Grant to fund schools' purchase of new kilns

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Wilson County Schools has been awarded a $10,000 Wells Fargo Blue Bell Foundation grant to replace art kilns in district schools.

“When I got the news that we were getting new kilns, I thought that was fantastic,” said Jones Elementary School art teacher Ben Gufford. “We have been needing them for a while.”

Gufford said the funding may be enough to purchase four or more new kilns.

Several district schools have pottery kilns, including Wells, Jones, Gardners, Rock Ridge, Frederick Douglass, Vinson-Bynum and Winstead elementary schools and Elm City, Darden and Springfield middle schools.

“I have been to other schools and assisted other art teachers and assisted them with their kilns,” Gufford said. “At Elm City Middle School, she’s got a kiln that will turn on, but the kiln sitter switch is completely stuck, and it won’t shut off. She wanted to do some clay projects with the kids, but that kiln was just not an option. I am hoping that she is one of the ones that gets a kiln. Wells has an old school kiln that has been there since the ’70s.”

Gufford said new programmable kilns are “set it and forget it.”

“There are benefits of having a programmable kiln. You know it’s going to do its thing,” Gufford said. “It takes a hazard away from the district where you’ve got the potential that it could overfire. You have the potential where it could go up to 2,000 or 2,500 degrees.”

Students, Gufford said, really respond to pottery.

“They absolutely love it. They don’t get to do enough of it. They take to it just like making slime or something along those lines. They are getting dirty,” Gufford said. “They don’t realize it, but at the same time they are learning science. They are learning math. We are touching on all these core subjects, and we are bringing it all into one with pottery. That’s why it is so important. It helps reinforce the other core subjects and the things the other teachers are doing.”

Pottery is a hands-on endeavor.

“When we wedge the clay, lot of times I have the kids wedge the clay as a cone, so we are talking about form,” Gufford said. “We are talking about form and math. We are touching on science because we are talking about temperatures. You are also talking about the properties of the clays where the clay is being dug from, geology, states of matter. You are touching on all kinds of things.”

Pottery is also an opportunity to bring in social studies and history, Gufford said.

“We will talk about the Toisnot Indians and how we could probably walk that field out there and find a shard of pottery,” Gufford said.

Pottery requires high thinking skills.

“Exposure to the making of pottery teaches students skills in geology, chemistry, geometry, physics, abstract thinking, spatial relationships and creative problem solving,” said WCS Superintendent Lane Mills. “Art teachers who have a kiln witness firsthand how invaluable the experience of working with clay is for sensory development, motor skills, self-expression, problem-solving skills, discipline, pride and the building of self-esteem.”