Back to School Grant: Rhonda Sexton, Portland Elementary


At the end of the 2019-2020 school year, Portland Elementary closed its doors for the final time. The students from this elementary are going to be divided into other schools within the district. Knowing it would be their last year as the Portland Panthers, Rhonda Sexton wanted to make sure their last year was memorable with her $556 grant, The Final Year of Portland Elementary: A Tribute to History and Futures to Come.

Students, based off of their age, were given age appropriate history of the Portland building and campus. Once they learned about their piece of history, students were given the opportunity to create a keepsake ceramic to memorialize their final year as a Portland Panther. This project was highly motivational and engaging because it incorporated a medium that not many students had experience working with. “During the initial stage of instruction, the science behind where clay comes from elicited many exciting questions as the students began to recognize clay-based daily items that surrounded them, such as sinks and bathtubs. As the students began to explore clay with their hands, learning to remove air to prevent breaking, led to several “what if” questions as they learned how the firing process hardens the clay.” said Ms. Sexton.

As they learned more about the history of Portland, students began to ask more questions about why things were changing. “As the students learned about the history of Portland schools and discussed the “why” behind the building being torn down. Several 2nd grade students who made Memory Pockets by texturizing their clay against the bricks of the building expressed higher understanding of how their ceramic project would serve as a keepsake for the structure of Portland Elementary.”

According to Ms. Sexton the support from the Foundation for SPS helped make long lasting memories for students. “It was a true blessing to have the support of the FSPS donors! The impact on the lives of my students will be long lasting. The funds provided enhanced my existing budget and allowed me to provide this rich, memorable learning opportunity for ALL of my Portland students. It allowed me to introduce the students to a common art medium they would have otherwise not been introduced to at this level. The generosity of the Foundation donors created a learning opportunity for my students that many called the “highlight” of their year! Seeing the students receive their finished projects after they returned from the second firing, causing the glazes to become shiny and glass-like was very exciting. The students would squeal with enthusiasm and pride as they looked at their treasured work of art created by their own hands.” 

When asked what she would like to share to anyone thinking about donating to the Foundation for SPS, Ms. Sexton said, “By donating to the Foundation you are truly changing lives and unleashing hidden talents within our local students. Your funds are not merely a donation, they are an investment in the education and futures of hundreds of lives. The experiences provided by your financial support enrich the learning process and actually connect students with potential career paths, skill sets and exposure of academic content they may have missed out on otherwise. Thank you for your consideration of supporting FSPS.”