If you want to get educated, spend an afternoon with a bunch of students.

I had the pleasure of doing so last week at the Green Street Park in Waterville’s South End, where 15 kids and a handful of adults painted over the graffiti on a skateboard park’s concrete pad and created their own artwork.

It was a beautification project, according to Waterville Senior High School art teacher Suzanne Goulet, who headed up the effort.

She had put the word out to her art students and members of the school’s outing club that they were welcome to pitch in.

Goulet arrived at the park in her small pickup truck, opened the back and plucked out cans of paint, brushes, rollers and empty yogurt containers, as well as Gatorade and cookies.

It was a sunny day at the lovely park off Sherwin Street where a large, flat grassy field is bordered by a small playground on one end and the skate park on another. But the skate park is often vandalized by people who break bottles, throw trash around and paint some not-too-nice words on the concrete.

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Fifteen-year-old Tyler Haase, an avid skateboarder, showed me a scar on his finger from a cut he got from broken glass. He was skateboarding when I arrived and left shortly thereafter, dubious that a beautification effort would do any good.

“I know people are just going to come down here and ruin it,” he said.

High School sophomore Brendan Palmer, 17, was doing twirls and flips on a scooter and then a skateboard, flying off ramps and crashing on the concrete.

“I come down here every day,” he said. “I skateboard, scooter, bike. I do a lot of things.”

Some other kids straggled in. Steve Soule, director of the South End Teen Center, arrived with a few teens. Ryan Guerrero, an art teacher with Waterville Alternative Education showed up, as did Waterville Parks and Recreation Director Matt Skehan, who brought more paint and supplies.

Paula Raymond, a member of the South End Neighborhood Association who teaches adult education, was there. Raymond, who grew up in the South End and has been part of ongoing efforts to revitalize the area, brought a camera and strolled around the skateboard park, taking pictures of the artists at work.

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A tall, lanky and curly-haired Dan Jolin, 17, was crouched on the concrete, painting the word “Waterville” in white and then filling in the letters with blue, yellow and red. The Waterville High junior said he grew up in North Carolina and moved to Waterville last summer. It was a big change from the city of Winston-Salem, but he quickly made friends, got on the football team where he is a wide receiver and acclimated to the slower lifestyle. Ultimately, Jolin said he wants to go to college to study political science. This was his first visit to the skate park, where he got to use the skills he had been learning in art classes.

Nearby, Palmer had created a bright blue square and painted “Stay true” on it in bright red letters. I asked him the significance of the directive.

“It’s like, don’t forget yourself,” he said. “Be yourself. Don’t let anybody else change your life.”

He then painted his initials, “BP,” in the lower right corner.

Raymond stopped to admire his work.

“Because of your participation, you have ownership of the park now,” she told him. “It’s nice to see you volunteering.”

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Palmer then started repainting an old, faded message on the concrete that contained the words, “See Me Go.” He said a friend had written it long ago. I wondered aloud what the message meant.

“It’s ‘Watch me’ — pay attention — because if you don’t pay attention, you miss a lot of things,” Palmer said. “It’s like life. You’ll miss the little things if you don’t pay attention.”

I told him I thought he was a philosopher of sorts and wondered aloud how he came to be that way.

“I guess it’s because of the way my life’s been,” he said. “I think about things a lot more than anybody else.”

He talked about dropping out of school for three months, realizing it was a mistake, and getting back in.

“I’ve been robbed, jumped. There’s a lot of (bad people) in this side of town. My uncle just went to jail, a whole bunch of stuff like that. I’m not sure what he did.”

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An older teen wandered into the skate park; Palmer looked up.

“You gonna paint?” he asked. “You can own part of the skate park.”

He motioned to the area where earlier he had created the blue square.

“I own that,” he said.

Younger kids with parents wandered into the park. At one point, I turned around and there were kids everywhere, painting, chattering, laughing.

Guerrero, the alternative ed art teacher, was spraying an abstract design in different shades of blue on a park element the kids called “The Block.”

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“I think it’s great, allowing the kids to take over and make it their own,” he said.

Palmer was absolutely owning the skate park by later in the afternoon, when the concrete was flush with works of art, in vibrant, splashing colors.

“This is probably the nicest thing we have on this side of town,” he said. “If you were to go to the Augusta skate park or the Portland skate park, they’re way nicer than here, but in Augusta, all their stuff is stationary. In Waterville, you can move things around. That’s what I like about coming here.”

As the kids started to disperse, Goulet looked pleased. She said the kids had transformed the skate park.

“What I see happening next is that we come every year — like twice a year — in the fall and in the spring,” she said. “It just becomes a mosaic and we just keep filling in and adding and building.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]


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