By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — Year by year, fifth-graders are turning plain Center School walls into works of art.
Their tile murals, created with the help of New Hampshire artist Rob Rossel, are a lasting gift to their school, commemorating Windham treasures and symbols.
This week, they are working on a mural of the Windham jaguar, mascot of the high school teams, which will hang in the gym.
“It’s your mural,” Rossel told some of the fifth-graders as they got down to work yesterday. “It stays with the school.”
This is the fourth year Rossel has visited the school as an artist-in-residence to craft a tile mural.
Prior efforts produced murals of Searles Castle and Windham’s London Bridge, as well as a white ash tree that stood for a century and a half on school grounds before disease caused its removal about 15 years ago.
Those murals adorn school hallways.
About 230 students in nine fifth-grade classes rotate through the program over three days.
Art teacher Lynn Middleton said they will spend about 45 minutes creating a tile.
Nearly 1,000 students in all have participated in the murals over four years.
Brothers and sisters are now following in their siblings’ footsteps. Kids who worked on the first mural, the tree, are now in eighth grade at Windham Middle School.
This year’s fifth-graders were in the second grade down the street at Golden Brook School when the school put up the first mural.
“They know this is a fifth-grade experience and something to leave for posterity,” principal Kathryn Bates said. “This is a mark they can leave forever.”
Former students return and check out their work.
“They do come back to visit and we see them looking at their mural,” Bates said.
They aren’t the only ones who delight in the murals.
Other people who come to the school for community activities will stop and view the murals.
The murals are each displayed in important focal areas across the school and have meaning to the people of Windham, she said.
With mallets and rolling pins, rubber forms and seashells, students are imprinting the tiles.
Some students will sign the back of tiles, which passersby will never see. No one will know but them.
“They know,” Bates said.
Rossel carefully explained the project, patiently teaching and encouraging his young apprentices.
Their jaguar isn’t designed to look ferocious.
“Do you want to scare students? Probably not,” Rossel told them. “This jaguar is just hanging out and relaxing.”
Olivia Tsetsilas, 10, worked on a leaf for a tree where that jaguar is hanging out.
“I like doing the tiles because it’s fun and cool to decorate the school,” Olivia said.
Sabrina Lippold, 11, also worked on a leaf for the tree.
“I like creating designs. I like art a lot,” Sabrina said.
Her twin brother, Westin, also is participating in the project.
Sabrina said she is definitely looking forward to showing her tile to their parents.
Joe Miceli, 11, is working on sky and used shells to make swirls representing the wind.
“I just like being creative and I’ve been waiting a long time to do this,” Joe said.
He expects he will study biology or zoology when he gets to college, but art will matter in his life.
“It will be one of my pastimes,” Joe said.
For Center School and its students, the murals are a popular tradition.
“It’s been wonderful,” Bates said. “It’s something they know they are going to leave behind as they move to middle school and beyond.”
It’s something that makes each one of them feel a little proud.
“I’m quite honored to have my tile in this,” Joe said.