- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 6, 2005

Area youths gave the District’s only bilingual charter school a helping hand yesterday moving into its temporary home in a Northeast elementary school.

About 70 volunteers — mostly children and teens from the District and Maryland — joined radio station WPGC-FM (95.5) and hip-hop recording artist Fat Joe at Bunker Hill Elementary, at 1401 Michigan Ave. NE, in helping the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School move into its new digs.

The charter school, which was founded by the Latin American Youth Center, had been holding classes a few blocks away at Our Redeemer Church since receiving its charter in 2001.

While classes are being held temporarily at Bunker Hill, charter school officials are making plans to renovate the Military Road School on Missouri Avenue in Northwest, then move in permanently by next year.

The charter school has an enrollment of about 80 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, 50 percent of whom predominately speak Spanish.

At Bunker Hill yesterday, the youths helped clean classrooms, varnish wood, move furniture and repaint handrails, giving the school a much-needed face lift before classes resume Sept. 6.

Cristina Encinas, the charter school’s principal, said the number of young people volunteering and their diligence was “very encouraging.”

“These kids are very hard workers,” she said. “They did not come here to just hang out.”

The event was sponsored by Boost Mobile RockCorps as part of its volunteer program that began in June. The group started in Los Angeles and has held similar events across the country, including one in Herndon, Va. The campaign will culminate with a Sept. 24 concert for selected volunteers at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Volunteers yesterday were rewarded for their four hours of work with passes to an amusement park, though most said they weren’t in it for compensation.

Johnetta Ferguson, 18, of Southeast, said her motivation was setting an example in the community and supporting the younger children.

“I didn’t know it was for a Six Flags ticket,” she said. “It was about being a big sister or big brother to the kids in the neighborhood. I’ve got to look after the young children.”

Stephen Greene, the chief executive officer of RockCorps, has attended all of the volunteer events so far and said the turnout and effort yesterday was on par with those in the other cities.

“Most kids want to connect to and get involved in their community,” he said. “The question is, how do they get plugged in?”

Fat Joe, who is from the Bronx in New York City, flew in for the event and said he was equally impressed with the children’s commitment.

“To see the kids at such a young age having a sense of pride, loving their community, helping each other, it’s a beautiful thing,” he said. Joe, who is Puerto Rican, said he was also pleased with the emphasis on teaching dual languages and stresses to his own children the importance of learning Spanish.

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