A center for elementary and secondary students with disabilities will be transformed this weekend by 1,500 volunteers and 10 local sponsors.
Courtney Miller, a 22-year-old UF psychology senior and Project Makeover executive director, said the project will run Feb. 21 to Feb. 23. from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day. The improvements include cleaning, organizing, landscaping and painting murals.
“We are currently the only center in our district that specifically serves students with cognitive disabilities,” said Denise Schultz, the principal of Sidney Lanier. “Cognitive disabilities stem from varying medical conditions that basically make them unable to perform as well as their peers.”
Schultz said students at Sidney Lanier range in age from 3 to 22.
“Traditional and artistic learning is available through more targeted hands-on therapies, while the transitional learning is designed to help older students move into ‘the working world,’” Schultz said.
For the center, Project Makeover created a special “dream project” that will feature a media station for pre-K students that facilitates hands-on learning. The station includes interactive puzzles and models to teach young students the proper way to brush their teeth and wash their hands.
Since its first transformation project with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Elementary School in 2008, Project Makeover has worked to renovate schools in Gainesville and around north central Florida. Each spring its members have focused on a different school. Williams, Lake Forest, Duval, Chester Shell and Idylwild Elementary Schools have benefited from the organization’s efforts, according to its website.
Bridget Conroy, a 20-year-old UF family youth and sciences junior, said she learned about Project Makeover through Idylwild Elementary, where her mom is a teacher. After seeing the Idylwild students’ reactions to the organization’s contributions, Conroy said she decided to get involved. She is now an art captain for the organization.
“You see the school go from completely plain to filled with a lot of colors,” Conroy said. “Everyone knows we are making a huge difference.”
Project Makeover also plans to plant two new gardens and update the landscaping at Sidney Lanier. One of the gardens will be a “sensory garden,” which would feature plants of various colors, scents and textures that can be easily identified by the students.
Schultz said that she is very grateful for the help the center will receive because the additions will aid in stimulating students of all grade levels. She said she isn’t surprised by the amount of help the community is contributing to the project.
“Having been in Gainesville as long as I have, this hasn’t changed my opinion of the community so much as it has validated it,” she said. “We have an awesome community that is willing to come out on the weekend and help bring better education to our kids.”