Cameron Ellis waited anxiously for his first tour group to come through the new art exhibition in his North Philadelphia school.

"Here's my friend's piece, and here is mine," Cameron said, pointing to vibrant nature drawings mounted on a bamboo brush-stroked background. "And this is a haiku. They go five syllables, seven syllables, then five again: 'Unordinary, life in South America, and East Amazon.' "

The four kindergartners nodded and peered deeper. He had them interested. Not bad for an 11-year-old.

The work on display was created by Cameron and 24 of his fifth-grade classmates at Jay Cooke Elementary School in the city's Logan section.

They were not only the featured artists, but also the staffers running the opening Thursday of the school's Cooke Museum of Art, a five-year tradition.

Student greeters distributed membership cards, photographers snapped photos, and caterers sat in the library passing out cookies and water with hands wrapped in oversize plastic gloves.

It was an effort to bring the "outside world into the school," said their art instructor, Diane Pieri, a widely exhibited painter, muralist and teacher who had a solo show last year in the Rosenfeld Gallery. "It's modeled so that they know their work is valuable enough to be in a museum."

Pieri worked with the students twice a week for two months to instill in them all things art: aesthetics, appreciation, and composition.

"Art is not something to draw - art is a feeling," Cameron said.

In the past, Pieri worked through the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the school's art teacher to coordinate the museum program.

But this year, principal Judy Seibert-Burns chose to hire a full-time music teacher instead and pay Pieri $2,500 on contract to keep art in the curriculum.

Pieri, who has taught art for 33 years, pushes the students to work outside art cliches.

"I wanted to create my own aesthetic, so I made the flowers in a way nobody else would think of," said Dwight Parker, 11.