NEW PORT RICHEY — Todd Still sat at the back of a school bus that had been converted into a mobile pottery studio, imparting instruction on the intricacies of working a potter's wheel to a passel of fourth- and fifth-grade students who were more than eager to get going.
"Super fast is not what we want. Super slow is not what we want," Still told the students as he circled his hands around a blob of spinning, gray clay.
Neither is working the clay too long.
"There's always some point where clay gets tired and might collapse on you," Still said as he transformed the earthy material into a small bowl. "You want to control the clay. You don't want the clay to control you."
After a few more helpful tips and instruction on how to clean up when finished, each of the students claimed a seat at one of the 11 potter's wheels on the bus to begin the process of creation.
"This is quite a workout," Baillie Phipps said as she pounded and rolled slab into sphere — the first essential step before adhering the clay to the wheel's center.
It was a rather unusual lesson for elementary students, according to Longleaf Elementary School art teacher Dara Tucker, who arranged the visit to her school.
While students might get classroom lessons on how to work clay by hand, using a potter's wheel is a rare experience in most elementary schools, she said.
More youngsters are getting the opportunity to do just that through a fledgling outreach program offered by the Dunedin Fine Arts Center called the Wheels on Wheels Mobile Pottery Experience.
"It's an idea I've had for a very long time, but the funding was never there," said Still, who is the director of youth education at the Dunedin Fine Arts Center.
After years of planning, the program, including the school bus conversion, was finally made possible through the support of a legacy donation by the Pougialis/Anastasakis Trust.
The conversion took about a year, Still said. Seats were removed to make space for the potter's wheels, which are powered by a generator installed under the bus.
Wheels on Wheels rolled into action in March and has already reached close to 700 students, with 23 sessions provided free to Pinellas County public schools through a Janet Huntley Grant administered by the Pinellas Community Foundation.
The two-hour program is an inside and outside process. While some students work the wheels, others create pottery at tables set up outside the bus.
"It's what we call an experience — a sample, an appetizer," Still said.
And while it is geared to give a fun and educational hands-on experience to elementary-age children in Pinellas and surrounding counties, Wheels on Wheels is also available for community and corporate events.
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In fact, when the students finished their activity, Longleaf teachers also threw pots — some for the very first time — as part of a team-building exercise.
Still, it is mainly aimed at youngsters.
"This is a unique opportunity for our kids," said Tucker. "They are so proud of what they are making in there. It definitely has them excited."
Contact Michele Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MicheleMiller52.