BROOKSVILLE — Stephanie Hembd offers an excellent way for children to get good and messy at school and not be in trouble. Their efforts even produce useful and beautiful things. These children are members of Eastside Elementary School's Clay Club.
Hembd teaches art during the day, but remains after school one day a week so students can play with the malleable medium. The Clay Club met for six weeks during the fall/winter session and is currently meeting for six weeks this spring.
She would like to offer clay art during art class, but, because of the nature of the stuff, a finished product requires several steps and it is just not practical.
"I did want to do clay in the classroom, but with 30-minute classes, it was not possible," she said. "So this was my best option to make it accessible to students who want to participate."
Hembd has had her Clay Club for three years and begins each six-week program with a big project that will last throughout those weeks. There are also other projects, such as pinch pots, coil pots and ornaments.
She was lucky to get a slab roller no longer needed at Nature Coast Technical High School, and her students began this session working with a slab of clay, cutting it into a shape, then cutting out another shape within the first to make a frame that will eventually include a weaving in its center.
Fourth-grader Caitlynn Arcand, 10, is in the Clay Club because she enjoys the medium. "I love clay," she said. She got some for her birthday and said, "I play with it all the time." Now she will gain some skills to work with it.
Hembd tries to keep the class fairly small, but also tries to make sure any interested students get the opportunity. Usually students are in grades 3 through 5, but she will make exceptions for younger students or for students to repeat if they "show special interest and/or talent."
"Hopefully by the end of elementary (school), if they wanted to participate they'll have had the opportunity," she said.
Hembd began the Clay Club with clay left over from her art class, but sales of things the members make, such as the ornaments, help to sustain the club. She is thinking about what they can make and sell this spring.
A couple of students in this spring's class are repeaters. Third-grader Adrianna Walker, 9, was one of those.
"This is my second time," she said. "I joined because I like clay and I like to make awesome crafts."
Second-grader Lucas Ramsey, 8, is brimming with enthusiasm for clay art.
"It's fun, and you get to make a lot of things out of clay," he said. "It's amazing."
Lucas added that he has made "a lamb, a monster, pigs and more things, like a frog."
The hour-and-a-half class flies by as students work.
"I just feel that we never have enough time in here. It goes so fast," Hembd said.
"Today we worked with raw, wet clay," she said. By next week, it will be what she called "leather hard." Then it will go into the kiln to become bisque ware. Then it can be glazed.
On the first day of the newest session, Hembd made a big point of stressing that there should be "no clay in the sink." Clay gets hard, and it would be like putting rocks in the sink.
But the children certainly needed the sink to cleanse their hands, white with residue, after an hour and a half of messy fun.