Community Love: Atlanta Progressive Preschool and their Atlanta BeltLine Childrens’ Book

Here at the Atlanta BeltLine, we are proud of the grassroots origins of this incredible project. This post is the first in a series called “Community Love” and is all about ways in which people in the community independently incorporate the Atlanta BeltLine into their lives through art, education and other creative and socially conscious ways.

We’re starting with the Loblolly Pine class of 4- and 5-year-olds at the Atlanta Progressive Preschool. The school takes a “project and play ” based approach to learning with a special focus on connecting with the community. At the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, co-teachers Jennifer Sherrock and Mackenzie Eason asked their young pupils what they would like to study. When the children excitedly spoke of nature, art, buildings and water, Historic Fourth Ward Park took front and center stage in their minds. They decided to explore the Atlanta BeltLine through the eyes of the preschoolers. Below are snippets of their project…

“The Father of the BeltLine”

After exploratory field trips to study Historic Fourth Ward Park, walk the Eastside Trail, and check out Art on the Atlanta BeltLine, the teachers set to work creating a children’s book to explain the roots of the Atlanta BeltLine.

Atlanta Progressive Preschool at the Park Drive mural
The Loblolly Pine class walked the Eastside Trail for inspiration and admired Hense's massive mural under Park Drive.

In their book, “The Father of the BeltLine,” the teachers told the tale of the creator of the project, Ryan Gravel. They wrote about Ryan living in Atlanta and being a graduate student at Georgia Tech. They wrote about the time he lived in Paris where he could walk and take trains everywhere and he was happy. They wrote about Ryan moving back to Atlanta where he sat in traffic and was sad. They wrote about his idea to take old railroad corridor and turn it into transit and public space  for everybody in the city to enjoy.

One morning, the preschoolers came in from their play time to find Ryan sitting in a special arm chair in the middle of the room. They knew exactly who he was and they quietly took their seats and picked up their pencils and clipboards. After a minute, they warmed up and started peppering him with questions.

Student: “Do you know everything about the BeltLine?!”

Ryan: “Well, I know a lot about it, probably a more than a lot of people know.”

Student: “Yeah, but do you know as much as we know?!”

Needless to say, the kids consider themselves to be BeltLine experts now.

Loblolly Pine class showing Ryan Gravel their Atlanta BeltLine model (1)
The kids excitedly showing off their knowledge of the Atlanta BeltLine to Ryan Gravel.

Model of the Atlanta BeltLine

Another element of their year-long study included building a model of the Atlanta BeltLine. After their question and answer session with Ryan in the classroom, they took him to show him the model spread out in another room. They remained calm for a minute as they started pointing out features of the project to him, but then burst with excitement and started running in circles around both the model and Ryan.

Loblolly Pine class showing Ryan Gravel their Atlanta BeltLine model (2)
One of the students shows Ryan parts of Historic Fourth Ward Park.

Art on the Atlanta BeltLine

In the course of exploring the Atlanta BeltLine, the preschoolers stumbled upon our temporary art exhibition – Art on the Atlanta BeltLine. They instantly connected with the “BeltLine Bears” by Kyle Brooks (a large mural project along Langhorn Street on the west side), the “Communitrees” by the Knitterati group (a series of knitted trees in the forest surrounding our interim hiking trail on the west side), and the Lantern Parade (put on the Krewe of the Grateful Gluttons last fall in Historic Fourth Ward Park).

Loblolly Pine class at the Lantern Parade, a part of Art on the Atlanta BeltLine 2011.
Loblolly Pine class at the Lantern Parade, a part of Art on the Atlanta BeltLine 2011.

The class teachers mailed Kyle Brooks to see if he could pay the class a visit, which he did. He brought a canvas with him and showed the kids how to draw BeltLine Bears themselves. They haven’t stopped drawing them since.

Atlanta Progressive Preschool kids painting BeltLine Bears
After artist Kyle Brooks visited the class and painted this canvas for them, the kids took to constantly painting BeltLine Bears.

This kids also recreated mini versions of the knitterati trees by picking out sticks and wrapping yarn around them. The teachers even brought in branch and they all made a collective branch encased in colorful yarn.

Loblolly Pine class making knitted trees
The kids imitated the Knitterati's "Communitree" by wrapping yarn around twigs and sticks.

Chantelle Rytter, Captain of the Krewe of the Grateful Gluttons, came in to visit with Miss Giant – the 10-foot tall lantern puppet operated by another Krewe member, Joy. When the kids came out onto the playground to the sight of an enormous puppet, it was with mixed reactions, but they quickly warmed up to her, especially when she bent down to give them an enormous hug that looked more like a football huddle with three-foot tall players. Chantelle then showed the kids how to make their own Miss Giant.

Loblolly Pine class shaking Miss Giant's hand
Formal introductions took place on the playground with a firm handshake from Miss Giant.

In the next few weeks, as the school year winds to a close, Atlanta Progressive Preschool is putting on two events with an Atlanta BeltLine focus. The first is their Peace, Love, and Bugs Earth Day festival, taking place this weekend. The children will run a booth to tell other children about the Atlanta BeltLine. They have created materials and information and will wear their Atlanta BeltLine expert badges. The next event is their Atlanta BeltLine Night in May where they are transforming their school into the entire project for an evening. Wow.

We appreciate the outpouring of support from the Loblolly Pine class, their parents, and their teachers! We look forward to more stories like this of community love.

Loblolly Pine class hugging Miss Giant
Class huddle-hug under Miss Giant.

All photos are courtesy of Atlanta Progressive Preschool. Thank you for letting us share your wonderful story.

Update on May 17, 2012:

Over the course of their studies, the Loblolly Pine class raised $70 and a few cents, which they have generously donated to The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership.

Loblolly Pine class and their Atlanta BeltLine check
The Loblolly Pine class with their check to the Atlanta BeltLine.

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