Third-graders at Eldridge Park Elementary School have taken an artistic journey through time to create a massive wall mural both celebrating their school’s 100th anniversary and highlighting how things have changed in Lawrence Township over the course of the last century.
Looking upon the colorful collage – which measures 45 feet long by 40½ inches tall and is painted directly on the wall along one of the main hallways in the school on Lawn Park Avenue – is like looking through a window in time.
The mural begins in 1912, when the school was constructed, and progresses to the current day. Moving from left to right, images of a steam train, biplane, hand-crank phone and other icons of the past give way to depictions of more modern sights such as a jumbo jet-style passenger plane, cellular phone and computer.
Prominently displayed in the mural are the four distinct appearances “EPS” has had over the years. There’s the original two-room school house – complete with outhouses – followed by the school as it appeared after the roof was raised and a second floor added in 1916. Next, there’s the school as it looked following the major expansion that took place in 1955 and finally it is shown as it appears today, complete with its modular classrooms.
The mural will officially be unveiled at 6:30 p.m. today (Friday, Oct. 26), just before the school hosts its 100th Anniversary Amateur Night. Today was chosen because it is 100 years to the day that the land on which the school stands was purchased.
Amateur nights were popular at the school back in the 1950s. Recalling that tradition, tonight’s event – which begins at 7 p.m., following the mural unveiling and a bake sale – will feature 10 different community acts. The public is invited to attend. Tickets cost $5 per person, or $20 for families of five or more. Questions should be directed to the school’s main office at (609) 671-5561.
The mural is the product of the imaginations, talent and hard work of 78 third-graders, with assistance from teachers, parents and artist Kathy Anne English.
“I’m a artist for Young Audiences of New Jersey here to help students create a permanent wall mural depicting the 100 year history of their school,” English said. Work on the mural started Oct. 11, when her 10-day residency at Eldridge Park began.
During the 2011-2012 school year, “we were notified by Young Audiences that we had received an ‘Adopt a School Grant’ funded by Educational Testing Service. We had no idea. We were really surprised,” EPS Principal Kathy Robbins explained.
A student assembly last year marked the beginning of the school’s association with Young Audiences. “We really wanted to do something to celebrate the school’s 100th anniversary. We felt that having the mural would be wonderful because we’d have the artist here and it would be something all the third-graders could be involved in. Our second-graders study the history of Lawrence Township at the end of the year, so our third-graders already studied that last year, so we were able to make the connection to the social studies curriculum also.”
With school librarian and 100th Anniversary Committee chairperson Michele Immordino providing background about the school’s history and second-grade teachers offering guidance about Lawrence Township history, the anniversary committee came up with a basic outline for what should be included in the mural, particularly the school’s appearance over the years.
In advance of English’s arrival, music teacher Amy Amiet and art teacher Ashley Kittelsen worked with students to expand that basic idea and add details to it.
“We brainstormed, we talked about the history of Eldridge Park, we talked about what would be important to add to our mural – not only EPS but Lawrence Township also,” Amiet explained. “And then actually what the students did, most of them divided their paper into four blocks of time and then kind of drew, from then all the way up to now.
“One big thing that they really talked about was technology being so different now from back then,” she added. “They talked about the progression of the chalkboard all the way up to the laptop computer. And they loved the outhouses!”
English agreed that the students felt particularly strong about including certain images in the mural. “Some of it was the technological changes, the way the phones looked in 1913 and how they look in 2013; how we went from a handheld slate board to a blackboard to a green board to a smart board to computers. There used to be outhouses at the original school. One of the students said we have to have a toilet like we have today, so there’s a toilet on the wall.”
Students had an active role in drawing and painting the mural, according to English. “They took their preliminary drawings and we taped those to the wall the first day. They did their sketch right on the wall, then I came in with a black line and just detailed their lines.
“We explained to them that the mural has to have a nice look to it so we designed this as a collaboration where artists, faculty, students, we all work on it together,” she continued. “So we’re going to take your ideas, your designs. We may detail them, sharpen them a little bit. They are actually appreciative of that. So the idea is that with cooperation and collaboration the overall design is called a collage. You certainly wouldn’t see a box of crayon that big next to a sliding board but the collage effect allows them to put their ideas down in an imaginative way.”
Working in small groups, the third-graders took turns coloring the mural using special acrylic paints designed for school use. Assisting along the way were parents LuAnn Kildea and Kim Moulder, English said.
With the mural not expected to be fully finished until this afternoon, English said details would continue to be added until the entire surface was painted. Among the last minute additions will be the eponymous figure from the popular “Where’s Waldo?” books, she said, explaining that it was a teacher who walked by and said, “Where’s Waldo? You have to put Waldo in there.”
Once done, the mural will be covered with a special sealer that will protect it for years to come and, should something be spilled on it, allow it to be wiped clean without damaging the underlying art work, English said. She also noted that the paint is UV resistant so the colors should not fade over time.
She said the third-graders have written “some support material about the images they painted in the mural.”
“Some day when these young artists grow up and have families of their own and bring their children to this school they’re going to say, ‘Look what I did when I was in third-grade,’” English said with a smile.
The following are selected highlights from Eldridge Park Elementary School’s history, as compiled by school staff:
Oct. 26, 1912
Land for building of new school purchased
April 1, 1913
Eldridge Park opens as two-room school house, with Irene Pycraft Rich and Mary O’Brien Cleary as the teachers
Eldridge Park expanded due to increase of new homes in area; roof raised above the original two rooms
One-room Grove School moved to Eldridge Park and attached to school building
Eight more rooms added to the building to accommodate growth
Eldridge Park is overcrowded and sends seventh- and eighth-graders to Slackwood School; fifth- and sixth-graders soon join Slackwood
Eldridge Park addition completed and students in Grades 5-8 return
Portable classrooms added to the grounds
Eldridge park becomes a fourth-grade only school
Eldridge Park closes due to low enrollment; Mercer County Special Services School district rents space from the township Board of Education
Sept. 5, 1990
Eldridge Park reopens as a fourth-grade school for Lawrence Township students
Eldridge Park becomes a K-3 school and remains so today