Fueled by the excitement of the presidential inauguration, GW students participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Monday with paint brushes in hand and the spirit of change in mind.
More than 700 volunteers, including 240 GW students, flooded into Anacostia High School in matching white T-shirts to repaint classrooms and help give free health screenings.
“Our goal is to enhance as many learning environments as possible,” said Allison West, an event organizer. “We just want to make this a positive learning environment.”
Located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the District, Anacostia High School welcomed the volunteers. Entering the doors, students were met with metal detectors and a sign informing pregnant teenagers about available support. Many classrooms do not have chalkboards and are partitioned only by bookshelves. But on the walls are words of encouragement and the five principles of Anacostia: caring, responsibility, respect, trust and family.
Inside the classrooms were teachers who helped volunteer on a day off and led the marching band in a ceremony to thank the volunteers.
GW students could be found all over the school, from the classrooms they were painting in robin’s egg blue, to the bathrooms that were missing most of their sinks. West said one of the reasons they chose to paint the classrooms in bright colors is the connection between higher test scores and color in schools.
Anacostia High School parent and Parent Teacher Association Vice President Michelle Jones, who has a background in early childhood education, said she thinks that the bright colors will raise more than just test scores.
“When you are in a dull school your behavior is affected. It is great they are adding color,” Jones said. “People will feel a lot better coming into the school. It will make children want to learn.”
The 240 volunteers from GW represented a variety of groups on campus. The entire 2009 Colonial Cabinet participated, as well as JumpStart, the Black Student Union, Alternative Spring Break and many other groups and individuals.
“The thing I am struck by is the diversity of the volunteers,” said GW Office of Community Service Director Timothy Kane. “I am incredibly proud of all the work people did today.”
Every student interviewed at the high school said they volunteered on Monday because they felt a desire to help within their community.
“There is a huge need in D.C. for service and as a cabinet, we decided we want to satisfy that need,” said 2009 Colonial Cabinet member Kalie Kelman. “Especially in places like Anacostia, it is important we come out with help and support, do the best we can.”
Anacostia, a neighborhood in Southeast D.C., is known for its high crime and drug rates and was designated as the activity’s location because of the “lack of service” currently taking place, said Service for Peace member Alan Inman. “Being able to give service, much needed service, is a wonderful thing,” said Rodney McBride, the school’s principal. “Obama talks about change. You are the change.”
The atmosphere surrounding the new president created extra encouragement for students to come out and devote their time and effort to the school.
“I think the Obama events generate a lot of excitement over this day,” senior Evida Dennis said as she rolled a fresh coat of blue paint on a wall. “I know that’s why I got out of bed this morning,”
“The inauguration is a wonderful part of the energy,” added Christopher Washington, program coordinator for the Multicultural Student Services Center. “We’re fulfilling Dr. King’s call on the eve of Obama’s inauguration. The spirit of MLK is embodied in Obama and it brings it out in people.”
University President Steven Knapp echoed the sentiment of the volunteers.
“This time makes Martin Luther King Day an even more special occasion. You are ambassadors,” Knapp told the students.
In addition to the painting, GW medical students performed free health screenings for community members. When it appeared that the school’s neighbors might not show up in strong numbers, some of the medical volunteers made their way to the Metro stop to encourage more people to stop by.
The Anacostia school faculty members were grateful for the improvements the volunteers made.
As he watched the volunteers put the finishing touches on her classroom, ninth grade English teacher T.L. Terrell said, “The kids will really like the changes.”