- Sponsorship -

School of Too Cool Colorful Fish

ArtPrize Piece Celebrates District’s Diversity

“We are all different fish but we all swim together!” shouted Discovery Elementary students, complete with hand motions.

Hundreds of students at Discovery, Bowen, Meadowlawn and Explorer elementary schools know the chant that goes with the ArtPrize piece “We Are All Different Fish But We All Swim Together.” They each recently made and contributed their own fish out of wood, clay, paint and glitter to create a giant wave of fish installed through Oct. 8 at the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Downtown, 310 Pearl St. NW. At press time, the piece was among the Top 25 vote-getters in the installation category.

A Kentwood student points to his fish

It’s about diversity, said artist and art teacher Jerry Berta, who is known for his colorful attire and signature plastic glasses. Kentwood students represent many different countries and speak many languages. The piece embraces those differences with a fish tale.

“It shows we all have different personalities. We are all different, but we are all the same too,” said fifth-grader Lexi Jackson, who made her fish sparkly with beads and scraps of wood.

“I like gluing things together and making things,” said fifth-grader Frankie Lape. “We might all be different but we can all be together.”

Other Kentwood teachers have gotten behind the effort, including elementary music teacher Ali Bendert who turned the chant into a song.

Students used bits of wood and other materials to create their fish

From Artist to Teacher

This is the third collaborative ArtPrize piece by Berta, who created a 36-by-12-foot mural, The Conversation –What Would They Say?, in 2015, featuring President Abraham Lincoln, President Barack Obama and civil rights leader theRev. Martin Luther King Jr. in front of an American flag. For that piece, Kentwood students added paint with their fingers and thumbs. For the piece “I Love My Beautiful Brain,” Berta worked with Muskegon Heights students in 2014.

Berta went into teaching after a long career in art which took interesting segues. He and his wife, Madeline Kaczmarczyk, are both studio ceramics artists. Berta bought and restored the iconic Rosie’s Diner, in Rockford, which he resold in 2004.

At the age many people consider retiring, Berta got his teaching certification from Aquinas College in 2012. Since then, he has taught elementary school at Muskegon Heights and Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts and Technology before starting in Kentwood two years ago.

Now he’s happy to create fish and share messages of acceptance to students and the community through art. Every fish among the 1,000 or so the students created is different, and mixes with all the others to form a larger masterpiece.

“I say, ‘OK, make a fish’ and they do,” said Berta, noting that he’s seen many students take out-of-the box approaches to their pieces.

The current nationalistic, anti-immigrant political climate makes sharing his message all the more important, he said. “This is the perfect time for this.”


Fish Artwork Featured by Maranda on WOTV 4 Women

“We Are All Different Fish But We All Swim Together!” shows how every fish adds something special to the piece

- Sponsorship -
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


District welcomes new administrators, ready to ‘lead through uncharted waters’

New administrators share their thoughts on starting their posts during a pandemic...

Teacher and coach applies lessons in classroom and on field

New Kelloggsville head football coach Brandon Branch also teaches science and math at the high school and looks to bring academics and athletics together whenever he can...

Two high schools, newly renovated, await return of students

Two major renovation projects at Ottawa Hills and Union high schools are part of a 30-year, $175 million school improvement bond approved November 2015 with the majority, $155 million, earmarked for construction...

Avid reader, Petoskey-stone hunter, lover of great outdoors

Melanie Hoeksema is the new Ada Elementary principal. SNN gets to know her in this edition of Meet Your Principal...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

District welcomes new administrators, ready to ‘lead through uncharted waters’

New administrators share their thoughts on starting their posts during a pandemic...

Districts ponder how to keep students learning, engaged

Teachers are challenged to keep their style of instruction intact with students who are socially distanced and, often, not in the building at all...

Inspired by a young girl’s thoughts

Cora Hovernale won a $200 prize in the art category in a contest hosted by the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU