NEW PORT RICHEY
Family Clay Night starts after dinner in the school cafeteria at Longleaf Elementary with about 400 pounds of gray clay that's distributed among 80 families.
"I love this," principal Arlene Bodden said as she meandered through the cafeteria checking out each and every creation while holding her granddaughter on her hip. "When do any of us as adults have time to do this? It's just so great to see all these families working together."
Families like 10-year-old Kay Lynn Smith and her mom, Valerie, who made Sonic the Hedgehog while 5-year-old Adrianna Fonte and her mom, Angela, got good and messy creating a birthday cake complete with candles.
There was the Holly family — Phillip, Linda and their sons Evan, 4, and Brendan, 9 — thinking they might not be able to top the Godzilla masterpiece they made last year.
"I'm trying to make a turtle," Phillip Holly said of his rather awkward-looking reptile. "But it might just end up being something with legs."
One table over was Alina McCoy, 6, fashioning a plate of gray cookies and noodles that she promised to serve up for her dad, and her little brother, Lucas, 3, rolling the thick legs of a dog between his hands under the watchful eyes of their grandmother, Judy Stumpmier, who recently flew in from Arizona to spend the cooler months with her grandchildren.
It's a creative kind of night, an annual mainstay since the school opened five years ago, said art teacher Stefanie Bracciale, who has had lots of help keeping the tradition going. No way could she pull this off without current and former teachers who volunteer to come out for the night. Add to that the educational potter's wheel demonstration by Clay Verge, who retired last year as the art teacher at Hudson High.
Each family chips in $10 to participate. Any proceeds go into a school clay and glaze fund that all students benefit from during their art classes.
"It's a regularly anticipated event," said Bracciale, who will be busy firing the family pieces in a kiln each day after school between now and the winter holidays. "We've seen everything from gorgeous turkey centerpieces that are sure to become family heirlooms to platters and bowls, animals and some terrific unidentifiable treasures."
"I really enjoy this event because it's fun and it engages families who are happy to spend time with each other in a creative environment," she said. "They get excited about what they've created and have a nice souvenir for the night to remind them of the evening."