By Ben Walker

The CSX Transportation Civic Engagement Team is engaged in City Year’s oldest and original form of service: on-the-ground, get-your-hands-dirty, community service. Before City Year narrowed its focus on edication, it was engaged in community service projects across the country and world. In the past, the Civic Engagement Team focused on helping other community partners complete projects. In the current age, Civic Engagement is led by a program manager empowering a group of six senior AmeriCorps members to envision and create multiple projects to enhance a school’s environment.

Ketcham Elementary, located in Southeast Washington, DC, was the site for City Year Washington, DC’s work on DCPS Beautification Day. Led by principal Maisha Riddlesprigger, Ketcham has achieved significant gains in academics and overall school climate. The largest academic gains are in math, with DC CAS scores increasing by double digits. Riddlesprigger also identified and found solutions to some of the school’s biggest problems including food insecurity and the fears of the school’s homeless students. To address the problem of food insecurity, Riddlesprigger created a once-a-month food bank at the school. To address homelessness, Riddlesprigger realized the biggest problem facing her students is often a lack of consistency. She made this a priority, and created a place of consistency where her students feel safe.

Transformative service was completed throughout Ketcham Elementary helping not only to beautify, but also to enrich the environment. More than 70 volunteers worked for more than three hours at the upper and lower elementary school playgrounds far exceeding our expectations for the project. Enhanced through the creation of new four square courts, new hopscotch games, a counting caterpillar and inspirational murals, the playgrounds will serve as a wonderful place for students to engage in activities that would normally be presented in the classroom. Volunteers were also instrumental in implementing a new positive behavior incentive system for the school, and helped create consistency through designated class line positions. Finally, participants made sandwiches for Martha’s Table to help address food insecurity in DC.

Ben Walker, author, is a senior AmeriCorps member serving on the CSx Transportation Civic Engagement Team.

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