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Students learn life skills from Portland's Teatro Milagro

CENTRAL POINT — Milk cartons, water bottles and aluminum cans bloomed into art in the hands of students at Crater Renaissance Academy this week as part of an exploration of how science and the arts could work together to improve the world.

"We wanted to make something beautiful out of the resources we have," said senior Kelsey Drake, an 18-year-old who envisioned a gardener tending a bed of flowers — all crafted from trash.

With hot glue, tissue paper and teamwork, students transformed a big bag of recyclables into the junk sculpture they imagined.

In a classroom next door, theater and Spanish-language students acted out short skits dramatizing environmental issues. Across campus, students in science classes made decorative planters from cob, a sustainable building material made from sand, clay and straw.

The projects were all part of a four-day residency program provided by Teatro Milagro, the touring arts-education company of Portland-based Miracle Theatre Group.

"The whole project is about a sustainable, utopian society. The goal is to push the imagination," said Dañel Malán, who founded Miracle Theatre Group 25 years ago with her husband, José Eduardo González, to showcase Latino culture. She started Teatro Milagro a few years later to expand the group into schools and enhance arts education.

The organization has worked with several Jackson County schools in the past and came to Crater this week to work with students in its arts-focused small school.

Malán expects the group to work with 585 students over the course of four days, tackling junk sculptures, paper making, haiku, cob construction and theater in Spanish and English. And all the while, they will focus on ways a society can be culturally and environmentally sustainable, she explained.

Tonight Teatro Milagro actors and Crater students will take the stage to present a play by Malán and Carlos Alexis Cruz, "El Último." The play tells the story of a logger who wants to create a utopian, sustainable, timber-supported community on a Patagonian island, but faces doubts from environmentalists and native people.

"It's a neat experience," Drake said of Teatro Milagro's visit. "We're doing a lot of projects based on the same theme. We're solving problems with the materials we have."

From a garbage bag filled with household items, Drake picked out a milk carton and saw something more.

"I looked at a milk carton and I said, 'I could definitely make a flower out of that,' " she said.

So she did. And other artists trimmed cans and bottles into other blooms, while yet another group created a gardener to tend the flower bed.

"It started as a boy, but became a girl," said junior Chris Beatty.

"I drew a chick face," said freshman Chauntell LaFever, displaying the full-lipped cardboard mask taped onto a Taco Bell cup topped with wisps of red tissue-paper hair.

The team then turned to a curvaceous Pom Wonderful juice bottle to further feminize the figure.

"At least you got to make boobs," freshman Rachel Kingslien taunted the boys, who modestly taped a "censored" sign over the model's chest so she would comply with the school's dress code until her teeny, yellow, tissue paper bikini was complete.

"I'm proud of the way they all came together," art teacher Katie Barber said of her students. "They saw what was needed and they did it, each playing to their strengths."

Group projects such as the junk sculpture build community, encourage leadership and help kids find their niche and take pride in their work, she said.

"Now I have to shoo them out of here so the science teachers don't get mad," she said, turning to remind a handful of students taping on a last-minute detail that the bell had rung and they were due at their next class.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

Crater High School students Zach Evans and Rachel Kingstien create a gardener made from milk cartons in their junk sculpture, a class project done as part of Teatro Milagro's residency at Crater Renaissance Academy. - Jamie Lusch