Giving an inner-city school some TLC: “Giving back” feels really great

My first visit to Crockett Elementary shocked me. Nestled within a Phoenix neighborhood punctuated by barbed wire and window bars, the school reminded me of a prison. The beautiful spirit of the students seemed overshadowed by wall to wall grey cinder block. My first thought: We can really make a difference here.

As president of the Communication Graduate Student Association at ASU, I agreed to rally our troops, raise funds and commit to helping with two big projects at Crockett. First, we* would design some sort of mural to cover up a section of the ugly unfinished brick. Second, we would figure out a way to turn the surplus supply closet (and that’s being kind) into a Teacher’s Resource Room.

I’ll spare you the boring details of driving around, soliciting donations, ordering food, gathering volunteers and praying/dreaming/hoping everything would come together, and show you the genius…

* And by “we,” I mean Dr. Karen Stewart, a resident artistic genius who happens to be an instructor in our department.

Crockett Elementary is part of a tiny school district in downtown Phoenix.
Crockett is a Title I school that serves a large population of homeless youth and African refugees.
We thought a mural would look great here.
The teachers accumulated a lot of resources, but didn’t have the time/people power to organize.
An organizer’s dream… or nightmare.
I admit, I expected to find dead things hiding in the piles.
Karen Stewart, our fabulous mural mastermind, is pictured here in red. She created six kid-friendly scenes for us to paint-by-number. Karen will paint the Crockett name in the far-left panel.
We had hoped to get our mural supplies donated, but local businesses were surprisingly unable to help. The exception being Dunne Edwards in Mesa. Many thanks to the manager, Gerald, who gave us three gallons of paint.
Belle Edson, the woman who got us involved with the project, brought her 94-year-old father to help paint. Our youngest volunteer was 5-year-old Quinn.
The first step to organize the room was to clear it out.
It took an hour to empty the room of textbooks, education games, and tons of binders.
Nearly 60 people affiliated with the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication helped out including primers, mural outliners, painters and organizers. Not to mention all of the wonderful folks who donated funds and supplies!
In fact, we raised nearly $1,000 for the project and gratefully accepted $400 in funding from ASU’s Graduate Professional Student Association.
I admit, I truly enjoyed organizing this room. The textbooks offered a trip down memory lane!
Piles, piles, piles.
My lovely friends!
See, grad school can be fun. If only dissertations were this colorful and happy.
The Hugh Downs School has the most talented grad students.
And professors!
I enjoyed seeing the mural come to life with color.
Ooo, seeing this room empty out felt nice.
Getting paint at Home Depot was quite an experience–they thought our Crayola box paint choices were nuts.
Happily, we had many capable volunteers putting together shelves.
Cactus Land!
I wonder how often the Crockett kids get to the mountains.
One of the things I love about our department at ASU is working side-by-side with professors.
Clearing out stacks of old books was really cathartic. Maybe it should be required at the end of every semester.
Tara, the best volunteer on the planet!
The shelves never seemed to end and I wasn’t even putting them together.
We were lucky to have so many volunteers from the AHC, our undergraduate communication association.


Really cool kids!


Cactus Land friends.
Good people.
Only a few hours of work made such a difference!
Our AHC friends made the ugliest cabinet ever.
Team organize!
The man in the middle wearing red is Josh. He’s a PE teacher at Crockett and he got the project going. Thank you Josh!
We made the AHC take the ugly shelf as their mascot.
Look at that room!!
The front room is English/Reading Arts/Social Studies.
Gino is securing shelves in the Math/Science room.
Oh look at that orderly-ness.
Organize-gasm. Yes, I said it.
I adore projects that can get done in a day.
How cute are these bears?


The bumblebees compete with the outer space scene as my favorite.


Our artist, Karen, will go back and touch up the black lines in coming weeks and fill in the white thought bubbles with Crockett’s focus words (things like “respect” and “responsibility”).
Cactus Land!
So, I love the fishies, too.
86-feet of cool, right? Only thousands more square-feet of bare brick to cover. We plan to go back in the fall and do another section of wall. If anyone wants to donate primer or paint, email me! Bluestmuse(at)gmail(dot)com.

A huge thank you to everyone who donated time, talent, money and positive energy toward our project! As the Crockett principal wrote in his thank you email to me this morning: You Matter.


P/S If you’re a Phoenix local, consider working/volunteering with Crockett Elementary. They can use lots of help!

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