What used to be an empty courtyard at Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar is now full of colorfully painted rocks, a faux river, and houses for bees and butterflies. It showcases a creative collaboration between the students and faculty. “This was Julie’s dream, and we all came together to make it happen,” shared Heidi Burton, Child Guide. Julie Arends is the Head Custodian at the school, and after reading “Only One You” by Linda Kranz, she thought of a fun way to include all the children and bring life to the once-dull courtyard. “The book is about making the world a better place and empowering the kids to be the change,” Julie shared. Her vision was to create a courtyard that celebrated each child’s uniqueness through painted rocks.
After reading the book to all the kids during library time, the faculty started lining up everything they needed for the project. “Julie came up with the idea of getting each kid a rock to paint, so we thought, ‘Where can we get rocks? Duininck has rocks!’” shared Bethany Roisland, Roosevelt Librarian.
Duininck gladly agreed to donating the rocks and delivered them to the school. Each child was then given their own rock to paint and decorate it however they wished. “Roosevelt doesn’t have an art class, so this was the first exposure to art for a lot of kids. It was their chance to paint something and make it theirs,” Bethany stated.
The courtyard now holds all the unique and colorful rocks with each student’s name underneath. It also exhibits waterfalls that were painted by Willmar High School art students, a home for bees and butterflies, and a blue rock “river” that holds all the personalized rocks. “I know it’s just a rock, but it means so much to them,” Bethany shared.
Today there are rocks for all of the nearly 600 students at Roosevelt, and they plan to continue the rock painting with each new student in the future. “As a kid, I had to move to a new school and it was scary. We all have that in common, whether you’re a kindergartner coming to school for the first time or switching schools when you’re older. This is a way to show each new kid that they have a place here,” shared Jim Mitteness, Roosevelt Assistant Principal.
Jim invited Chris Duininck, President of Duininck Inc., to the school to accept a gift of rocks painted by the students to thank Duininck for their donation. “I wanted to be sure Duininck got to see the fruits of their donation and how much it was appreciated by the kids now and in the future.”
Duininck was proud to play a role in this collaborative project and looks forward to seeing the Roosevelt courtyard become more and more colorful. “I grew up painting rocks,” Chris shared. “My mom would tell us to go grab rocks and we’d set them out on the table to paint. And now our kids do the same. We’re just glad we could be a part of this. It’s really fun to see this kind of thing happen to make the kids happy and enhance their educational experience.”