Students learn about neighborhoods via dioramas

Watsessing School second-graders are learning about communities by constructing dioramas of Bloomfield buildings and businesses.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Watsessing Elementary School second-graders have been busy building dioramas — 3-dimensional scale models — of familiar Bloomfield locations as part of their social studies class. According to second-grade teachers Cathy Velardi and Laura Foster, the project is to help familiarize their students with the differences between urban, suburban and rural environments. This is the first year Watsessing has given its second-graders the diorama project and they were exhibited in the media arts room. Parental participation was encouraged in fabricating the models.

“I wanted the project to be very meaningful by using places right around here that they would see walking home or from a bus,” Velardi said.
There were classroom discussions about possible locations and according to Foster, businesses along Broad Street were given special attention in her class. In both classes, the names of the different places, including Watsessing Park and the school itself, were written on index cards, placed face down and selected by the children. This was in early November.

The students had two weeks to build the dioramas. Foster said the school had several half-days during this time period, helping to ease the workload. The children were also told to involve their parents and to have fun working together. A letter was sent home informing parents that there was no need to run to the store for materials, the school would provide them. And mindful of the ecology, using recycled materials was encouraged.

“Part of the social studies curriculum is learning about communities and the citizen’s role in the community,” Velardi said. “I really wanted them to understand their environment.”

While building a diorama is a considerable undertaking, some displays were surprisingly well-constructed and all possessed charm and clever imagination. Among the models in the library were several Kentucky Fried Chicken stores, gas stations and martial arts establishments, but some businesses were fanciful and unique with the children using their own names to signify “ownership.” So while there were models of the school and Watsessing Park, the police and fire department headquarters, the public library and Bloomfield College, there were also models of Kade’s Hair Salon, Rico’s Pizzeria and Bory Calle’s Laundromat.
Foster’s class discussed what they learned about the types of communities and how they would define their hometown.

“They got a little history,” she said. “Bloomfield was rural, but with all the development, it’s becoming more urban.’
Foster also encouraged her students to visit the location they selected and to tell the employees about the diorama they were making. She said it was easy to tell that parents had been involved with their child’s education when the teachers saw the projects.

Principal Gina Rosamilia said the second-graders were very excited to have a hands-on project reflecting their own community.
“Students worked with their parents in fining-tuning details and enjoying valuable time together,” she said in an email. “When parents are involved, students take more responsibility for their learning. Parents have a significant impact on their child’s learning and educational experiences in that parent involvement in their child’s education leads to student success.”

The students will now be headed to the Southern Hemisphere.
“We branch out now and learn more about the world, on a whole, and South America,” Foster said. “The work goes from, ‘Here is South America’ on the map, to knowing where all the countries are located.”