t go as planned. I love texture but was having some trouble with blending. The more I went on, the better it got. Once I was fully finished, this piece was one of the projects I’m most proud of, and it went into the art show.”
But the welcome center isn’t the only place where the bovine-loving artists’ work is showing up.
“We have put up art displays in the hallways at school, shared work on our Instagram page and have an entire wall display inspired by our partnership with the Adopt a Cow program and our calf, Fiesta,” Hennington said.
The yearlong cow theme will include a new element the last couple of months of the school year, according to Hennington.
“We found out that our local mayor of Euharlee [Steven Worthington] owns the land that is next-door to our school,” she said. “He has said that he will feed the cows closer to our fence this spring so that the kids can get a better view. We plan to spend time outside this spring, drawing and painting his land and cows. I can’t wait.”
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