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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Volunteers spruce up local elementary school

Though the freshly painted walls of M. K. Rawlings Elementary School weren't aglow with twinkling lights, and the newly planted trees weren't decked with ornaments, Principal Emery Bishop said Monday morning felt like "Christmas in March."

Over the weekend, unbeknownst to students and teachers, close to 500 volunteers, most of them UF students, gave the elementary school a makeover.

UF political science and classical studies senior Joshua Jackson organized the event, calling it Project Makeover: Rawlings Edition. The effort was modeled after ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Jackson first visited the school during his freshman year when he volunteered with Student Government's Big Gator/Little Gator program.

Ninety-eight percent of the students are part of the free- or reduced-lunch program, he said.

Shifts of volunteers worked Friday, Saturday and until about 9:30 Sunday night. They painted colorful, educationally themed murals on the school's gray walls, created a garden where students will be able to grow their own herbs, built new benches, laid down mulch and planted trees, flowers and shrubs.

During the past two months, the project raised $3,500 in donations from various Gainesville organizations and individuals.

The City of Gainesville, Gainesville Regional Utilities and the UF Physical Plant Division were among those who donated materials.

"It's really been a community effort," Jackson said.

Additionally, Books-A-Go Go and Scholastic together donated more than 1,000 books. The media center and the classrooms will be stocked, and each child will get to take one book home to keep.

Before the students entered their classrooms Monday morning, they were led into the cafeteria for the first surprise.

The students began screaming with excitement and doing the Gator chomp as the stage curtain was pulled back to reveal a table piled with backpacks, markers, binders, folders, books and other school supplies that were stacked in front of the table as well.

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Jackson then retrieved a giant check for $1,425 signed "The Dream Team" from behind the table and presented it to the shocked music teacher, David Ottenberg.

"Boys and girls, we're going to buy keyboards for the music program, and we can all learn to play the piano now," Ottenberg said.

Next, the students were led on a tour through the school to see the murals.

"You all sure know how to paint," said 7-year-old second-grader Deion Sams.

Jackson hopes when he graduates this year, other students will continue to bring the program to other schools of low socioeconomic status.

"We don't know what the future holds, but it looks bright," he said.

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