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2012 Outreach to Teach: NEA Volunteers Revitalize Maryland Middle School

What could be a better birthday present for a middle school principal than seeing more than 400 college students, teachers, retired educators, education support professionals, parents and community members pitching in to help make over a school in need?

That’s exactly what Thomas Johnson Middle School principal Dr. Michael Robinson got today when volunteers with “Outreach to Teach,” sponsored by the National Education Association’s Student Program, descended on his school in Lanham, Maryland.

“The building needed a facelift and fresh beginning,” said Robinson. “Our scholars are going to be so excited when they come back and see all the changes.”

Decked out in bright purple shirts, members of NEA’s Student Program and NEA-Retired grabbed hammers, shovels, brushes and mops to do everything from paint the curbs in front of the school and landscape the courtyard to completely remodel the teachers’ lounge and build a new studio for the televised morning announcements.

“I walked in and saw so much purple I almost cried,” said Ericka Grant, a parent of a 7th grade student at Thomas Johnson. “This school is old and all this help is just absolutely awesome.”

Thomas Johnson, home of the Jaguars, serves a diverse student body with more than 60 percent qualifying for free or reduced lunch. The school was identified as one of six middle schools in Prince George’s County Public Schools in need of improvement and received a federal School Improvement Grant.

While the day is mostly about community service, it’s also about networking between retired and future and educators.

“I’m a believer that retired teachers should be working with future teachers,” said Ronald Moss, a retired NEA member from Tennessee. “We work together to give back to the parents and community.”

Participants sign up ahead of time for the projects they’d like to work on, be it painting murals or mulching. Teams are formed with both student members and retired members from all across the country. As they paint, clean, repair and refresh, they talk about issues in education, classroom management tips and share stories.

“‘Outreach to Teach’ gives student members an opportunity to both give back and to learn about the profession they are about to enter from retired educators,” explained Tommie Leaders, NEA Student Program Chair.

“Outreach to Teach” began in 1996 as a beautification project to give back to schools. As state budgets suffer and education funding is slashed, schools are in more need than ever. Each year, a high-needs public school located in the host city of the NEA Annual Meeting is selected for the program. The makeover at Thomas Johnson represents a $100,000 in-kind donation by NEA members.

The school also received a $1,200 check from the National Education Association Rhode Island Retired delegation who raise money each year for the “Outreach to Teach” school.

“It gets the message out to the community that the teacher's union is about a little more than wages and benefits. It is living proof that we really want the best learning climate for every child,” added Kenneth Haines, President of the Prince George’s County Education Association (PGCEA).

Most importantly, the projects completed at “Outreach to Teach” will help build the sense of pride and school spirit with students at Thomas Johnson. “The children need to see the community cares about them and wants them to succeed,” said Tracey McMillion, PTSA President at the school.

“Today has inspired me to find other ways to get involved in the community,” said Kierra Gwinn, an early education major at Frostburg State University and new member of the Student Program. “It’s been a good learning experience.”

Prince Georges County Executive Rushern Baker also attended the event to help add a few coats of paint in the school's media center, along with Maryland State Education Association President (MSEA) Clara Floyd. MSEA and PGCEA represent the educators at Thomas Johnson.



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