NEA-Retired Volunteers Make Over A Middle School
By Amy Buffenbarger
Thomas Johnson Middle School principal, Dr. Michael Robinson, had a pretty good birthday this year. On June 27, more than 400 college students, teachers, retired educators, education support professionals, parents, and community members pitched in to help make over his school in Lanham, Maryland.
Volunteers with “Outreach to Teach,” sponsored by the National Education Association’s Student Program, descended on the school with hammers, shovels, brushes and mops to give the school a fresh look for students returning in the fall.
“Our scholars are going to be so excited when they come back and see all the changes,” said Robinson.
Decked out in bright purple shirts, members of NEA-Retired and NEA’s Student Program painted, landscaped, remodeled the teachers’ lounge, and built a studio for the televised morning announcements.
“I walked in and saw so much purple I almost cried,” said Ericka Grant, parent of a seventh grader. “This help is just awesome.”
Thomas Johnson has a diverse population, with more than 60 percent qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. Identified as one of six middle schools in Prince George’s County in need of improvement, it received a federal School Improvement Grant in 2011.
While Outreach to Teach is mostly about community service, it’s also about networking between retired and future educators.
“I’m a believer that retired teachers should work with future teachers,” said Ronald Moss, a retired NEA member from Tennessee.
Student and NEA-Retired volunteers sign up for the projects they’d like to work on, then form teams to accomplish those tasks. As they work, they discuss issues in education, offer classroom management tips, and share stories.
“Outreach to Teach” began in 1996 as a beautification project for schools. 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 chosen school.
“It gets the message out 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,” said Kenneth Haines, president of the Prince George’s County Education Association
Most important, the “Outreach to Teach” projects help build a sense of pride and school spirit. “The children see that the community cares and wants them to succeed,” said Tracey McMillion, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at the school.