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Sweet Water takes school rotunda around the world

SWEET WATER – What was formerly just the rotunda area outside the library in Sweet Water School’s elementary building now feels like the center of the world after principal Stan Stokley’s vision was made reality.

“I was about three or four years ago. I thought it would be neat if we could do something like that,” Stokley said of the observation he did at Oxford Elementary that ultimately inspired his idea. What he saw there was a project in which the school had painted the earth on a flat surface and set clocks around it to represent the various time zones.

Stokley mulled the idea over for some time afterward before deciding to add an entirely different flare to the project.

“I had to find the people that could get it done,” Stokley said. “In stepped (assistant principal Mark Davis and school reading coach Phyllis Mabowitz).”

Stokley’s vision was to paint the Earth along the rounded walls of the rotunda in the elementary building, then mount 24 clocks around the foyer to represent the world’s time zones. As he discussed the idea with Mabowitz and Davis, the project took on a life of its own.

“We started talking about it and we decided the different continents needed to be painted different colors and the next day Mrs. Mabowitz showed up with all the paint,” Stokley said.

With the canvas selected and the paint procured, the trio set out to find an artist to take the idea from Stokley’s mind to the walls of Sweet Water’s school. So the team enlisted the services of Thomasville’s Brandi Webb Scarborough.

“Not only was it a round surface, it was an extremely high surface,” Scarborough said of the challenges of the project. “It was difficult to adjust. I think it turned out pretty good.”

To enable Scarborough to reach the uppermost points of the walls, which are approximately 30-feet high, the school rented an electric scissor lift.

Stokley’s team took one weekend in August to paint the entire area a soft blue to represent water before bringing Scarborough in over Labor Day weekend. She painted did the bulk of the work during the period, working 32 hours before returning to finish the job.

“Absolutely, by far, the most difficult, the longest, the most challenging job I’ve done,” Scarborough said.

As she worked, Stokley made frequent stops to check on her progress. She said those visits kept her motivated.

“I think it is fantastic. I think it was very well thought out,” Scarborough said of the project. “It just shows me how much he cares about those students and that school. It fueled me to want to get it done better and want to get it done quicker.”

With the painting taken care of, Mabowitz and Davis set to work on the clocks. The task of placing and setting the clocks meant the pair had to determine which locations in each time zone would be represented.

“It’s more complicated than you think,” Davis said. “We were considering the historical significance of the cities.”

“We tried hard to think about what the kids were going to study in world history,” Mabowitz said. “We tried to make sure we had those ancient civilizations like Athens, Greece and Rome, Italy.”

Since the project’s completion, the school’s elementary students have continually walked through the area in amazement. Mabowitz said many have commented on the location of Antarctica, which is painted low on the wall, just above the floor.

One observant student has even commented on the difficulties that lie ahead in maintaining the time display.

“It was a pretty good challenge to get all 24 clocks and get them in place,” Stokley said. “Just about the time we got them in place, a fifth grader walked through and asked us what we were going to do next month when the time changes.”

Stokley considered that a small hurdle to jump given the benefits of the project, which now allows Sweet Water students to find themselves at the center of the world even in their own small piece of it.

“I would say it met and exceeded my vision,” Stokley said. “I had an idea what I wanted it to look like. I just needed more people to make it a reality.”

Stokley said interested individuals are welcome to visit the school and see the display but must first contact the school ahead of time.