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Beyond the Classroom

Outreach to Teach: Granting Wishes

Sabrina Holcomb

'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' had nothing on last year’s Outreach to Teach, a remarkable and heartwarming NEA event that literally transforms schools overnight.

As a local television crew filmed the planting of every new shrub and stroke of fresh paint, dedicated NEA members helped turn dreams into reality for the students and teachers of Franklin D. Roosevelt Middle School in Compton, California.

“This is my first Outreach,” said NEA Student Program member Chris Norton, a senior at Northern Illinois University, “and it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Sponsored by the NEA Student Program, Outreach to Teach began in 1996 as a school beautification project for high-needs schools.

Each year, attendees of the annual Student and NEA-Retired conferences, along with other NEA members, volunteer at a local school during the week preceding NEA’s Representative Assembly in July.

This year’s 10th annual Outreach was the most ambitious one to date, with 350 volunteers providing the first renovation in Roosevelt’s 75-year history.

NEA members, aided by school staff and community volunteers, spent eight hours scrubbing walls, floors, and bathrooms; painting classrooms and hallways; putting up colorful bulletin boards; organizing library shelves; and transforming the teachers’ lounge with fresh paint, a microwave oven, brand-new furniture, and two laptop computers.

But the most dramatic transformation was turning a front yard and courtyard filled with dry, rocky soil into an oasis of flowers, grass, and sprinkling water. Members hauled 80-pound rocks, planted flowers and shrubbery, and rolled out hundreds of strips of sod while school personnel put in an irrigation system to water the new gardens.

The hardworking volunteers weren’t daunted despite the hard work and the heat. “I absolutely love Outreach,” enthused Shontee Brown, a student at Bowie State College. “It’s about community togetherness—not about how you look or getting dirty. It’s just about being you and doing something worthwhile.” 

“Asking college students to get down and dirty is not a problem,” says Malcolm Staples, manager of the Student Program. “This program proves that if you give student members a community project, they’ll show up,” agrees Student Program coordinator Kimberly Anderson. In fact, Outreach to Teach is so popular, it’s become a springboard for similar programs on the state and local level, says Staples.

Primarily funded by the NEA Student Program, this year, Outreach sponsors Volkswagen of America and NEA Member Benefits contributed thousands of dollars to fulfill Principal JaMaiia Bond’s wish list.

“I had no idea of the scope of Outreach,” said Bond. “ It’s like Extreme Makeover, only they have a whole week; NEA did this in a day. When the students come in tomorrow morning, their jaws are going to drop. It’s just amazing what caring and committed people can get done on behalf of children.”

As she planted colorful flowers in the school’s front yard, Ohio teacher Barbara Moseth echoed Bond’s sentiment. The Outreach veteran tells newbie volunteers, “Look at the school and imagine going to this school in its present condition. At the end of the day, close your eyes and imagine you’re a student walking into this same school the next morning. When you open your eyes and see what you’ve accomplished, it’s awesome.”


Reaching Out Close to Home

Organizing an Outreach to Teach event at the state or community level can be an exciting and rewarding project for your members. But every successful project needs a great plan. Here are some basic steps to get started:

  • Build interest. One person can’t develop a project alone. Discuss the idea with your chapter leaders and general membership.
  • Research the project. Talk to your chapter advisor and state student organizer to identify any obstacles to your project. For instance, do you have funding or can you get it? Do you have enough time to organize an event? Identify potential schools as well. Contact local UniServ offices or your state Association for suggestions.
  • Select a school. To pick the best location for your project, consider the following: Is the school principal excited about the event? Do a large number of NEA members work at the school? Does the school have critical needs? Are other community partners willing to help? Could you complete a project at the site in one day?
  • Meet with the principal and school staff. During this meeting the project coordinator describes the purpose of the project and finds out what needs the school has. Then you can develop your project around the school’s priorities. Make sure you involve school maintenance and facilities staff members too, because they most likely will assist your volunteers during the project.
  • Plan, prepare, and organize. Determine what materials you need for your project and how you will organize your volunteers. Regularly contact the school staff, volunteer coordinators, and others involved in the project to stay up to date on project developments. Address any other issues you need to complete before project day.
  • Implement your project. Put on your work clothes and get down to business.
  • Follow up and evaluate. Send thank-you notes to your volunteers, community partners, and media contacts. Evaluate how the project went and document any changes you want to make for future events.

Award Worthy

Got a community outreach project that deserves some recognition?

Then apply for a Student Program award. Each summer, the NEA Student Program recognizes the most outstanding CLASS project during the honors dinner at the Student Leadership Conference.

The Student Program also honors outstanding state programs, local chapters, state and local student leaders, state organizers, and local chapter advisors. Students also can receive awards for their local or state newsletters and local Web sites.

Interested chapters should mail their entries to Mandy Plucker, chairperson, c/o NEA Student Program Awards, 1201 16th Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20036-3290 or fax them to 202-822-7624. But don’t delay! Chapters must submit their nominations, applications, and supporting materials by April 15.

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