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Story and Photos by Karen Carr Keefe
The Grand Island High School foyer has graduated from being just a walled area to being a welcoming and dazzling statement of school pride.
The main entryway now sports the Viking mascot and an iconic view of the bridges, in an eye-catching sweep of royal blue.
Superintendent Brian Graham and high school Principal Hillary Kretz-Harvey initiated the foyer beautification project and put their faith in the GIHS Student Council and their advisers to get the job done. And they did. The students raised nearly $12,000 in funds to put the new face on the foyer.
The result, a bold design by VSP Graphic Group, has pleased students, faculty and the community at large.
Student Council co-adviser Brodie Kaiser said seeing the final product unveiled was a great experience after all the planning that went into the foyer design: “It was kind of hard to comprehend it until we walked in after February break.”
The work was completed while students were on recess. Kaiser, a social worker at the school, said after seeing only photos of the plan, he was taken aback at the size and scope of the design – especially the huge Viking mascot: “It doesn’t do it justice on paper.”
Kaiser said the final product grew from a smaller idea at the start.
“Originally, they wanted to revamp the entryway to the gym, and then, when Dr. Graham brought it to the high school level and met with our principal, Hillary Kretz-Harvey, it kind of exploded into this massive entryway project that they brought to us,” he said.
The Student Council started fundraising in October with a pie sale, and then gathered momentum with generous donations from the GIHS classes of 2021 and 2022, the Grand Island Alumni Association and the Casey’s Corner school store.
Student Council President Sydney Knight said the idea was to raise funds to make the entryway more welcoming with a beautiful wall. They thought about a fundraiser to sell pies and fudge at the outset and linked up with Becker Farms in Gasport to sell them at Thanksgiving to families for their holiday dinner. That raised about $3,000.
The GIHS Class of 2022 donated about $5,000; the Class of 2021 donated about $1,500; and the Alumni Association donated $1,000. Co-adviser MaryLis Rustowicz said Casey’s Corner bookstore also made a donation.
Standing in front of the new entryway design at Grand Island High School are, from left, Student Council co-adviser MaryLis Rustowicz, Council President Sydney Knight, Student Council faculty co-adviser Brodie Kaiser and Student Council Vice President Sofia Bukahri. The GIHS Student Council raised nearly $12,000 for the foyer beautification project, which was unveiled in late-February after the district's mid-winter recess.
Students and their advisers were happy to have the support of the Grand Island community in their fund drive.
Knight was surprised the fundraising went so quickly: “Honestly, I thought it would be a little difficult to do it in one year, but we got it, and it was impressive, and I was glad we got that much support from the community.”
She said the new entryway has had a positive effect on school spirit. “I think it’s very welcoming and it’s just beautiful to look at. It raises spirits … people get a good feeling when they walk by and it just makes them feel better about their day and being at school.”
Bukahri agreed that the project is getting good reviews: “I think everyone really likes it because it’s a great place to take photos, have memories, be more united and have more spirit.”
Rustowicz, a recent GIHS graduate who is now a social studies teacher at the high school, was an early supporter of having the Grand Island bridges featured in the design.
“Because it was more than just something we were doing in school, we knew it was something that would be on these walls forever,” she said. “I’m proud to have graduated here. So now this makes it very cool to come back, for people to see.”
Rustowicz praised Graham for including the Student Council in the planning. She said it was really the students who made the ultimate decision to go with that particular design.
Knight and Bukahri said they really liked the Viking image. Both Student Council officers are very involved in GIHS activities. Knight is hoping to major in finance and minor in business analytics in college. She is in the National Honor Society and is varsity basketball captain and also on the volleyball team.
She said being involved in the foyer project helped her develop her leadership skills and increased her appreciation of Viking pride.
Bukahri plans to go to the University at Buffalo for criminology. She was captain of the swim team, treasurer of the National Honor Society and part of the Academy of Finance, among other activities. She said working on the project helped her feel more involved as a Student Council officer.
Rustowicz said that, because the design was so well-received, people are already looking forward to the possibility of extending it to include even more than the immediate foyer area.
“I do have to say from the very beginning, faculty, staff, district office, everybody, students, were so supportive of us, and I don’t think it would have been feasible without the help of others,” she said.