NAPLES — Moving on to middle school and leaving your elementary school behind can be an exciting and emotional transition, but for the fifth grade students at Naples Elementary School, they have the opportunity to leave a piece of themselves behind, thanks to the Legacy Project.
“It is something that they leave behind as they leave the school — for future generations,” said Naples Elementary School fifth grade teacher, Bethany Cavender.
In 2017, the project was an ornate rock garden. The students hand painted rocks, as well as helped measure and work on the log border. In the midst of the rock garden is a classic old school desk.
“I have had my rock planned since I was in third grade,” one of the students told Cavender, proving the excitement felt by the students about the chance to participate in projects like these.
Last year, Cavender had a great idea after seeing a project on Pinterest. Little did she know at the time what an undertaking the project would be, or how it would positively affect not only the students, but the community as well.
“It was a big job and I didn’t know how it would work,” said Cavender.
Her idea was to construct a fence along the walls of the old school, comprised entirely of boards painted as self portraits of every student and faculty member in the school. Not only where they to be painted individually, but each board was carefully measured and cut to the exact height of the person that was being represented.
Naples Elementary School Principal Robin Merrifield’s first thought was, “Oh my gosh, that is a lot of work, but if she is motivated to do it, then I am motivated to support her.”
For Merrifield, seeing the students excited, as well as the opportunity to beautify the school, more than justified the work involved.
“The team here at Naples is amazing and everybody just surrounded the idea,” said Merrifield.
As the project gained momentum, the students learned how to measure and calculate the board lengths needed. Cavender’s husband, Wayne, jumped in and helped with boards, cutting them to the lengths needed. All the cedar boards used to do the 125 portraits were donated by Alta Forest Products.
Once cut, Cavender’s class primed all the boards, then the real fun began — the painting. The fifth graders not only worked on their own boards, but they also paired up with younger students to help them with theirs.
“I think that was one of my favorite parts of the project,” said Merrifield. “The fifth graders buddied up with younger kids to help them measure, and cut, and paint, and draw. You really saw the leadership skills in these older kids come out. It was so fun to watch that part of it.”
“They were painting their own, but more focusing on helping the little kids do theirs,” explained Cavender.
The instruction for the boards, were to create actual self portraits, which included the outfit that they happened to be wearing that day.
“The only person who didn’t do themselves was our janitor, who painted himself as the Hulk,” said Cavender. “The kids had a blast. It was a lot of work, but it was a good couple of days.”
“We just had a big giant paint shop set up out here,”said Merrifield. “The staff went out when they could and painted their own.”
In May 2018, the happy little board figures metaphorically joined hands and became a colorful fence adorning the walls of the old school house.
“It is something that people talk about all the time,” said Merrifield. “Probably once a week somebody makes a comment.”
The Legacy Project continues this year. This time it is an old coal chute that needs a new life, and will provide the fifth graders a chance to leave their mark on the Naples Elementary School.
“Molly, our kindergarten teacher, is a tile artist, so she is going to work with the fifth graders making three dimensional tiles to cover it,” said Cavender.
For many years to come, the portrait fence along the walls will be a reminder of the legacy that is left behind as students move on to the next stage in their lives.
“It is definitely a mark now that has been left,” said Merrifield. “I don’t know that it would look the same to me without the boards… their little faces staring at us.”