Art Students Get in Touch with Their Inner Animals

Ms. McAllister assigned students to sculpt animals based on some recent Central American artwork she received.


After working hard on their animals, they will go into the kiln to harden the clay, after the students will paint their projects. Students must ensure that everything is connected before they go in the kiln so they do not break apart.

Middle School Fine Arts Department Chair Ms. Nancy McAllister continues to think outside of the box.  In seventh grade art, students have been learning about Central American culture and its significance. After recently receiving a box from the University of Florida that was full of art from Central America, McAllister taught her seventh-grade students about the pieces and gave them a chance to create ones of their own.

The students had to choose a Central American animal and sculpt it from clay. However, they also had to incorporate a bowl as part of the sculpture as well. “First we shape a bowl… and then we make an animal of our choosing, and shape it with no creases so it doesn’t break apart, and then we paint it,” said seventh-grade art student Bridget McDermott

Of the many animal options they had, students chose the animal that appealed to them most. “We had some inspiring ideas on the floor, and I took the best option [in my opinion] – the common badger,” said McDermott.

McAllister helps seventh-grader Alexander Calvo-Ayers work with molding his clay. Using one piece of clay, it is harder to mold the clay into the desired position.

“[I picked] a bearded dragon because I’ve always liked lizards,” said Jayden Cosbey-Mosley. “Central America has a lot of lizards.”

McAllister was fortunate to have heard about the box from her son. She says “My youngest son was getting his masters at UF a couple of years ago and he worked for a professor that was head of an outreach program for Latin American studies so he had shared it with me and I thought it was so cool and I didn’t want to get it last year because of Covid but this year when I asked for it it was ok to display it and have them look at it.”

In addition to learning about Latin American culture from the traveling suitcase they received, students also learn many new art skills and enjoy working with the clay. “My favorite part of the project is using clay… Using clay enhances my art skills because I get to practice on different materials making things,” says McDermott. 

Many of the students enjoy the clay, but there is also a reason McAllister chose that material to work with. “Clay is really easy to work with to a point …  Their challenge was to do it out of one piece of clay so [they are] manipulating the clay to make arms and legs and a beak. So say for instance for a toucan trying to make a tail so it takes a big skill set. Some are getting it, some aren’t,” says McAllister.

After adding texture to her animal, Lily Feiner begins creating her bowl. First, she molds the shape then adds more detail and precision to her final product.

McAllister takes her teaching to the next level by incorporating history into what they are working on. “We’ve studied artists in Latin America/South America and done projects but this was really cool because we had something physically to show them and there were probably 100 different things in there,” McAllister said.

McAllister mixes learning and art together to inspire students to succeed in their art and be global citizens. She excelled at that with the Central American art project her seventh graders completed. In addition to having the experience of using new materials, the students also learn about new cultures. There are many ways to learn about cultures, and learning about them through art is a fun, unique way that seventh-grade art students are learning about Central American cultures and how animals affected them.