Weeks before Central High School student Marckel Ross was killed on his way to school in September, Prince George’s County residents Belinda Queen-Howard, Margaret White and Valeria Wilson called for a cleanup of the school. Their second effort will be held Saturday, Oct. 20, from 8 a.m. to noon, at the school, which is located at 200 Cabin Branch Road, Capitol Heights.

Prince George’s County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Alvin Crawley paints a Central High School bench during a Sept. 15 cleanup day sponsored by the Central High School Revitalization Group. The group was formed to advocate for school renovations and to do future cleanups. (Belinda Queen)

The air conditioning was not working, and the officials could feel how hot it would be for students in a couple of days. Also, they were able to witness themselves the need for school maintenance, White said.

“We’re not going to get a new school. So, my concern was, let’s make the school we have look good until we can get a new one,” White said. “My feeling is, we can make a difference if we just start somewhere — cleaning up the school,” White added. “Instead of saying, ‘They need to do this or that,’ I’m saying we can make a difference.”

This cleanup effort calls me back to my youthful days when my grandmother and I joined our neighbors in sweeping the sidewalks and cleaning the tree boxes in our Northeast Washington neighborhood. It reminded me of neighborhood cleanups when my parents and siblings and I moved into a new brand of public housing, where it was mandatory that all families participate in Saturday morning cleanups. It was all part of a public policy for moving low-income families from subsidized housing to home ownership. “Ownership” being the key word.

The Revitalization Group facilitated its first cleanup on Sept. 15. More than 30 people, including parents, students, neighbors and school officials, showed up to help paint benches outside the school and pick up trash, fallen tree limbs and leaves left by summer’s storms. For their second cleanup, they expect more than the volunteers. They have received supplies donated by Councilman Derrick L. Davis (D-Dist. 6), shrubs by the Prince George’s Department of Public Works and paint by the Milwood-Waterford Civic Association.

White met Queen-Howard, who sent her eight children to Central, at a PTA meeting about 10 years ago. Although White sent her own children to parochial schools, she has long advocated for Central High because it is in her neighborhood.

White, Queen-Howard and Wilson, the vice president of a nearby civic association, have been circulating flyers and sending e-mail to friends, neighbors and other civic associations soliciting support for their cleanups. Queen-Howard has a theory: “Kids act like their surroundings. When you put them in an environment that’s nice, they’re so excited – like when you take them to Disney World.”

“The school itself is great. They try to work with what they have. As long as students want to learn, they can excel at Central High School,” she said. She and the Revitalization Group also have scheduled a community meeting at the school for Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss further plans.

Meanwhile, the school’s ventilation and air conditioning have been repaired. According to a story in the Gazette, renovations, including a new office suite, a new career center and new school facade, are planned for next summer or fall, and efforts already are underway to renovate the school’s science labs for food and nutrition, forensic, and homeland security classes.

In an e-mail this week, the county schools spokesman Briant Coleman said other efforts have been made to enhance security at and around the school recently, including increased police patrols along walking routes near the school, direct communication with Prince George’s County Police district commanders, weekly conference calls with the police department’s gang investigators to discuss patterns and trends, and a partnership with the Metro Transit Police Department to enhance security at the Addison Road Metro station, where several fights involving youth were held last year.   

“Our security staff members are receiving conflict resolution training that will enhance their ability to identify and resolve issues prior to a conflict occurring,” Coleman wrote. “Our security staff members are attending the County PD COMPSTAT weekly crime meetings to get information on criminal trends and patterns in the region.”

The Central High Revitalization Group hopes the community will show the school some love this weekend by participating in the cleanup. “Bring your brooms, trash bags and yard tools,” Queen-Howard says. “Let’s all come together to clean up.”

“We are excited about the academic progress and the facility re-beautification process that is taking place at Central High School,” Coleman said.

Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery is a columnist for TheRootDC.

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