Parents and kids at Whittier School have planted hundreds of tulip bulbs as part of their ongoing efforts to beautify the school, which once looked rather tired and run down.

"There's a lot of pride in the atmosphere of the school," Jeannie Gracey-Etgen, president of Whittier's parent council, said Wednesday. "There were years when there wasn't a lot of attention" paid to its external appearance.

The parent council won a $5,000 Toolbox for Education grant from Lowe's stores to help with this phase of its beautification efforts, Gracey-Etgen said.

After school on Tuesday, about 15 parents and 20 kids were busy planting bulbs. Next spring, the kids will get to see hundreds of "happy little tulips," she said.

"It was great," she said. "Kids were happy to help. Every little step creates more pride in our school. It's important to have that ownership."

Parents subscribe to the "broken window" theory, that if you fix up a place, people will take better care of it, she said.

In the first phase, volunteers ripped out dead and old, gnarly juniper bushes on North Sixth Avenue. Parents landscaped in front, and got the Bozeman School District to repair some broken windows, she said. They planted native grasses and bushes that are drought tolerant, and five large trees for the playground, which had no shade.

In this second phase, volunteers are working to spruce up the grassy courtyard between the classroom wings, putting in large reading rocks for kids to sit on, planting aspens and ordering new picnic tables.

The Lowe's grant will also help pay for a new bench at the school entry. The entry got a major facelift more than a year ago that created an attractive high-ceiling lobby and updated principal's office.

The third phase of the parent council's plan is to replace more of the outdated playground equipment.

Professional landscaper Mary Keck, whose 22-year-old son Colin attended Whittier and was killed in an accident in Spokane, has been very involved in the project.

Principal Jerry Bauer said when he came three years ago, the school didn't really have an active parent council. Now, the parent council is thriving and has raised about $4,000 toward the beautification projects. Some new playground equipment was installed two years ago.

"It's a great team effort," he said. "Their enthusiasm is just amazing."

A school's looks are important, Bauer said, because people tend to think that what a school looks like on the outside shows what's going on inside.

"We want our school to be very, very inviting," he said.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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