For the MLK Day of Service, I went with a group of students to help with various projects at the Malcolm X Elementary School in DC. This school is located in a lower income area of DC, and even though the kids had school off I noticed stark differences in the resources this school has versus some of the public schools in wealthier areas. Before I point those out, I would like to mention how much pride in this school I observed, especially in the principal who welcomed us. From looking at the displays of student artwork and projects and empowering murals on the walls, it was easy to see the passion the faculty and staff have for their work. Our job was to start cleaning out some storage rooms and classrooms, something we did not fully accomplish in the few hours we were there. It seemed these rooms had been building up with unused class materials and other storage items for quite some time. Our tasks made me think about why our presence there was needed. From what I recall, we never had anyone volunteer like this at my school back home, and I doubt this is necessary at the wealthier schools in Maryland and Virginia, just across the river. My guess is that the school is underfunded, and can't afford enough janitorial staff to tackle some of these projects because they are (wisely) using their limited resources to give their students every opportunity they can. I noticed from the pictures in the hallway that there were far more students in each classroom than in the classrooms I had grown up with, and I can't imagine how busy each teacher is. Funding for public schools is often based off the property taxes of a certain area, something I have always felt is ridiculous: shouldn't every child be given the same education in the public school system, regardless of their parent's socioeconomic statuses? While these schools are filled with passion filled teachers, it is still necessary for the government to provide adequate funding for the schools to function properly and allow those teachers to put all their focus in helping kids learn, not to mention funding after school programs that help kids further develop their physical and mental abilities. Inadequate funding furthers the cycle of poverty, and limits the opportunities of children right from the beginning. I have a great respect for the staff at Malcolm X and I hope our efforts helped, even in a very small way, to make their jobs easier.
The swim team volunteered at DC Greens, a community garden organization that donates their produced to underfunded schools in the DC area. We worked organizing and tending the garden, and helping them prepare for their upcoming move to a bigger site. This organization has a multifaceted impact on both the environment and the surrounding community. Locally grown products are more environmentally friendly, because they use less fuel to transport, and DC Greens's innovative urban farming format sets an example of how unused space in cities can be utilized. Their practice of donating their produce to schools in the DC area helps the physical nutrition of children who may not normally have access to it as well as building healthy habits they can take with them the rest of their lives. This really made me think about how inequality manifests itself in our society. As someone who grew up in a privileged position, I have always taken having fresh produce for granted. For many families, proper nutrition isn't an option, and so many people go without it for most of their lives putting themselves at great health risks (and the way healthcare is in America doesn't do them any favors either). The need for a organization like this one also highlights inequality in the public school system. I appreciate what DC Greens is doing not only to provide immediate assistance, but also to advocate for change in the system.
For the Freshman Day of Service, we volunteered at the Anacostia Watershed Society at a river site where they have installed trash collectors to stop trash from going further into the river. When we got there, at just this one site of many, the collector was almost overflowing, and there was trash that had made it through the collector and was on the riverbanks. At first we assumed, because of the sheer amount of trash, that cleaning out the collector was something they did weekly, or even monthly, but our guide told us that this is something they did multiple times a week. This illustrated the scope of the problem this organization is trying to remedy, and really put the work that we were doing in perspective. The work itself was not glamorous; it had rained that day, making it very muddy and the trash we were picking up even more disgusting, but I could see how necessary this is to the preservation of our environment and healthy locally. I greatly respect the work this organization does, but it also helped to highlight the failures in our policy that allow trash and pollution to cloud our rivers. Organizations like the Anacostia Watershed Society can only do so much. There has been legislation passed recently that makes me hopeful for change, such as laws limiting plastic bags in DC areas and a ban on Styrofoam food containers. The Anacostia Watershed Society has been tracking how much of these they pick up in their collectors to assess the effectiveness of that legislation.