Hair nets and an abrasive personality might have been the image of the lunch lady when you were growing up, but kids at Ellis Middle School in Elgin are having quite a different experience.
Food service employee Kathy Steurer enjoys her interaction with the students and wants them to have a pleasant lunch experience every day, but not just from the chicken nuggets and milk she serves them at lunch hour.
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She wants to transport them to a different place through the artwork that now graces the walls of their school cafeteria.
A mostly self-taught painter, Steurer has transformed the cafeteria at Ellis into a mountain lodge and the lunchroom at Elgin High School into a french market.
Her work began as a gift to her boss at the district, and soon she was asked to help spruce up the walls of the school cafeterias. She completed the Elgin High mural last summer and is working to finish the project at her own cafeteria at Ellis.
"I do feel more like an illusionist rather than an artist," Steurer said. "I like to create a different ambience in rooms."
In keeping with her love for the students, she has recruited some of them to spend part of their lunch hour to help her paint, a skill she enjoys sharing with the kids she also feeds.
She used to keep her artwork to herself but enjoys the freedom that comes with painting in such public places. She hopes that the students who are exposed to her artwork will be inspired to come out of their shells and explore their own talents.
"My heart is that I draw that out of them and that they really can feel safe with who they are when they come to school," she said. "Even if it's only three seconds when I look at them in the eye when I'm working on the register. That's really important to me, and hopefully them."