It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a virtual army to resurrect a school.
aging campus on the West End of Alameda, flush up against what was a formerly thriving Naval Air Station, has seen better days.
But this year one inspiring and energetic Encinal teacher decided to launch an all-out war on campus grime, mustering hundreds of volunteers to spruce up the dilapidated facility and give the 1,000-student school a makeover.
Digital citizenship instructor Diana Kenney, whose own two daughters graduated from the school, has been with the for 20 years. She also works as a teaching consultant for the Discovery Channel’s Educator Network, advising other teachers on campuses throughout the country. Last year she visited schools in nine states.
Kenney said she was shocked when she transferred to Encinal last year and witnessed firsthand just how run down the facility had become.
“I’m a big believer that your environment affects how you feel,” said Kenney, “and this environment definitely did not match the amazing kids I was teaching. They deserve so much more.”
Kenney asked students and teachers what they wanted for their campus and sought permission from Encinal Principal Tracy Allegrotti to start making those dreams a reality.
Because there are so few outdoor tables and benches, students have few places to enjoy lunch.
“They have managed to make it work,” Kenney said, “but they should have a decent place outdoors on campus to sit and eat, play their guitars, visit and hang out at lunch time.”
A small amount of donated money was used to purchase six table umbrellas and eight benches. More money still needs to be raised to replace tables, most of which, Kenney said, no longer have seats. She would like to be able to buy a minimum of 10 new tables with seating.
The public and business community can make donations to the project using PayPal through the school’s website or by mailing checks made payable to Encinal High School and sent to the school to her attention. “If we had even $5,000 at this point to work with, we could get a lot done,” she said.
Students Go to Work
The real changes at the school got under way this summer when 130 volunteers, mostly students but also some parents and teachers, began the overhaul. Everything from scraping years of ground-in gum off walkways to stripping old tape from walls and windows has kept volunteers busy most days each week since school ended in June.
Jeramy Rolley, a member of the Class of 2011, said he was so inspired by Kenney’s vision for the campus he returned this summer to volunteer several days each week to help with the clean-up efforts. Although he will be attending College of Alameda this fall (with plans to transfer later to San Francisco State and become either a physical education teacher or police officer), Rolley said he couldn’t turn his back on his alma mater when it needed his help.
The former Encinal track team member has been power-washing cement, repainting yellow safety curbs, sanding handrails, refurbishing poles, cleaning windows and planting flowers around the campus.
“The kids didn’t really care what their school looked like before," he said, "because things had gotten so bad. But in order to have a happy school, you need a clean school.”
Rolley hopes the transformation of the campus will help deter students from cutting classes and dropping out.
“The first year I came here I was really surprised and bothered by the way the school looked,” he said. Since so many students are involved in the rehab work this summer, Rolley thinks they will feel a sense of ownership and help keep the campus clean.
Jeanette Chiu, an incoming 11th grader, has volunteered five days this summer gardening and painting. She said she was glad to have the opportunity to pitch in over the summer because during the school year she is busy with homework and participating in swimming and water polo after school. So far, she said, she likes the improvements she sees.
Donations are Helping
Donations of goods and professional services are coming in. Kenney said Devil Mountain Nursery in San Ramon has donated thousands of dollars' worth of plants to the school, thanks to Alamedan Georgia Madden, a landscape designer whose husband is an assistant coach at the school. Madden connected Kenney with the San Ramon wholesale nursery and volunteered her own services to get the planting part of the project under way. in Alameda provided free delivery of soil amendments and a tree that were purchased with donated funds. Mulch was donated by the island's .
A 50-inch plasma TV donated by the Class of 2011 will be mounted in the school’s entry hall and will provide digital announcements throughout the school day, eliminating the need to post flyers which create thumbtack holes and tape marks on walls. Display cases donated by the Encinal Alumni Association and Athletic Boosters will be installed nearby. Donors also purchased a new scoreboard for the sports field, and there is talk of palm trees being planted near it, overlooking San Francisco Bay.
In November volunteers will till ground near the student parking lot and plant six more trees and other vegetation, creating a natural fence line.
An outline of other potential enhancements has been created and students and teachers will be adding to it next year. Kenney said high on students’ wish lists is a decorative fountain.
I asked my football players what they wanted,” she said, “and lo and behold, what they most longed for was a fountain.” Kenney said students would also like to see a very small amphitheatre built behind the school where students can gather at lunch and performances can be held.
Keeping the Effort Going
How will such an enormous volunteer effort be sustained over the long haul? Kenney said she thinks students should be encouraged to earn their 20 hours of district-mandated community service hours volunteering at school.
During the coming year teachers will be meet together on an ongoing basis to discuss the project’s progress and share its status with their students. Kenney said she has gotten tremendous buy-in from the faculty.
A core group of students who were most instrumental in the project have formed a club called “ECATS” or Extreme Clean Action Team. Next year there will be a form on the school’s website asking what further improvements people would like to see to the campus. The club, along with faculty and others, will review those suggestions and decide what to tackle next.
“The kids need to have a voice in this process,” said Kenney. ”This is for them and they should have a say in it."
She said she can already tell the students like the changes. "They are so appreciative of the work already completed. I see them going around this summer picking up trash on their own," Kenney said.
Science teacher Cheri Galan, who volunteered with her husband, Adam, and sons Jacob and Derek, agrees students will welcome the improvements.
“The school was sad and grimy-looking,” Galan said. “There is so much to do. We need to fix up the bathrooms, for instance. They are so bad the students don’t want to use them. They come into my classroom to wash their hands."
She said the restrooms need new paint and mirrors and there's a long-term need to keep them sanitary. "I believe the students will respect the school and take more pride in it once it is repaired and clean," she said.
The exterior of the school was painted in the recent past and the interior painting of the whole campus was supposed to have been completed by this point this summer. Unanticipated maintenance issues arose and that painting was delayed, Kenney said. Volunteers were wielding paintbrushes Thursday ad Friday, and Kenney hopes the painting will be completed before school opens.
A Spotlight on Encinal High
Kenney said her fervent wish is for the wider community to visit Encinal High School this year and form their own opinions of it. “This is a school that has so much going for it,” she said. Kenney thinks for too long it has been viewed by the public through a distorted lens and that its students have not been given the credit due them.
“There are endless opportunities for students at this school,” she said. "I want to make sure they have an environment in which those possibilities can be fully realized. Our goal is for this to be a showcase campus."
Her efforts so far have not gone unnoticed. People magazine learned of the project and has spoken with Kenney about it several times. She hopes a story will materialize from those interviews, giving the project wider exposure and perhaps inspiring other schools to follow Encinal's lead.
The public can monitor the project’s progress, see before and after photos and view a video about it by visiting its Facebook page here.