The Sherman Elementary School recess yard needed some tender loving care and one diligent parent, the PTO, a principal and a community service team of over 40 volunteers from Home Depot worked to change all that Tuesday.
On an overcast morning, the schoolyard improvement team kicked into full-gear. After a year and a half of planning, the women in charge put the project into full swing. It all happened with the leadership of parent Jessica Schad, Principal Michelle Paton, and Operations Manager Keisha Hayes of the Providence Home Depot.
Through their preparation, Team Depot mobilized. Helpers worked from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., doing landscaping, painting, and improving the ailing recess area – an under-maintained expanse of blacktop with a few tables and bare brick wall.
“We haven’t had any mulch or upkeep. They [the grounds crew] come and mow and keep debris off. They didn’t have time to improve it,” said Paton. “As a school, we’re busy and we’re big.”
By mid-afternoon, the area had been completely redone to include a reading and picnic-table space, garden, bird and butterfly houses, leveled ground at the swing-sets, and wall-mounted chalkboards.
“The kids need a place to play. It’s about giving back to the community,” said Hayes, as she managed her four project teams with precision and efficiency.
With a student body of around 390 and three recess sessions, the schoolyard may have up to 120 excited and energetic students at one time. It’s previous state made it uninviting to the kids. “When I came to visit in February, it was just brick, brown and concrete. It needed some TLC. The area was not really utilized,” said Hayes.
Their efforts turned it into a safe, inviting and colorful activity zone, using donations from vendors and materials paid for by a $3,000 Home Depot grant.
The improvements take pressure off of other play areas, preventing crowding and giving students more freedom during recess, while also increasing safety.
“Some kids don’t want to play every day. If someone wanted to sit and relax, read a book, or play a board game, they could,” said Paton.
As Hayes handled coordinating volunteer labor and project mapping, Schad and Paton negotiated aspects with the school’s maintenance crew.
“It took a lot of staying with it [the project] because I had to make sure that the maintenance people approved of everything, and Mrs. Schad was keeping in touch with Home Depot continuously,” said Paton, who has been principal at Sherman for five years.
Sherman Elementary depends on the charity of organizations like Team Depot for grounds improvement and educational materials. During an interview, Paton pointed out how important such contributions have become.
The new welcome sign, for example, as well as new computer technology, were donations courtesy of philanthropist and Cranston resident Alan Shawn Feinstein.
“Salvation Army has also donated books, and Wal-Mart has given money to teachers to buy classroom supplies,” she said, adding that, “despite budget cuts, we have a great [public school] system.”
And thanks to birdhouse donations, the school’s courtyard now doubles as a nature preserve for local fowl.
Mike Izzo, a volunteer from Warwick store no. 4280, said that individually, stores may complete four to six similar community service projects a year. Jessen Nichols, a volunteer from a North Kingstown store, added that “Team Depot” is an initiative that aids non-profits like veterans’ facilities and municipals such as public schools. “Wherever we’re needed,” quipped Izzo.
According to the Home Depot website, Team Depot is an associate-led volunteer program that operates through the Home Depot Foundation. It has formed partnerships with many non-profits, and donated “millions of hours [of work], tools and supplies” to similar community service projects across the country.
In the case of the Sherman project, the entire district came together, with volunteers from stores across Rhode Island. Torrential rain stopped a first attempt on May 9, and Hayes feared that volunteers would drop out – but after posting another sign-up sheet in stores for the June 12 project, numbers rocketed.
Volunteers worked in shifts, laying mulch, planting flowers and shrubs, painting the school’s three core behavioral values of “responsibility, respect, and readiness” onto the outer walls, hammering rebar posts and hanging donated chalkboards.
Four teams of volunteers were assigned to areas of the yard that required care. One team leveled mulch in a small picnicking area, while others vigorously scrubbed set-in dirt off of plastic tables with brushes and sponges dipped in soapy water. Some used silver paint to give the basketball hoops some color. Others hung chalkboard scribble signs bordered in purple, yellow and blue. A two-man operation quickly mixed and formed concrete into cylindrical seats that would be placed in a garden beneath a towering oak.
Other crews were simply in charge of transporting pallets of donated supplies like mulch from a Chevy pickup, all by hand. Hayes credited the charity of vendors like Behr and Quikrete as well, who donated generous quantities of paint and concrete.
To mobilize the corporate community service force of Team Depot, Schad coordinated with Principal Paton and Hayes for over a year and a half in an effort that invited employees from stores in Warwick, Smithfield, Johnston, Middletown, North Kingstown and Providence to volunteer on the Sherman Elementary project on their day off.