Wilmer cook turns cafeteria into underwater paradise

Barbara Stringer

Barbara Stringer’s love for and dedication to the students at Wilmer Elementary didn’t take a break this summer.

The school cook spent much of her summer gathering materials that would otherwise be thrown away – plastic bottles, grocery bags, Styrofoam, coffee filters. And she used those items to convert Wilmer’s cafeteria into an underwater paradise.

Gatorade bottle caps became suction cups on the legs of an octopus.

Styrofoam became sharks, sea horses, stingrays, and even a SCUBA diver.

Wrapping paper became coral reefs.

And grocery store bags became jelly fish.

“I wanted to do the beach, but then I looked on Pinterest and saw where someone had made windows look like they were underwater, so then I thought of this,” Stringer said from a cafeteria filled with second-graders.

From the ceiling, blue plastic wrap makes the students standing in line feel like they are standing underwater. Fish created from recycled paper solidify the effect as they appear to be swimming over the students.

Students loved the décor from the first time they saw it on the first day of school.

 “They came in and all of a sudden they stopped and they were amazed,” Stringer said. “They kept pointing and saying, ‘Look at that!’”

Second-graders Morgan Robinson and Julia Crawford said they like the shark the best. That’s because the shark looks like he is swimming right out of the wall.

“The shark is big and it makes me happy,” Julia said.

“It’s awesome because you can make new stuff out of old stuff,” added Morgan.

Principal Timothy Dollar said that not only is the décor beautiful, but that it is a good lesson in recycling for the students.

“It also teaches our students that people have different gifts,” Dollar said. “Mrs. Stringer said that back in high school she wanted to be an artist. She traveled all over with her husband in the military. A few years ago, she wanted to give art a try, and I told her yes.

“Her imagination is unreal. She can do amazing work.”

Stringer has been a cook at Wilmer Elementary for 20 years, and she lives in the community.

Stringer created a down-home country look for the cafeteria last year. She said she plans to do another theme next year. She hasn’t thought of what it will be yet, but she knows it will be made from love.

“These students know they are my babies, so it made me feel really good to be able to create this,” Stringer said. “I love to create, and I feel that this is my canvas.”