Educators, leaders join forces to spruce up two local schools

Educators from around the country — current, future and retired teachers, higher education faculty and educational support professionals — met Monday to beautify two Denver schools.

About 400 National Education Association members, in town for the union’s annual summer conference, volunteered as part of the organization’s Student Program’s 19th annual Outreach to Teach service project.

Denver’s Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, or MSLA, and Val Verde Elementary were the two schools chosen for this year’s project. Dennis Van Roekel, president of the NEA, said they were chosen because of their high need and great faculties.

MSLA is a teacher-led school and has served as a model for teacher-led education reform in the Rocky Mountain West.

With 97 percent of its students being nonwhite and 96 percent eligible for free- or reduced-lunch prices, Ruth Ocon, one of the teacher leaders at MSLA, said it is important to address students specific needs without having to wait around for what may be a drawn-out district process to make decisions.

“Because we’re teacher-led, we’re able to make decisions quickly,” Ocon said. “We have a say in what our students need.”

Volunteers were expected to work all day, painting railings, creating murals and building gardens at MSLA, while others did a cleanup at Val Verde. The Outreach to Teach team spruced up 16 classrooms, teacher lounges and six bathrooms. They also donated 50 bulletin boards, 25 staplers, 50 scissors, 30 sets of stencils and an array of other school supplies.

“All these people supporting have one thing in common: heart for children,” Ocon said. “This is their way of giving back.”