The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

September 27, 2013

School unveils colorful reminder for students

The Commercial-News

---- — DANVILLE — North Ridge Middle School art teachers Julie Skinner and Ruthie Hannan talked for years about creating a lasting piece of artwork for their school.

The opportunity to enhance the building finally presented itself when it was being renovated in 2012.

“The construction in our building got us thinking about what we could do,” Skinner said. “We never had done a mosaic before, but it was something we wanted to try.”

On Thursday night, the framed 3-foot by 5-foot vertical mosaic mural was unveiled on the cafetorium stage during an open house at the school. The mosaic eventually will be mounted on a wall in the school’s atrium.

Within the colorful mosaic, Skinner used Scrabble tiles to spell out words that could be viewed as positive reinforcements for the students.

She explained the school’s teachers selected the words that appear inside the “E” of the word “Just Be,” which is the focal point of the mosaic. The words include: appreciative, kind, nice, awesome, trustworthy, warm, helpful, real, ready, giving, leader, loyal, proactive and polite.

“The teachers picked out the words as a friendly reminder to students to always be positive,” Skinner said. “It’s tied to our social/emotional curriculum and anti-bullying.”

Hannan, who is now the school’s sixth-grade science and social studies teacher, was working a second job at Lowe’s when she found out about Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant, which is available to K-12 public schools in the United States for a wide range of improvement projects.

The grant program, which is funded by Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation, donates $5 million to public schools and parent-teacher groups at more than 1,000 different public schools per school year. Grants up to $5,000 per school are available, but large schools and school districts also are eligible to receive Toolbox grants up to $100,000.

The projects that Lowe’s considers for funding make a permanent impact, such as facility enhancement or landscaping/cleanup type projects. Projects that encourage parent involvement and build stronger community spirit also are favored.

Skinner, who has taught art for 18 years at North Ridge and 10 years before that at Rossville-Alvin, applied for the Lowe’s grant. North Ridge was selected as one of the winning schools last fall to receive $4,000 to enhance their facility.

As soon as Skinner and Hannan discovered they were awarded the grant, they spent several months gathering the materials needed for the mosaic.

“We only had an hour to an hour and a half every other week to work on it at school,” Skinner said.

Eventually, Skinner took the mosaic home and set it up on sawhorses in the middle of her living room to work on it.

“I spent 40 to 50 hours of my own time to get it accomplished,” she said.

Skinner admitted she just finished the mosaic the night before the open house and was eager to share it with parents and students at the open house.

“We wanted to create a gentle reminder that was colorful,” she said. “We also wanted something that would spotlight the arts and how it related to career choices out there.”