The troops are ready. So is the paint and the spackle and the rollers and brushes.
It's Saturday morning at Ernest Everett Just Middle School in Mitchellville, and adults and students from the community have turned out to give the building a mini-makeover.
Fruit, juice and other light fare are on a table near the cafeteria door, a pick-me-up for those who didn't stop for breakfast after waking up hours earlier than they typically would on a weekday morning.
Awaiting the kids and their parents are lots of cans of paint in light yellow (for the walls), burgundy (for the trim) and gray (for the pillars.) There's spackling compound to mend the imperfections in the wall and miles of painter's tape.
Tonya Miles of Mitchellville, who usually spends Saturday mornings running errands, brought her husband, Harold, and children Aria, 14, Darius, 12 and Kharlin, 10.
Lori Cook brought her 12-year-old daughter, Chanelle. Darius and Chanelle will be among the 1,100 or so students who will converge on Ernest Everett Just Middle when the new school year begins Aug. 22. The kids and their families thought it was important to help fix up their school.
"I wanted to make sure she made an early connection with the school and was involved in fixing it up," said Cook, a registered nurse who lives in Bowie. "I thought it was important that she participate in the process to get things ready for the new school year."
The school improvement project, which is slated to continue Saturday, was orchestrated by community leaders and parents on behalf of Principal Marian White-Hood, who is returning to the helm of the three-year-old school after spending last year in an administrative post in Upper Marlboro. On a visit to the school, White-Hood said she noticed holes in walls, graffiti in restrooms and lackluster paint. A church group that meets at the school, Tabernacle of Peace Family Church, also noticed the need for repairs and contacted White-Hood with an offer to coordinate the effort.
Church members, parents and community leaders, including County Council Chairman Samuel H. Dean and his wife, Donna, worked from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday scrubbing marks off walls, filling holes and painting lockers, restrooms and the front lobby.
The project is among several completed by parents, businesses and community leaders in Prince George's County public schools in recent years, as shrinking maintenance budgets and an increased need because of aging buildings have left some beautification projects undone, said Larry D. Pauling, director of operations and maintenance for the county school system.
To help out, several local businesses have pitched in.
In recent years, Long Fence Inc. built a fence around Adelphi Elementary School. The Michael Group agreed to replace the track at High Point High School, and Marlton Elementary School's PTA donated playground equipment, Pauling said.
Other parents groups, businesses and community groups have helped with patching roofs, landscaping, and installing air conditioning systems in schools, he said.
Parents now regularly paint schools, clean and repair playgrounds and raise funds for new equipment and other school improvements. The Prince George's County Board of Education tentatively approved a $27 million budget for maintenance for the coming school year for the system's 199 schools and other facilities. The operations and maintenance department includes carpentry, plumbing, paint and glass, roofing and sheet metal and electrical shops. The department is also responsible for pest management and facilities maintenance and supervises the district's 1,136 school-based custodians.
Pauling said that six schools were painted this summer, and that schools are painted every 10 years. He said the age of the schools -- more than half are more than 40 years old -- means that some beautification projects take a back seat to more pressing maintenance needs, such as repairing roofs.
"When a community wants to help, we welcome it," he said, adding that community groups or businesses contact principals, who then work with school maintenance personnel to see that the projects are completed. The Just project, he said, was initiated by the church and White-Hood worked with his office to establish parameters.
Among the priorities of the project, White-Hood said, was the removal of the graffiti.
"I took a walk around the school with the building [maintenance] supervisor and he pointed out certain things that needed to be fixed," White-Hood said. "I felt we needed a coat of paint and to fix certain things, including, shall we say, places where students had been creative with their writing on the walls."
The project, participants said, gave the community an opportunity to get involved in the school's "rebirth." Ernest Everett Just Middle School saw a drop in test scores last year and programs that had been implemented by White-Hood during her years there as principal, including academic and self-esteem programs, were discontinued, parents said.
"We are looking forward to her being the leader of our school again," said Harold Miles, a teacher at Woodmore Elementary School. "She's an exceptionally strong instructional leader. Students in middle tend to mature fast, and that maturing needs to be guided in a certain way. I can't tell you how excited I am to have her back."
Paints and supplies were donated by parents and the Rev. Denise Johnson, pastor of Tabernacle of Peace Family Church. Church members also donated food for the event, and about 20 of them were on hand to help paint.
"Dr. White-Hood wants to create an environment of cleanliness and wholesomeness and good behavior," Johnson said. "She knows that a wholesome environment will help the children learn and feel positive about themselves and their school."
Other supplies were donated by Home Depot in Bowie.
Some of the work was begun last week by members of the county's summer youth program. Members of the program spent days cleaning lockers, scrubbing marker and pencil marks off walls, and cleaning desks and doors, White-Hood said.
The work crew included staffers such as Lendel Hough, 31, who said she rose five hours early to get to school by the 8 a.m. start time, and Mitchellville music teacher Eric Hall, whose son Dominique Hall, 12, will be among the incoming seventh-graders and who canceled lessons with his private students to help paint. Maurice Jefferson also came, along with his son, Martel, 12, an eighth-grader who spent the day spackling holes in walls.
"When your house is clean, order exists," Tonya Miles said. "If the environment is in order, everything else is in order. It's symbolic that Dr. White-Hood invited parents and the community to be part of this first step."
Staff Writer Nick Anderson contributed to this article.