For the second time in the past five years, Pickerington junior high school students' artwork will be prominently featured at a southeastern Ohio nature conservation and education center.

For the second time in the past five years, Pickerington junior high school students' artwork will be prominently featured at a southeastern Ohio nature conservation and education center.

Roughly four years ago, Ridgeview Junior High art teacher Cheryl Knox successfully lobbied for her students to paint elaborate wildlife scenes on two school buses used by The Wilds, a private, nonprofit conservation center located on nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed strip mine land in rural Cumberland, Ohio, near Cambridge.

That project benefited local students, Knox said, by incorporating Ohio education standards such as math, science and art into a project that would be publicly displayed at The Wilds in support of its nature education camps and tours.

It was so well received, an official at The Wilds confirmed last week, that Knox and her students again were recruited to provide more art for the center.

This time, seventh- and eighth-graders in Knox's two-dimensional art classes were asked to produce two, 4-feet by 8-feet murals to be displayed at The Wilds bathhouses, which are used by those attending the center's wildlife conservation camps.

Additionally, students in Knox's three-dimensional art classes this spring will be creating metal sculptures of flowers to be displayed throughout the center.

"We really enjoyed the artwork on the buses," said Mallory Vopal, conservation education specialist at The Wilds. "We get a lot of comments about them. We decided to ask, 'Hey, would you guys do another project for us?' They're for our existing bathhouses and they're to spruce them up a little bit."

Vopal said The Wilds' conservation education camps attract approximately 1,500 overnight visitors each year. Those individuals largely will be the ones to will the Ridgeview art.

That in itself might be enough to compel some art teachers to sign their students up for such a project. However, Knox said, public recognition for the students and their creations is just a part of why she decided to take on the projects.

"I figured it makes it more fun for the kids," Knox said. "It makes it more real because they get to see their work installed and displayed.

"The most important thing, though, is this project illustrates real-life lessons while incorporating state (education) standards for our students," she added. "It's community involvement. They also had a deadline, they had to be creative, they had to use math (to measure images on the murals) and they learned about different animals and the plant life of their habitats."

One of the two murals was completed by students who took Knox's 2-D art class last semester. The second mural, as well as the flower sculptures, soon will be started.

Knox said the first mural took about four to six weeks to complete, and she expects the two future projects to require a similar amount of time for students.

Once each section of the murals and the flowers are completed, they'll be installed at The Wilds. This spring, Knox said, her students will take a field trip to the center to learn more about nature and conservatism, and to see their work in a public setting.

"We are planning a visit with the kids in spring so they can see their art on display," she said. "I really want my students to know they can make a difference and they really can make an impact."