There's a new addition to the fourth-grade wing at the Rock Island Center for Math & Science.
"This hallway used to be sad and dreary, and while we're still sad, now when we see this hallway we will think of Kris," said Shaya Smith.
There's a mural at the end of the hallway that will for sure catch your eye. It features an outdoor scene with animals and butterflies, along with two people reading. While students for generations to come will enjoy the mural, they'll also know about the person who inspired it.
Kris Hays was a beloved teacher at RICMS for work in the RIMSD for more than 20 years. Sadly, in 2022, Mrs. Hays passed away.
RICMS staff wanted to do something to honor Mrs. Hays so they formed a committee to come up with some ideas.
"The fourth-grade team ate lunch for the last few years out in our shared hallway and we always talked about adding more art. Kris and I had put up many words of affirmation in that stairway, so when the committee met to honor her it was the natural direction to go," said Shaya Smith.
Mrs. Smith taught across the hall from Mrs. Hays's room.
From there they reached out to the chair of Augustana College's Art Department to see if any student would be interested in painting a mural. Aykeem Spivey responded right away. The committee looked over his portfolio and knew he was the right person for the job.
"His work was nothing short of amazing. It is colorful, real, and exactly what we talked about," said Mrs. Smith.
After meeting with staff and learning more about Mrs. Hays Aykeem got started on the mural over the summer. He worked on it on the weekends and whenever he had spare time in between classes. He completed the mural this fall, 2023.
On November 9, a special dedication ceremony was held to dedicate the mural to Mrs. Hays. As well as say thank you to Aykeem who painted the mural for free. Staff and Mrs. Hays's family gathered to admire the mural.
The mural has little details that those who knew Mrs. Hays so well would notice right away. One of which includes butterflies.
"Kris worked on the butterfly garden so we wanted to incorporate butterflies. The fourth grade rescues and releases monarchs each year because of Mrs. Hays," said Mrs. Smith.
The mural sits right outside the classroom where Mrs. Hays taught.
"From the moment Aykeem started painting the students were mesmerized. It has brought more traffic down our hallway and lots of conversations about Mrs. Hays," said Mrs. Smith.
For students and staff, it's a little piece of Mrs. Hays that they get to see every day.
"The completed mural is a reminder of her that brings smiles and joy. I can't look at it without smiling knowing that we did it to honor her and her legacy. She will always be a part of our story and this mural represents a beautiful bookmark," said Mrs. Smith.
The committee's next step is to purchase a plaque and a chair to put with the mural.
Related articles: RICMS Students Awarded First-Ever Hays Heroes Award, Painting a Memory: Meet the Augie student creating a memorial mural for a former teacher
The finished mural.
Mrs. Smith speaks about the mural.
Principal John Hawley speaks about Mrs. Hays.
Staff, friends, and family of Mrs. Hays stand in front of the mural.