Columbine Elementary School Tile Project

Thumbnail for "Columbine Elementary School Tile Project" collectionColumbine Elementary School students and employees created the Columbine Elementary School Tile Project during the 1997-98 school year. In 1997, Grand Junction parents, artists and teachers were given the opportunity to learn tile making from artist and ceramicist Margo Bryan-Petersen at the Art Center of Western Colorado (Under the auspices of a Covisions grant, Bryan-Peterson had worked with Wingate Elementary School students to create a tile project in 1996). Bryan-Petersen offered to teach educators who were willing to pass the tile-making skill onto at least thirty other people. Fourth grade Columbine teachers Kim (Renzi) Hamilton and Keesha Davis alerted instructional assistant Karen Severson to this opportunity, and she took the course.

Participants were instructed how to roll out a clay slab, cut tiles, decorate and fire them in an electric kiln, and shown how completed tiles could be sold for school funds, or displayed in order to build school community and pride. Severson taught tile-making skills to Columbine's 5th grade teachers Carol Gross and Karen Marty, and to their students. In turn, they taught other staff and students in the school, making it a whole school project.

The Columbine PTO provided the funds for the school to purchase the necessary equipment, including rolling pins and tile cutters. Under Severson’s leadership and with the help of 5th grade students acting as teachers, every student and employee in the entire school made a tile. This included 5th grade student Jordan Wagner who, although he helped Severson bring the tile making program to the school by teaching younger students, was at first reluctant to make a tile himself. On the last day of school, Wagner changed his mind, and quickly made a tile so that he could be represented along with his classmates.

For the most part, students made tiles of what interested them. The school’s fourth grade teachers had students create tiles inspired by Colorado History and Colorado History standards.

The tiles were fired in the kiln at East Middle School, which was across the street. When the East Middle School kiln broke, Wagner volunteered the assistance of his stepfather, Terry Shephard. Shephard, the Art Center’s ceramics expert, agreed to fire the remaining tiles at the Art Center, but was unable to deliver many of the tiles before the end of the school year. As a result, many fifth-grade students never saw their tiles.

Severson and Wagner set and grouted the tiles into frames over the summer. The tiles were grouped by grade. The frames were displayed inside Columbine Elementary School until its closure in 2007. They were then moved to the school district’s Hawthorne Building (the former Hawthorne School), where former Columbine faculty and students discovered them over the years. After Hawthorne’s closure in 2022, the tiles were moved to the Mesa County Libraries Central Branch. As of Spring 2023, they are now displayed in an East Entrance hallway.

According to Severson (who left Columbine the year after the Tile Project was completed and began as a certified teacher at Clifton Elementary School the following year), the tile project brought the whole Columbine Elementary School together and fostered a sense of community and pride. It is still talked about today among people who attended Columbine or worked there.