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No Generation Gap in Sight at Outreach to Teach

by Amanda Litvinov

The first time Tennessee Retired member Barbara Snyder participated in Outreach to Teach was in 2000, when 185 NEA volunteers spruced up an elementary school in Chicago. Back then, Jana Wofford was a 13-year-old girl, still trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. This year, she is a senior at Tennessee State University, getting one step closer to her goal of becoming a second- or third-grade teacher.

The two Tennesseeans have teamed up twice at Outreach, the annual event sponsored by NEA’s Student and Retired programs—last year in Virginia, and again last Saturday when more than 400 NEA volunteers gathered in San Diego to give Balboa Elementary School a makeover. if we don’t use the photo.

“It’s amazing to see what we can do when we work together like this,” Snyder said of the Retired and Student members.

They were joined by Balboa staff, higher education faculty, education support professionals, and 30 volunteers from Target, which sponsored a complete refurbishing of the school library. “Right now it’s chaotic,” said Balboa librarian Maria Pelayo above the whir of electric drills, “but the kids are going to be excited to have brand new furniture and brand new books.” One thousand new books, to be exact, as well as fresh carpet and walls painted in funky fun colors--light green, purple, and gold. 

Plenty of other walls were being painted, both inside and out, many decorated with murals that showed frolicking animals, the school’s bulldog mascot, and a diverse bunch of kids reading and playing--just like the 700 pre-K to 6th-grade students who attend Balboa year-round.

And as a special treat for the educators, yellow café mugs shone from sleek new shelves near the coffeemaker in the teacher’s lounge, where Evette Rios, the design expert known for her work on the Rachael Ray Show, was volunteering at her fourth Outreach. Cozy new couches and chairs waited to be moved in once the walls were finished.

Under a friendly sun, those working outside brightened every corner of the campus with new plants and fresh mulch. “Outreach is a great way to show the students we care about them and we’re there for them—and we’re willing to get dirty,” said Student member Candace Dove. Others assembled outdoor cafeteria tables, where all of the volunteers enjoyed a lunch cooked and served by Balboa parents. But the new soccer goals going up on the playing field were particularly exciting to one young volunteer.

Sixth-grader Oscar Perez said being a student at Balboa is really fun—especially Miss Stacey’s art class! As far as what inspired him to spend a beautiful summer day on a tough landscaping assignment, he said, “My dad is the one who taught me about helping people,” and pointed out his father when he passed by with a wheelbarrow.

“Having everyone here from NEA come out and do this for the kids says their education does matter,” which is a much better message than the one sent by politicians so ready to make cuts to education budgets, said Principal Fabiola Bagula.

The event is good for the volunteers, too. “Community outreach is what motivates our generation,” said NEA Student Program chair Jermaine Coleman. Pre-Retired member Lee Dormin may not be a Millennial, but she was moved when Outreach renovated a high school in her district in Alexandria, Virginia last year. “I feel as though I need to pay that forward and do the same thing for San Diego and perhaps in New Orleans,” she said, looking ahead to next year. “I’m kind of addicted to this now.”


Read more about what's happening at NEA's 2009 Annual Meeting, Representative Assembly and pre-conferences