Masters of the universe

West Tisbury fifth graders build their own solar system.

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West Tisbury 6th graders who together with teachers Sue Miller and Lisa Magnarelli spray-painted the solar system along a portion of the bike path in West Tisbury. — Stacey Rupolo

Balls of rock and flaming gas decorate a section of the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest bike path across the road from the West Tisbury School. The planets were painted by West Tisbury School’s fifth grade class last spring as part of a science project that synthesized their unit on the solar system with an art project.

Sue Miller teaches fifth grade at the West Tisbury School. She said, “I was biking with my husband along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and someone had painted the solar system along the bike path; I thought, ‘What a great idea!’”

Turns out that getting approval to use a State Forest bike path as a giant canvas for a fifth grade art and science lesson is relatively easy. Mary Boyd, assistant principal at West Tisbury School, contacted the supervisor of the State Forest, who at the time was Ginny Dautreuil. What followed was a straightforward approval of the concept, and Ms. Miller was good to go.

She first went to Joe Schroeder, who teaches physical education at the West Tisbury School. Mr. Schroeder and Ms. Miller settled on the solar system extending for just under half a mile, so that the kindergarteners could run the distance at the annual Fun Run in the spring. Ms. Miller said, “It was a great motivator. People could yell ‘Get to Neptune!’ And the younger kids really liked it.”

Ms. Miller and her fifth graders then took to the classroom to calculate the scaled-down distances. “We couldn’t scale the actual size of the planets,” Ms. Miller explained, “There would be a point where they would be so small that they would look like a speck of dust, so I just told Lisa [Magnarelli-Magden, the art teacher] to make them as big and beautiful as she would like, and we would just space them out accurately.”

Sarah Hartenstine was one of the kids who worked on the project. She said, “It’s interesting because it’s science class, but at the same time you’re going out for art, so you get time out of class to go paint.”

Lisa Magnarelli-Magden is the art teacher at West Tisbury School. She was in charge of painting the planets. The class used images from the Hubble Space Telescope of the actual planets as a reference. She said, “We went to town on the sun, it’s a big ball of fire, so we splatter painted and made it bigger than all the others.” She took the kids out during her planning periods in groups of four to work on the planets.

Sydney Marcus was part of the class who worked on the project. She said, “I liked coming out here in nice weather with a smaller group of people. It was really fun.”

Ms. Magnarelli-Magden said, “It was awesome being out there with the kids. I got to know them better, and it was instant gratification with the community. People would pass by walking their dogs or on bikes or jogging, and they would be so interested. They would say things like, ‘Wow!’ or ‘It’s great what you’re doing here.”’

Current sixth grader at West Tisbury School Ianna Oliveira said, “I like looking at it now that it’s done. It turned out really cool.” Sixth grader Elizabeth Robinson mentioned that she and her sister will walk their dogs down the bike path, and her classmate Nicole Menton talked about how she likes to ride her bike around the path.

The solar system was completed in time for the West Tisbury School’s annual game day in the spring, and the entire school came out for the Fun Run on the bike path over the planets.

Ms. Magnarelli-Magden said, “It was nice to do a public art project and do something that went beyond the school. This is an amazing school with amazingly creative kids, and it’s nice that the community can see that.”