Paper chain reminds Roosevelt Elementary students in Willmar of their efforts to care for others

Child Guide Heidi Burton organizes the chain of caring project at Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar each year. Children write ways they will care for others on strips of paper, and the chain made with the strips hangs in the school's central hallway.

A paper chain hangs in the central hallway of Roosevelt Elementary School. Children at the school have written words of caring on the chain links, an annual exercise to model the character traits of caring and gratitude. Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — What started as strips of red, yellow, pink, purple, blue and green construction paper has become a chain of caring thoughts that crisscross the central hallway of Roosevelt Elementary School .

The Willmar school has built the paper chains for about a decade under the guidance of Child Guide Heidi Burton.

A link in a paper chain at Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar reminds people to be kind. The caring chain is an annual project at the school. Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune

Students study a different positive character trait each month. The trait in November was caring, and Burton distributed the strips of paper to teachers who had their students write about ways they can show caring toward others.

The trait for December is gratitude. Burton and other staff members stapled the hundreds of strips of paper into a chain that drapes back and forth across the hallway.


The chain will stay up through December, if it survives the children who can’t seem to resist jumping up to see if they can touch it.

“The kids love it,” Burton said. “They all know this is a chain to remind you these are things you’re working on.”
From left, Muad Mohamud, 7, Angelique Colon, 7, and Juliet Swenson, 8, all second-graders at Roosevelt, admire the caring chain in the main hallway at Roosevelt Elementary School on Dec. 3, 2021, in Willmar. Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune

The messages on the rings are sweet and sincere.

In the school for grades prekindergarten through fifth, younger children drew pictures or had their teacher write on their strips. Lots of kids used stickers on theirs.

Many of the rings mention being kind and sharing. Others mention helping with the dishes or picking up trash.

One says, “I’m going to work on not bullying at school.” Another says simply, “Keep trying.”

Click to read more about Education .


In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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