Equipped with a passion for art, Memorial Junior High School 8th grader AJ Castillo wanted to make his mark on the neighborhood and show some school spirit. And that’s exactly what he did early this summer when he teamed up with the Valley Stream Beautification Committee to paint the Memorial High eagle mascot on a village manhole cover outside his school.
“The purpose of the project is to paint something themed for Valley Stream. I thought that because I grew up in the area and go to Memorial, I’d do something related,” AJ said. “I think it’s really nice because even after I leave the school, people walking back and forth to classes will see the manhole. It’s part of the school now.”
AJ’s father, Alfonso, said he is always looking for ways for AJ to showcase his art and they decided to apply and pitch the idea to the Valley Stream Beautification Committee as part of its larger manhole cover art project, teaming up with local artists to decorate manhole covers throughout the neighborhood.
AJ has long held a passion for art, first inspired by his father, who himself is an avid artist. AJ’s medium of choice is alcohol markers on paper, and he’s even drawn some of the comics in the school newspaper.
With the manhole cover, AJ wanted to take on the challenge of using a different medium, paint, on the unique metal surface. He discussed various ideas with his art teacher, Darla Collins, and decided on something school related. With the difficulties posed by the manhole cover texture, AJ knew that a simpler design would look better and cleaner, so he painted his own take on the Memorial eagle, adorned with the Memorial “M” on its chest.
“AJ is a creative and kind young man and has been an inspiration to his Memorial art room classmates,” Collins said. “AJ likes to challenge himself, and while working with him on suggestions for the Manhole Beautification project, he chose our Memorial-Central community eagle, Fletcher.”
Once the young artist got the green light from the Beautification Committee, AJ got to work early this July and spent the better part of a day—through heat and rain—bringing his idea to life. The manhole cover is located on Hendrickson Avenue, near the school football field for the viewing pleasure of Memorial and Central students and for generations to come.