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Extreme Makeover, NEA-Style

“Call it Extreme Makeover, School Edition,” joked Student VEA President Sarah Danielsen (pictured at right). “I keep waiting for Ty to show up.”

Ty (Pennington, producer of the hit TV show) couldn’t make it, but hundreds of education students like Danielsen, retired teachers, and school support professionals swarmed Arlington ’s Wakefield H.S. Before they left, walls and doors were freshly painted, new trees dotted the landscape, and new shelving units had been installed.

Dubbed ‘Outreach to Teach,’ the volunteer project was organized by the National Education Association (NEA) prior to its annual convention across the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. The NEA programs for student and retired members held their annual meetings this week and provided much of the labor of the project. NEA Member Benefits, J.C. Penney, and other sponsors also pitched in.

“It’s like a dream come true,” said Arlington Education Association President Lee Dorman, handing out bottled water to rookie landscapers on a 90-degree day. “Giving this school a facelift will make a difference for these kids. For teachers in Arlington, it will be a visible demonstration of the power of togetherness, and it will show what we stand for."

“This is a gift,” said Patrick Kelly, a social studies teacher practicing interdisciplinary studies by supervising an overhaul of the science department’s storeroom. “Wakefield is 60 years old, and our custodial staff is doing a magnificent job of keeping it clean, but it’s showing its age,” he said as volunteers hauled out ancient tables and bookshelves. “What they’re doing here is going to give us a great start to the school year. And they’re working hard, but I haven’t seen a sour face yet.”

While Danielsen scraped old chewing gum from chairs and brushed up her painting skills in the school’s media center, Wakefield counselor John Clisham was leading a group overhauling a room in his wing of the building. “This is a place where kids can hang out—to do homework, to get information about college, or to talk politics,” he said, gesturing to a television playing CNN. With the desks, chairs, and side tables set to be delivered, “We’re going to make this a very comfortable place for the kids to be,” he added. For his part, Clisham was wowed by the dedication of the volunteers, ticking off the places his crew hailed from: “Nebraska, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee. These guys are so good!”

Katherine Hairston (pictured below), a retired teacher from Martinsville (“I still substitute, so this is my 50th year of teaching”) helped unpack a wardrobe and prop room near the theater that, depending on one’s point of view, was either cozy-funky or grotto-scary. Hairston was attending her 8th Outreach to Teach event, and she said she wouldn’t miss it. “I just love working with the group and seeing the improvements we can make,” she said. “And working with all the young people makes me feel younger!”

To view photos from the Outreach to Teach event, click here or go to:


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