By Mike LaBella
---- — Children at Walnut Square Elementary School got to take home a piece of their school this year — literally.
The slate tile roof that protected generations of children in the building from the elements was being replaced this summer, and when a parent volunteer saw what was happening, he had an idea.
“We saved 150 pieces of slate because workers were hauling them away,” said first-grade teacher Judy Reilly. “Our art teacher, Gayle Teichman, washed all of the slates and prepared them for children to paint as Christmas presents for their parents.”
It was the kind of one-time offer the nearly 150 students in kindergarten through grade two couldn’t refuse. All they had to do was a little painting with a brush and they had the perfect gift to give.
“My mom told me they came from the roof,” second-grader Braedon Smith said. “I painted a snowy owl on mine.’’
Braedon was talking about a rectangular piece of slate that was part of his school’s roof until this summer, when the 1898 building got a new roof. Reilly said parent volunteer Larry Trevette watched the tiles being removed and suggested the school salvage some of them for use in a classroom art project. Trevette approached Reilly with his idea and, after obtaining permission from School Superintendent James Scully, he gathered up 150 tiles with help from school custodian David Sargent.
As the holiday season approached, Teichman surprised children in her art classes with the tiles. She gave them several choices of images to paint on one side of the gray slate pieces, including snowy owls, snowmen and penguins.
“She told us to be careful not to drop it,’’ Braedon said. “t was very fragile and it could break.’’
Children used an acrylic paint to create their winter scenes and then added their names and the year on the back as a lasting memento of their time at the school.
“I painted a penguin,” said first-grader Nathan Woitkowski. “It’s for my mom and I think she’ll like it ‘cause she really loves me a lot.”
First-grader Neeyah Garlington said she was amazed that the tiles were once on the roof of her school.
“I think it’s crazy,” she said. “They probably got a huge ladder.”
Neeyah decorated her slate with the image of a penguin and planned to give the piece to her mother for Christmas.
“She will adore it,” Neeyah said. “My mother always tells me about everything I paint that if it’s from me she loves it. I want to be an artist when I grow up.’’
Kindergarten student Joe Delle Chiaie painted a snowman on his slate tile because snowmen are his favorite things to make when it snows.
“I’m going to hang it on my front door,’’ Joe said.
He said he planned to recruit his older sister to help him wrap the slate as a gift, but, “She has to do her homework first.’’
Braedon said he’d never painted anything like it before and couldn’t wait for Christmas morning.
“It’s one of my first painting jobs in the school,” Braedon said.
Reilly said the children planned to wrap their slate tiles in bubble wrap and then add a bow.
“They’ll have a treasured memory forever,” she said.