- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

A Northwest elementary school received an 11th-hour face-lift yesterday, part of a citywide volunteer effort to spruce up the District’s 167 public schools before opening day tomorrow.

About 15 volunteers helped clean and make last-minute repairs at Garrison Elementary School, at 1200 S St. Northwest. Neighborhood residents joined teachers, parents and students to beautify the inside and outside of the school by landscaping, hauling trash and covering bulletin boards.

Under a light drizzle, volunteers weeded, mulched and dug flower beds before planting flowers donated by the Garden District, a local store on 14th Street in Northwest.

“It’s nice to have a nice-looking school to come back to,” said Brune Mesguich, 28, of Northwest, after she and friend Celine Alix, 31, helped plant the flowers. “It’s a good thing to do.”

Said Miss Alix: “We live in the neighborhood and wanted to take part in the initiative.”

Zakia Sims, a first-grade teacher at the school since 2000, said she had been preparing her classroom all week, with help yesterday from former student Diamond Lee, 12.

“The environment of a school plays a major role in the success of the children,” said Miss Sims, 30. “It’s home away from home for them. They’re here for seven hours of the day, so it’s imperative that the classroom and the school be majestic, bold and inviting.”

In March, the City Council approved Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ proposal to allocate $6 million for school facilities improvement this summer. Throughout the city, volunteers swept, painted and cleaned up the grounds of the schools.

The D.C. Public Schools system received a number of donations and contributions from various sources, including Home Depot and Giant, said Mary Filardo of the 21st Century School Fund, which helped facilitate the program with the school system and the board of education.

The students’ job is “to go to school and do their studying,” said Miss Filardo, 51, of the District, “and it’s our job as grown-ups to do what we can to support them.”

Never underestimate the relationship between learning and a child’s surroundings, said Geneva B. Williams, Garrison Elementary’s principal.

“It certainly affects the students’ attitude, their drive to learn, motivation and their sense of self-worth,” she said. “This project is not just a cosmetic exercise; it strikes to the heart of what we’re all about — teaching and learning.”

Johnston Central High School Alumni Association, a nonprofit scholarship organization that operates out of North Carolina, the District and New York — was also on hand to help, at the request of Miss Williams, a member and former president of the association.

“There’s so much negativity going on that when [the students] come back, it’ll be refreshing for them to see that someone took the extra time to make things nice,” said Angela Wright, 40, president of the association’s D.C. chapter. “It makes them feel wanted and cared for.”

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