The scene in the halls of Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School was one of organized chaos Monday, as more than 500 GW students, faculty and staff picked up paintbrushes to help refurbish the run-down school in the Petworth neighborhood of Northwest D.C.
Monday’s event was the biggest Martin Luther King Day of Service in GW history, with more than 1,500 hours of service logged and $8,000 in supplies donated to help spruce up the halls of the public high school.
“After what you’ve done today, I feel like I just swiped my MasterCard. It’s priceless,” Principal Adela Acosta said. “We’re trying to build a culture here. We’re trying to build a larger community. It’s not just for the kids who come here; it’s for the kids who are coming here. It’s for the people who live in this neighborhood, for high school to be ready for their children.”
Inequality is an unfortunate theme at Roosevelt Senior High School, Acosta said. A privately funded charter school is located on the third floor of the building, with “brand-spanking new” everything – classroom equipment, supplies, even the walls themselves – while the rest of the building is dilapidated and significantly less funded and maintained.
“When our students come in tomorrow, and they see the refreshing and the revitalization and the smell of fresh paint, and everything is cleaned, and our teachers go into the teachers’ lounge, it’s like we are as valuable as the kids on the third floor,” Acosta said.
Volunteers participated in 68 projects, including painting lockers and the hallways; cleaning and refurbishing stairwells, bathrooms and locker rooms; and painting murals in the halls, including one of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
More than 800 people volunteered at the historic Petworth high school, including students from Roosevelt High School itself, Howard University, Trinity University, and other local community organizations.
Some projects had chaotic beginnings, with frantic searches for supplies.
“Though a lot of us mean well, I think it could be better organized,” junior Stefan Dabic said, referencing the lack of painting tape and the mess of paint in a few areas that stemmed from it.
“I think there is a lot of great motivation and great passion because of Martin Luther King Day, and I think it was a great event, but it was run poorly, and that is even worse,” junior Shiv Mohini said.
Though supplies dwindled later in the afternoon, the majority of students interviewed expressed satisfaction with the organization, planning and execution of the day of service.
Junior Andrew Kinlock, a team leader, emphasized that team leaders were in many cases able to improvise, and therefore a lack of supplies was not very detrimental.
“I thought it was pretty well organized. They knew the numbers of people that were going to be here, and they got as many supplies as they could,” junior Adam Layne said. “Even when there was a shortage of supplies, they were good about getting more.”
University President Steven Knapp arrived later in the afternoon and participated in select projects around the campus.
“I think [the Obama Service Challenge] probably helps people think about [community service] and look for opportunities. So in that way, the Obama challenge has been very positive,” Knapp said. “I know there are students here who volunteer every year in many different ways, and it’s not like they didn’t ever do it before. I think probably to get the numbers, and get the concentration and organization we have today, we needed to have the challenge.”
Participating students were told in an e-mail they “must wear clothing that has the George Washington University Logo and/or is buff/blue colored.”
University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said it was not so much a dress code, but more a way to identify the GW students among other students participating in community service on site that day.
Another reason for the dress requirements was to encourage school spirit, Sherrard added.
During the closing ceremony, Acosta thanked the day’s participants for their hard work.
“See this bag?” she said, pointing to an empty garbage bag. “It’s not doing its purpose, is it? This was us when you arrived here today.” Then she lifted up a full garbage bag. “See this bag? This is us when you leave today. When you arrived today, we were empty, and you have left us full. I can never thank you enough.”
Knapp, who ended the day’s events with a speech, promised GW’s continued investment in the success of Roosevelt Senior High School.
“If you look around, we’ve done a tremendous amount today, and there’s still a lot more to be done,” Knapp said. “We will be back.”