Round Lake Beach Elementary students asked for rocks, got so much more

Thanks to the big thinking of a group of 7- and 8-year-olds and donations from two local landscaping companies, Round Lake Beach Elementary School is sporting several new outdoor features - including an outdoor learning space.

Annie Adamski, the school's art teacher, said the idea came from a group of nine second-graders in an enrichment program that she was teaching in the spring. The students had to come up with a problem to solve. After much deliberation, they chose to make the school more beautiful.

"We'd walk around the building and identify where we could put things that would look nice and they'd research how much things were going to cost," Adamski said. "I really pushed them; these 7- to 8-year-old kids really did deep, rigorous thinking."

The group wrote letters to local landscaping companies and asked them to donate rocks for students to paint and place around the school.

One of the people who received a letter was Dwayne Ulrichs, the director of sales and business development for Lurvey Garden Center & Landscape Supply, which is based in Des Plaines and has a location in nearby Volo. Ulrichs donated rocks and came to the school to meet the students. He told Adamski that once you get sweet cards from second-graders that melt your heart, you want to help any way you can.

The story might have ended there, but after seeing the school, Ulrichs was compelled to do more.

"He brought the rocks over and saw the need and how grateful the kids and the teachers were," Lurvey spokeswoman Jean Bragdon said.

So they got to work taking the kids' plan a step further. With the help of the school district, an old jungle gym was removed. In its place they created an outdoor learning space, complete with boulders to sit on. Elsewhere, crews extended and enhanced walkways, and all around there are new plants. The upgrades, which were just added in the last couple weeks, have a bit of a recent construction look to them, said Kyle Cook, the head of operations at O'Brien Landscapes, but he said they will look better after the winter.

"When spring comes around I'm very excited to see it when everything is blooming," Cook said.

Kyle Cook, head of operations at O'Brien Landscapes, said Ulrichs reached out and asked if O'Brien would like to donate labor to the project, which Cook said they were happy to do. The work included placing donated boulders, planting native plants and improving the walkways.

"We were happy to help and we're excited to see what they use it for," Cook said. "It's still very much a piece of art that's been started and it has room for addition as well."

Adamski said the whole school is very grateful to Lurvey and O'Brien for all they've done. In all, Lurvey donated $6,400 worth of materials and O'Brien donated around 100 hours of time to the project.

Adamski said the students painted all the donated rocks and they will likely be used to add to the donated work in the spring.

"It really blossomed into something so much bigger than we imagined," Adamski said. "We asked for a small donation and it turned into something that will make a huge visual change to our building."

Round Lake Beach Elementary School art teacher Annie Adamski poses with students who came up with the idea to ask landscaping companies to help beautify their school. Photo courtesy Round Lake School District 116
Work crews removed an old jungle gym at Round Lake Beach Elementary School and replaced it with vegetation and boulders for students to sit on. Photo courtesy Round Lake School District 116
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