An inconvenient rain delay became a bright spot for aspiring educators from Michigan State University completing a service project at a Lansing elementary school.
The drenched weather on a recent Saturday prevented about 30 volunteers from MEA’s Aspiring Educators of Michigan (AEM) program from completing the outside portion of an indoor-outdoor spruce-up of Willow Elementary School.
Rescheduling material deliveries and volunteers for a different day wasn’t easy, but the shift to a Friday afternoon from a weekend meant young students from Willow’s classrooms could help complete the project – which brightened the brighteners’ day.
“I’m glad it worked out this way, because it was so nice to have the kids working with us,” said Mary Vergara, the group’s Outreach Coordinator. “It feels so rewarding.”
The members and officers of MSU’s AEM chapter, the newly renamed collegiate arm of MEA, painted a culinary classroom in bright colors and created a community garden and outdoor learning area in a previously abandoned courtyard in the center of the school.
Picnic tables, sitting benches that convert to seats with writing tables, and raised garden beds, created a welcoming space in what was formerly an empty and unused grassy rectangular area surrounded by classrooms on one side and hallways on the others, said Monica Isza, AEM Vice President.
Planning for the annual service project known as “Outreach to Teach” took hundreds of hours over a span of months, Isza said. Organizers from the group chose the school because many had developed affection for staff and students while completing observation hours in the building, she added.
School staff and leaders were asked to come up with a wish list, and AEM took it from there, raising money and garnering donations through grants and sponsorships, Isza said.
“It’s a lot of dividing and conquering,” she said of the effort.
Getting involved in MEA during college, helping to plan and execute an ambitious Outreach to Teach project each year, provides leadership experience and allows future teachers to give back to the community in a rewarding way, said Emily Leinwand, AEM’s Community Service director.
“And it’s nice to bring the classroom outside and give the kids another chance to do hands-on learning,” Leinwand
The volunteers from AEM, joined by several friends and family on that rainy weekend, added bright colors and artwork to the culinary room – a theme they pulled into all of the school’s classrooms by donating small plants in decorated ceramic pots “to bring the outdoor learning space inside,” Isza said.
Two of the five raised garden beds the volunteers installed were filled with potting soil but left empty so the school’s gardening club could plant vegetables and herbs for use in the newly redecorated culinary classroom. The future educators also donated a cookbook they wrote for culinary students to use.
In addition, the MSU students purchased school supplies and a gift for every teacher in the building. However, it was the benches, plants, and flowers that most excited third grader Derra Shade, one of about 15 students who helped with planting on a sunny Friday makeup day.
“It used to be kind of junky out here, but now it’s nice,” Shade said of the courtyard.