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Mural adds color to learning center hallway

A lime green giraffe and lavender elephant are now leading the youngsters of the Early Childhood Program to class.

No, the site is not the figment of the children’s imaginations. Instead, the mural at the Brainerd Learning Center is the result of a collaboration between staff and students of the center’s Early Childhood and Middle Level Alternative programs.

Tahnee Flowers, Early Childhood Family Education and School Readiness coordinator, had the vision to change the bare, off-white wall a couple of years ago.

“I saw an animal parade, leading the kids to school,” she said.

Flowers brought her idea to Chuck Butenhoff, Middle Level Alternative Program art teacher.

A couple of weeks ago, he presented her with a sketch. Then, he penciled each of the 26 characters on the long hallway wall.

The animals start off small in size in the beginning — a butterfly, a fish, crab and mouse.

As the classrooms get closer, the animals get larger and more excited — a dark blue kangaroo, camel and panda.

The mural is about halfway done and already the tiny children’s anticipation is growing.

“It’s a high traffic hall,” Flowers said. “They get to see the progress every day. They’re getting more and more excited.”

The toddlers also get to interact with and watch the older students as they work on the mural.

For the younger kids, Flowers said, the mural allows for the “development and joy of on-going learning.”

“It’s fun for them to see the older kids learn how to identify a color scheme and watch the process of art,” she said. “It’s not the typical class experience.”

This, she said, it what gets little kids excited and talking.

It’s also a chance to talk about different animals — an opportunity to talk about how this art is different than just drawing on walls.

Butenhoff used the collaborative project as a platform for his students to work on their project preparation.

Each of his art students were assigned an animal to paint, but before they could even pick up a brush, they had to use colored pencils and sketch out their plans. Each had to explain to Butenhoff what colors they would mix to get the exact shades they visioned.

“The (older kids) have such pride in what they’re doing here,” said Brainerd Learning Center Principal Jessica Haapajoki. “This is like a community service project for them. They’re giving back.”

Plus, it’s simply an exciting environment for the kids as they see the day-to-day changes on the mural.

It’s a nice addition to the once bare hallway, Butenhoff added.

“You watch (the little kids’) expressions change when they walk down the hall,” he said. “That’s how you can tell it adds something to the school.”

JESSIE PERRINE may be reached at or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at