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Kevin Glover, 11, left, and Caleb Stults, 11, both fifth-graders at L.B. Williams Elementary School in Mitchell work to place a solar powered light in front of the “Welcome to Mitchell” sign on Wednesday near Interstate 90 exit 332. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

'They're so proud of Mitchell' Elementary students spruce welcome sign

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When visitors arrive in Mitchell this summer, some students from L.B. Williams Elementary will be able to say they had a hand in welcoming them.

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A teacher at L.B. Williams, Cheryle Aslesen, said her students, first- and second-graders, have been working with a class of fifth-graders, and focusing all school year on learning the importance of making a good first impression. On Wednesday, the lesson culminated in the near-completion of a project to revamp the welcome sign near Mitchell's Visitor Information Center, located near the intersection of Burr Street and Interstate 90.

"Our project was to make a good first impression, so when visitors come to Mitchell they feel more welcome in our community," Aslesen said.

Students researched similar projects done in other communities and later helped to remove old, dead plants from around the existing sign, which allowed for a planting area to be expanded and filled with rock selected by the students. Then, the students helped to plant new plants around the existing sign.

A boulder, donated by Spencer Quarry, engraved with an image of a Corn Palace dome and a message reading "Welcome," will be placed in front of the existing sign in the near future, Aslesen said.

"It's a great opportunity for our kids and it's a lifelong thing," Aslesen said. "They'll be able to say 'I was a part of that.'"

A fifth-grader at L.B. Williams, Kelton Vincent, said he enjoyed all the work that went into the project.

"It's been really great," he said. "It's a good feeling just knowing that you're doing something good for your community."

Aslesen said the students chose to work on the sign at the Burr Street/I-90 location because of how visible the sign will be to the often heavy traffic in that area. According to Tammy Williams, with the South Dakota Department of Transportation, an average of 4,985 vehicles passed by Mitchell each day on I-90 in 2013.

The project was funded by a $1,500 grant from Mitchell Telecom's "Project: Do Good," which allows anyone to submit ideas to enrich the community.

Scott Peper, the subsidiary manager for Mitchell Telecom, said L.B. Williams was awarded the grant last September.

"We were interested in seeing what was possible when we look through our students' eyes," he said.

Jacki Miskimins, director of the Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the students' work on the project has been incredible.

"They're so proud of Mitchell and they wanted to make the entrances to Mitchell just so great for our visitors and for locals too," she said. "They're really pursuing it and being proactive, and that's great to see."

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