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Project Makeover Returns to Rawlings Elementary

Hundreds of University of Florida students spent the weekend with their hands splattered with paint and their knees in the dirt.

Students like Karina Fundora, a 19-year-old UF psychology sophomore, worked all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday to beautify Marjorie K. Rawlings Elementary School through art, landscaping and construction projects.Project Makeover, a student-run organization founded in 2008 that makes over an Alachua County school every year, coordinated the volunteer effort. Fundora said she volunteered because her mother is a teacher, and she wanted to give kids the chance to love school like she did growing up. She was volunteering with the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, along with about 80 other members. “A lot of people don’t like school when they’re little, so if we can make it a little bit better, make them at least want to come to school, I think that’s what’s important,” Fundora said. Groups of students were scattered across the campus working on murals of music conductors, music notes and musical instruments for the fine arts school. Students painted dance steps on the concrete of the outside courtyard for students to learn dances, such as the foxtrot. The project's manager, Brandon Peebles, bustled around the school with a clipboard and walkie-talkie in hand, directing groups of students to different areas that needed work. Peebles, a 22-year-old UF industrial and systems engineer senior, said the organization usually focuses on schools that are underprivileged. The organization works with the Alachua County School Board each year to identify schools that need work done, he said. Rawlings was the first school to be made over by the organization in 2008, but it was chosen this year because the 2008 murals had been painted over and the school was a blank slate again, Peebles said. “There’s a lot of schools that need things, but we’re just going to tackle one school at a time,” he said. Each year, the school chosen to be made over picks a “dream project.” Because Rawlings is a school for fine arts, administrators requested a music wall. Students built a 4-foot-tall picket fence on wheels that holds objects, such as pots and a washboard, students can use to make music. Rawlings Elementary Principal Daniel Burney said the wall was requested to give students the opportunity to engage with music during their free time. In total, the projects cost between $8,000 to $10,000, Peebles said. About $2,000 was spent on paint alone. The organization itself fundraises, but grants, such as $5,000 from Lowes, contributed greatly, Peebles said. Peebles said the art and landscaping projects completed over the weekend contribute to students’ attitudes toward school. “A lot of times kids don’t feel welcome, or they feel pressured or scared in an environment like this,” he said. “This makes things more exciting and welcoming to students.” Burney said he’s seen the effects of this project firsthand. He said if he had to pinpoint the largest effect it would be an increased level of academic engagement among students. “It creates a more authentic learning environment,” he said. “In general it gives students and faculty more pride in the campus.”

Alexandra is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing