Mr. Jim ‘just gives so much back’ to Fairview School, students


Jim Valentine knew Fairview Early Childhood Center’s playground could use some upgrades. Sure, he could have worked with school staff and put in a request form to have the playground’s blacktop repaved. Instead, he asked around town, got a great deal and took care of the job himself.

Fairview Jim

Fairview Early Childhood Center Paraprofessional Jim Valentine poses for pictures with Fairview students on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. Valentine — students call him Mr. Jim — donated time and collected money to help pay for updates to the school’s playground. Valentine’s hard work and the Liberty Bridge were celebrated Wednesday.

Valentine retired a few years ago from an insurance agency. He did some substitute teaching before being hired as a paraprofessional; this is his second year at Fairview.

Valentine says after playing with kids on the old, rundown playground, he wanted to improve it. He raised money and volunteered his time this summer to repave and paint the playground, turn an old storage shed into a playhouse, and turn a covered pathway into a beautiful bridge for children to ride through during play time. (See more pictures of the playground on the RPS Facebook page.)

Valentine named it “Liberty Bridge,” and it’s painted red, white and blue. The bridge was dedicated with a ribbon cutting on Wednesday, Sept. 11.

The kids love the new look, and Principal Darcy Dunn is thankful to have Mr. Jim at Fairview: “He just gives so much back,” she said.

It’s clear Valentine finds joy in his work. During our interview, a student excitedly interrupted, “Mr. Jim! Mr. Jim!”
I told Valentine I’d be happy to wait – the little boy’s message seemed more pressing than anything I had to say.
“Mr. Jim!,” the boy excitedly squealed as he pointed to the newly paved ground. “An ant!”

Valentine told me there’s no such thing as a bad day with Fairview’s 3-5 year olds. It’s a slow day, he said, if you’re given fewer than a dozen hugs in one morning or afternoon.

The new playground is kid-approved. Students excitedly wheeled their scooters and trikes under the bridge on Wednesday and set up “house” with the play food in the newly revamped shed.

Fairview play food

Fairview Early Childhood Center students play Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in a newly remodeled playhouse in the school’s playground.

“The kids just have a bang,” Valentine said. “They just have a good time in there.” Students should have more to look forward to next year – Valentine is already making plans for another storage shed next summer. Thanks, Mr. Jim, for all that you do.

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Cathy Bayer is a communications specialist for the Rockford Public Schools. She joined the school district in March 2013 after working more than four years at the Register Star.