Volunteers rally to help Takoma EC community relocate to Meyer Elementary
January 12, 2011
As the last of the volunteers left the former Meyer Elementary School on Sunday, Principal Rikki Taylor sank into an office chair and breathed a sigh of relief.
It had been a difficult winter break, both emotionally and physically. Her school, Takoma Education Campus, had been destroyed by fire on Dec. 22. And Meyer, the site chosen as the temporary location for Takoma, had been closed for two years and lacked the essentials to house and educate her students.
It would take a massive effort to get the building ready in time for school opening on Jan. 3.
But after six days of around-the-clock work, 43 classrooms were stocked, hallways gleamed and the kitchen was ready to serve all of Principal Taylor’s 328 students.
“I feel like a miracle happened,” Taylor said.
DCPS and Takoma EC officials chose Meyer as the temporary relocation site for Takoma on Dec. 28. The 50-year-old building met school system priorities: It could immediately accommodate the entire student body; the school was in relatively good condition and required work that could be completed in time for school opening on Jan. 3; and it would pose no disruptions to other schools.
But the school needed work. There was no heat, no running water, no kitchen equipment, no phones. Classrooms lacked desks, whiteboards, textbooks and supplies. The office needed copiers and other essential materials. And the entire school, closed in 2008 for under-enrollment, needed a floor-to-ceiling cleaning, landscaping and the simple decorative touches that make a school feel like a school.
From Dec. 28 until Jan. 2, crews from Keystone Construction Services Inc. and subcontractors worked day and night on major renovations and remodeling.
A small army of volunteers, including parents, Takoma school staff, community members, educators from other DC public schools and DCPS employees, pitched in scrubbing lockers and desks, arranging classrooms and assembling furniture.
What equipment could be saved from the fire-ravaged Takoma Education Campus was brought over to Meyer for reuse. But more was needed and other DCPS schools stepped up by contributing desks, chairs, other furniture, materials and supplies. DC-area residents, alerted by community listservs, also responded, providing donations for more supplies and more manpower.
“Everybody pulled together. It was a real team effort,” said John Petersen, a school operations specialist in the DCPS Central Office who spearheaded logistics involved in the relocation. “It’s not only ready for students but also for student learning.”
Erika Caputo, a first-year librarian at Takoma Education Campus, said the fire posed several challenges for staff. Long-time teachers lost decades’ worth of materials. Newer teachers had reached the point in the school year where they were secure in their surroundings. And many teachers were out of town on winter break when the fire occurred.
“It’s like starting over,” she said.
But despite challenges, Caputo said she saw some encouraging bright spots in the move.
“It’s really great, really cool that we’re not splitting up,” she said. “It makes a difficult year a lot more manageable. It’s also exciting that everyone came together and did this.”
Shavonne Gibson, upper school principal at The Arts and Technology Academy Public Charter School in the District, joined the cleanup effort after learning about the fire and the need for volunteers.
“When anything like this happens, the community has to come together so the kids have as much continuity as possible,” Gibson said. “I am definitely amazed at how much work got done.”
Nicole Nesper, a pre-K inclusion teacher at Takoma, was skiing in Utah when she heard her school experienced a fire. She initially thought damage wouldn't be that bad, but she logged onto the Internet and saw photos of flames advancing just below her classroom windows.
When she entered her classroom at Meyer on Saturday, five volunteers were inside arranging her classroom.
“They set it up almost exactly like it was before,” she said. “I was impressed.”
Kate Sweeney, librarian at Maury Elementary School, visited Meyer on Sunday to help Caputo set up her library. Books in the Takoma EC library were spared from the fire and moved to Meyer, but had to be sorted and arranged properly on shelves. As a librarian, Sweeney knows that can be a difficult task.
“This is like my worst nightmare. I would be having a meltdown right now if that happened to my school,” she said. “I know how hard it is to assemble a library, pack it up and move it over break. I couldn’t imagine anything worse.”
But what seemed like a nightmare over winter break became Principal Taylor’s miracle when school resumed on Monday.
When students arrived by bus at the Takoma at Meyer (the school’s new name) Monday morning, they were greeted by teachers, volunteers, balloons, a hot breakfast and a high-five from Principal Taylor.
“It doesn’t matter whether we’re here at Meyer or at Takoma,” Taylor told a TV news reporter as the buses pulled up in front of the school. “Takoma is in the heart.”
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