When I was the home-parent raising our three children, I heard a parable that was hugely helpful to me. It goes like this:
A person walks by a house where a parent is painting the exterior walls, accompanied by a small child. The child is smearing paint unevenly, getting both walls and child very messy. The passerby says jovially to the parent, "I bet you could get that job done faster if you had better help!" The parent says, "Thanks, but I'm not painting a house, I'm raising a child."
I thought of that story on Saturday, when I spent the morning weeding at Roosevelt High School, alongside about 1,000 volunteers who had signed up from Southlake Church in Lake Oswego, and the North Portland community, to help clean up the grounds and buildings. The job as posted was getting the school in great shape inside and out before the start of the school year. The church has led this service project for several years. Pastor Kip Jacob (L) and Music Director Wilson Smith (R) organized and participated in the transformation.
But the real work of the project isn't cleaning a school building, it's supporting the Roosevelt High School community. On both jobs, a spectacular success.
I've helped on this cleanup several times before, as noted by Steve Duin in the Oregonian. My particular specialty is weeding flower beds, tree wells, and those annoying grasses that spring up in cracks in asphalt/concrete walkways. I was working on the latter when another volunteer walked by and said, "Attending to the details - nice! It makes a difference." True to type, even in volunteer work, I thought to myself.
One of the great things about the way this clean-up works is that everyone looks around and pitches in doing whatever is needed. So folks weeding leave the weeds in piles on the walkway, and someone comes by and takes the weeds to the dumpster in a wheelbarrow, and they disappear as if by magic. And then someone else appears with barkdust dumped on the flower bed, and yet another person with a rake shows up and gets it spread out. All this happens without anyone saying, "Hey, these weeds need to be taken away" or "I need barkdust here, please!"
Three hours later, the grounds are pristine, the building is repainted, the whole place looks like people care about it. As they do. I particularly liked going back to a treewell I'd weeded, to see not only barkdust spread but also pine cones artfully decorating it, probably (but maybe not) by one of the many children present.
Southlake Church began supporting Roosevelt with just the grounds cleanup. Their volunteers expanded their assistance to help with mentoring students and attending sports games to cheer the Roughriders. The City of Portland helped RHS by providing $200,000 in a two million dollar project to renovate the sports fields and put artificial turf on the football field. The North Portland business and neighborhood community, with RHS alumni, came together to support the school in the stadium project.
Why does this matter, and why did the City dedicate scarce resources during the recession to something "optional" like a sports field? Well, for one thing, Measure 5 limits the direct funding local taxpayers are allowed to contribute to in-class teaching services, so we have to find other ways to provide additional support to our wonderful public schools - the City of Portland isn't allowed to buy additional teachers. And for another, leaders realize that most students don't wake up thinking, "Oh hooray, it's math today!" They are more likely to be motivated to go to school by the promise of a homecoming football game in the evening, in a state-of-the-art stadium that makes them look like the In Crowd to the visiting students. Especially when they know the bleachers will be full not only with parents and students, but also with the cheering throngs from their sponsor church, Southlake, and the North Portland community and other supporters -- like me.
Add in a dynamic Principal, Charlene Williams, and wonderful teachers, and the results prove the hypothesis was valid. Over 86% of Roosevelt seniors graduated in 2011. Nearly 150 went on to college, many with scholarships. The 2010 freshman class was 160 students. Enrollment for fall 2011 is already over 250. Roosevelt is on the rise, thanks to the Principal, teachers, students families, faith-based and community volunteers, and support from the City of Portland.