Morale murals a hit with students

Gift part of makeover outreach provided to area schools by a Glen Burnie church

Education Beat

December 31, 2006|By SUSAN GVOZDAS | SUSAN GVOZDAS,Special to The Sun

Using paintbrushes, electrical wires and casserole dishes, a Glen Burnie church is making a homegrown effort to boost the climate in North County schools.

As an outreach of its monthly acts-of-kindness program, Abundant Life Church has in the past three years given makeovers to two teachers' lounges, painted bathrooms, landscaped school grounds and started a dinner before parent workshop nights.

Most recently, church members painted a mural in the foyer of Belle Grove Elementary School in Brooklyn Park.

One wall shows a student surrounded by books. Another wall displays an astronaut floating on a blue background amid yellow stars. The school's motto, "Reach for the Stars," stretches across the picture.

Principal Adrienne Taylor said students gasped when they saw it.

"We're letting students know they can do anything they can dream about," Taylor said. "It serves as a reminder of our purpose."

The church and schools were brought together by Liz Wagner, the church's executive director of community outreach and Pastor Dan Mucci.

They saw a need to help schools as members of the North County Business Advisory Board, a group of nonprofits and businesses that help schools with work force training.

State Sen. Ed DeGrange, another board member, recommended that Mucci approach Hilltop Elementary School in Glen Burnie, which serves a large number of underprivileged children.

In addition to helping buy school supplies, Abundant Life spent a weekend renovating Hilltop's faculty lounge, Wagner said. The idea was to raise teachers' morale.

"If you can make them feel good, it sort of trickles down" to students, Wagner said.

The next year, Principal Louise DeJesu requested a mural for the school's cafeteria. Church members painted children trying to catch onto a star beneath the words, "Be a Hilltop Star." The mural also shows a plane pulling a line of stars.

In addition, church volunteers began to cook and serve dinner at the school before parent workshops last year. Since then, attendance at the workshops has increased from 40 to 150 parents, DeJesu said.

"I'm amazed at what I can do with their help," she said.

Abundant Life Church has adopted Hilltop and continues to do projects there. This year about 40 church members painted the school's bathrooms.

But the 850-member church has expanded its outreach to other schools.

The church did landscaping and other beautification projects at Point Pleasant Elementary School and North County High School in Glen Burnie.

The church also renovated Belle Grove's faculty lounge.

This year, church members joined the Rotary Club and Heritage Community Church to remodel the teachers' lounge at Overlook Elementary School in North Linthicum.

The $4,500 renovation, paid for partly by the Rotarians, has been the church's most extensive project yet, said Christy Spencer, an Abundant Life member who helped redesign the room.

Volunteers moved two vending machines from the narrow room to make way for a kitchenette with a new refrigerator and a sink.

They repainted, put up new curtains and replaced long banquet-size tables with smaller tables with glass tabletops. They added storage shelves, removed clutter and rewired the electricity to handle the microwaves and toaster ovens that kept tripping circuit breakers.

Volunteers also donated plates and glasses for teachers to use at meetings.

"It has improved the climate so much for the teachers," said Principal Maureen Irion.

Ray Streib, a member of Abundant Life Church, recruited workers at his company, Development Facilitators Inc. in Severna Park, to do carpentry work.

"I think this is a good way to support the teachers and the staff," Streib said. "I think if we can give a little bit back to them ... they will continue to do a good job."

Outreach is not limited to North County, Wagner said. The church wants to work with as many schools as possible and is looking for more support from area churches and businesses. "It really unites the community," she said.

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