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Prairie kids bring touch of the tropics to Worthington

Jungle creatures made from recycled materials are on display near Sterling Drug in Northland Mall. Students at Prairie Elementary created the tropical scene as part of an afterschool program.

WORTHINGTON -- At least one part of Worthington looks warm this March.

Thanks to old sheets, student creativity and a little bit of paint, Coco the crocodile and his jungle friends have made their habitat in a display case at Northland Mall.

The tropical scene is the work of fourth- and fifth-graders in District 518 enrolled in Art Quest, one of the activities offered as part of Prairie Elementary's afterschool assistance program.

"Me and four of my students spent hours on a Saturday morning putting him together," instructor Rhonda Fueston said of Coco. The 12-foot crocodile's skin was formed from old bed sheets, and he was stuffed with plastic bags and newsprint.

"We just had a great time," Fueston continued. "When the kids saw him pop out and come to life. ... The art class started jumping on him and playing around."

In fact, the entire three-dimensional art scene is created from recycled materials: carpet rolls make the palm trees and donated scrap paper and cardboard form the jungle's pop-up shapes. Even the brightly colored paint was donated, and the mall allowed her to use the space for free.

"If it hadn't been for the generosity of everyone else, we wouldn't have this," she said.

Fueston said the students originally had difficulty transferring their artwork to such a large scale.

"But in each class there were three to four kids who got it aesthetically. When it comes together and they take off with it and you can't stop them, I call it a success," she said.

While her first set of students created Coco, the next group provided the bright leaves, life-sized lion and tropical birds. Her current class is learning about papier mâché and will add a herd of giraffes to the mix.

The students' tropical paradise can be viewed in the display case across from Sterling Drug through the end of the month.

The afterschool program is federally funded through the 21st Century Learning Center grant, which provides homework help and extracurricular activities for struggling students.