- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

American University freshman Tricia Ramrup spent yesterday afternoon hosing down the newspapers she spread under bushes at a rose garden at Woodrow Wilson High School in the Tenleytown area of the District.

The 17-year-old from New York wasn’t doing homework for a horticulture class. She was one of more than 500 freshmen who are participating in Freshman Service Experience, the university’s annual freshman community-service program.

Cleaning up the rose garden at Wilson High was a project at one of the 46 sites of the three-day program, which began yesterday. The program has sent the volunteering freshmen to communities throughout the region, where they will help rebuild homes, prepare meals, clean parks and work with children and the disabled.

Twenty students hit Woodrow Wilson High’s rose garden, a moderately sized courtyard that has been taken over by weeds and ivy.

As one of the few on hand with any horticultural knowledge, Miss Ramrup informally was deputized by her classmates as one of the green-thumb go-to people.

“The papers keep the weeds that we pulled from coming back, and it keeps the nutrients in the plants,” she said after covering the papers with mulch. “I worked in Central Park with the city’s parks department. That’s why I know what I’m doing.”

The rose garden — which the school uses for small graduations, events and luncheons — has overwhelmed the school’s maintenance crew, said Alex Wilson, the director of academic development at Woodrow Wilson high.

“It’s an area that has a lot of meaning to the school,” Mr. Wilson said. “But it’s a lot of ground, and we have one gardener who has a lot of other functions, so these guys are lending support to an overworked staff.”

The community-service program is also about helping these students ease into life at the university and the District and make friends before classes begin, said Elizabeth Perry, a junior from Omaha, Neb.

“The things that I know or take for granted, they don’t, because they just moved here, like, two days ago,” Miss Perry said.

Miss Perry and Brady Williamson, a junior from Hustisford, Wis., are leaders at the Woodrow Wilson High site. Both have both been involved in the program since they were freshmen.

About 500 freshmen volunteer in the program, which started in 1991 with only 30 students, Mr. Williamson said.

“Unless you have some extreme aversion to heat or working outside, it’s definitely a good thing to do. It’s fun, and it introduces you to the city.”

With a slight breeze and snacks provided by Woodrow Wilson High’s PTA, the students didn’t seem to mind getting their hands dirty.

“I came from a private school where we did community-service projects every year,” said Lauren White, 18, of Dallas, as she and David Tannenbaum, 18, of Nashville, Tenn., removed weeds from a walkway.

“So I’m used to things like this,” Miss White said. “I thought it’d be fun.”

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