In Barrington Unit District 220, children's lasting first impression of school has been transformed from a long blank wall to a vibrant, changing scene designed to open up eyes and minds.
The district Friday dedicated a 35-foot-long mural depicting a prairie scene spanning all four seasons in the foyer of its 3-year-old Early Learning Center.
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The impressive painting is the work of Barrington artist Susan Hanson, made possible by a collaboration that includes the Barrington 220 Educational Foundation, Citizens For Conservation and the Early Learning Center PTO.
"We always wanted to put something on this large wall and had a number of ideas," ELC Principal Barbara Romano said. "I kept waiting for just the right idea."
The building, which opened in October 2010, had already been designed with areas dedicated to each of the seasons. The idea clicked that the mural should introduce and tie together this theme right at the entrance.
The foundation reached out to Citizens For Conservation Staff Director Sam Oliver, who was able to suggest Hanson as the artist.
Hanson said she learns something new from all her projects, including for this one all the correct native vegetation to include from the Early Learning Center's nearby natural surroundings.
But the piece was hardly her biggest ever. She successfully completed a 140-foot mural depicting all four seasons in Korea for a Buddhist temple in Chicago, working virtually every day for four months.
The Early Learning Center's mural was completed in two phases from early April to early July and then from August through October. Hanson said she enjoyed the interaction and questions of the young students -- including whether she was going to include lions, tigers and dinosaurs in the Illinois landscape.
Romano said the finished piece both fulfills and exceeds her expectations.
"It's such a teaching piece," she said. "It's the cherry on top of the sundae."
Among the lessons the mural will be able to teach the young students yet to come are about animal species, their family groupings, the sustainability of nature and the need to respect that, Romano said.
"It represents the change the children go through in the few years they're here," she said. "It lets us show them that change is good."
Foundation Chair Donna Penyak said her nonprofit donated $5,000 toward the project. Though artwork is a relatively rare example, the foundation has raised $2.1 million to support District 220 over the past 13 years, she added.
Another $5,000 was donated by the Giacomino, Kazmier and Smith families in memory of their parents Ken and Lorelei Smith. And Grace Rapach donated $1,000 in memory of her parents, Al and Grace Cino.