The last two weekends, hundreds of volunteers went to work at Dallas ISD elementary schools. They renovated teachers’ lounges with some help from El Centro design students. They built up outdoor learning spaces, installing shade sails and planting gardens, even varnishing tree stumps to serve as seats. Indoors, hallways and classrooms were transformed with artwork and positive messaging.
“From the moment a student walks in the classroom they can see and feel that they are valued and their education is important,” says Abigail Williams, the CEO of United to Learn, a nonprofit that supports schools by investing in teacher training, student tutoring, and campus improvement projects. The nonprofit works with 47 underfunded Dallas ISD elementary schools, where 90 percent of students are living in poverty — United to Learn steps in where public dollars stop, Williams says.
This is the fourth year that volunteers have blanketed elementary school campuses as part of the nonprofit’s Community Campus Day. This time it feels especially meaningful, Williams says. The winter storms in February left behind damage at schools across the district. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education at every level, requiring adjustments to physical learning environments and putting unprecedented stress on teachers and students.
Fixing up aging buildings and installing affirmative messaging can inspire students, letting them know they – and their education – matter. And it’s a good way to give back. “It’s hard to think of a time when being out in the community is more important,” Williams says.