A decade-long tradition of sprucing up the District’s public schools during a day-long dash ahead of the start of school has been canceled this year.
In place of the annual “Beautification Day,” D.C. Public Schools announced an “Adopt-a-School” program to encourage longer-term partnerships with the schools.
In surveys, principals have said that although they appreciate the last-minute service blitzes, they would benefit more from sustained support instead of one-day volunteerism, said Josephine Robinson, chief of the Office of Family and Public Engagement.
“They find a number of partners and organizations, they don’t see them again, and they would love to have deeper relationships,” she said.
In addition to parents and neighbors, the event has attracted volunteers from local businesses and even local celebrities, including members of the Washington Capitals hockey team, the D.C. United soccer team and the D.C. National Guard. Last year, more than 5,000 volunteers turned out to work at 111 school campuses.
Officials said the annual event, traditionally during the weekend before the first day of school, was a logistical challenge at one of the busiest times of year. And they said a late-summer call for help with such tasks as painting, cleaning and organizing classrooms is no longer necessary. The schools are scheduled to open Aug. 24.
The all-hands-on-deck approach was created at a time when the city’s schools were often at risk of opening late because of basic maintenance and other problems. In the past decade, the city has invested millions of dollars in school renovations and organizational improvements.
“Our schools are in much better shape than they have been in the past,” Robinson said. “We have done a much better job opening schools on time, clean and ready to go.”
Some parents are concerned that without help from volunteers, some tasks won’t get done. Suzanne Wells, a parent at Maury Elementary School, said historically, on Beautification Day, parents have planted flowers and cleaned up the grounds around the school.
“These are things that make the school look nice for the first day back,” she said.
And Joe Weedon, a Ward 6 representative on the State Board of Education, said many people liked having the chance to pitch in and help their neighborhood school once a year.
“A longer-term effort is great, but why did we have to get rid of a great opportunity to involve the community early in the school year?” he asked
Robinson said that individuals will still have many opportunities to volunteer at schools.
The school district is recruiting volunteers to mentor students through its Empowering Males of Color Initiative, which is designed to focus attention on the needs of low-performing African American and Hispanic male students.
And some schools are continuing to host Beautification Day on their own, with logistical support from an outside organization.
For the Adopt-a-School program, the District is looking for community groups or businesses to apply to participate. The groups will be asked to develop a “partnership plan” that includes goals and outlines three community events the organization will support, such as a back-to-school night or career fair, as well as a donation-related event, such as a school-supply drive or fundraiser.