Officials suspend NE service site

The Office of Community Service suspended its partnership with a Northeast elementary school after four students were robbed near the site Jan. 21.

The students were returning from tutoring at Neval Thomas Elementary School with seven other volunteers when three men stopped them on Anacostia Avenue near the Minnesota Avenue Metro stop.

The group, including one Howard University student, was volunteering with the Jumpstart community service program. The Americorps-affiliated group aims to nurture language and social skills of underprivileged children and is offered by the Neighbors Project, part of GW’s Office of Community Service. University officials said this is the first problem of its kind involving a community service program.

“The site will not reopen for tutors unless a suitable solution for the safety there can be found,” said Tim Miller, associate director of the Student Activities Center. “This means the students are not authorized to go back there on their own.”

Since the robbery, the Office of Community Service has reviewed all four Jumpstart sites, said Bob Ludwig, acting director of media relations.

“The most important parts of the review process are the conversations with staff about the area and with clients at the site,” Ludwig said. “A tour of the area is a large part of the decision as well.”

Miller is working with Jumpstart site manager Tina Minervini to evaluate volunteers’ safety. Minervini and Miller met with the student volunteers last Thursday to talk about the future of the partnership with Thomas Elementary.

“All the students said they want to go back to the school, but they also said they want a new, alternate form of transportation,” Minervini said. One option under consideration is using a van to drive students to and from the school.

“Obviously there is no line item in the budget to purchase a van,” Minervini said, “but there are other ways, such as grant money, that we’re looking into.”

She said finding transportation is an easier solution than finding a new elementary school partner.

“It takes months to set up a partnership,” Minervini said. “There is a very long process of selecting the site and working with the administration.”

GW and Thomas Elementary have signed an agreement to work together for a year, Minervini said.

“Jumpstart is designed as a year-long program so that a relationship of trust and understanding can develop between the tutor and the student,” Minervini said.

All of the Jumpstart tutors are eligible for an AmeriCorps Education Award of $1,000 when they complete 300 hours of service.

“We’re trying to keep their momentum going by having them work with other programs. But of course you can’t just drop 10 new people onto a site and expect to find work for them all,” Minervini said.

Officials will decide whether to renew the partnership with Thomas Elementary School at the end of the year. Miller declined to comment on the decision.

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