St. Mary's girl earns top Metro honor; recycling poster will soon become a 48-foot ad

A St. Mary of the Valley School fifth-grader has won a top spot in Metro's annual Earth Day billboard art contest, earning her a prominent spot along the Portland skyline in the form of a billboard.

Elaine Wan placed first in the contest's third- through fifth-grade category with her poster 'Make a Difference - Recycle,' featuring a girl recycling paper.

'I was happy. Surprised,' Wan said Monday about her win.

Her reward will be a full-sized, 48-foot-wide billboard that will be displayed over the course of two months. The billboard will appear in April on Macadam Avenue (about 25 feet north of Bancroft Street), and will be moved in May to Northeast Broadway Street, about 15 feet east of Northeast Victoria Avenue.

Wan estimates it took three days to create her poster after an initial brainstorming session.

'I thought maybe if everyone recycled a little, it would make a difference and help the earth,' said Wan.

She initially drew her idea in pencil, later using crayon and marker for the final product. Wan said she chose pink for a background in order to make the artwork stand out more.

Meanwhile, Emily Sunderland, also a fifth-grader in Connie Heger's class, won an honorable mention for her poster that was inspired by gardening.

'I came up with mine because I like to garden with my mom and dad,' said Sunderland. Her poster urges residents to 'Be a Natural Gardener,' pushing for the use of ladybugs to maintain the bug population.

Sutherland said her family buys packets of ladybugs instead of pesticides 'because they eat the aphids off the roses so we don't have to buy (bug) killer.'

She estimates her poster took about four days to create.

The girls were among a total of 3,400 students from across the region who submitted designs that included encouraging area residents to conserve and protect resources through waste prevention, recycling, composting or using fewer toxic products.

Both Wan and Sunderland are students in Connie Heger's fifth grade class at St. Mary's.

In addition, two other students in Heger's class, Katy Motta and Rebecca Fisher, were part of 200 finalists to be honored for their artwork too. Those finalists have their posters displayed in the lobby of Metro's Regional Center at 600 N.E. Grand Ave.

Heger is no stranger to having students enter the contest. Several years ago, she had another top category winner. She said she let the students draw what they wanted but encouraged them to outline lettering on the posters so that if they were selected as billboards, they could be distinctly seen by passing motorists.

Neither girls thought they had a chance of winning with Wan saying she though her background was messy. Sunderland said she thought the judges wouldn't be impressed with the fact she was up late scribbling away to create her artwork.

Both were wrong, and Heger said she was pleased with the students' finished products.

'Both of them are very artistic,' said Heger. 'They've drawn gorgeous things throughout the year.'

The pair are in the process of entering an upcoming Oregon Humane Society art contest as well. Wan's finished artwork features a girl playing Frisbee with her dog.

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