BRANDYWINE – All day long, students passing by the library inside Brandywine Elementary School tried to sneak a peek inside to see the surprise renovation. In fact, on Jan. 13, the halls of Brandywine were buzzing with excitement as students watched the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell and County […]
BRANDYWINE – All day long, students passing by the library inside Brandywine Elementary School tried to sneak a peek inside to see the surprise renovation.
In fact, on Jan. 13, the halls of Brandywine were buzzing with excitement as students watched the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell and County Executive Rushern Baker, III slip into the newly renovated library that had its door windows covered to keep it a surprise.
“This is fantastic. Every time we go to one of these openings, it just reminds us of what our duties are and why we do what we do,” Baker said. “And it’s not so that we can have beautiful brick and mortar, which this is, not even for the books that are in here, because by themselves they can’t do anything. But what they do provide us is with an opportunity to peer into the future – to pour into these young minds an environment in which to dream and to study and to grow.”
The renovation of the school’s library was made possible through dozens of partnerships and the vision of The Heart of America Foundation, a national non-profit based in Washington, D.C. that focuses on creating state-of-the-art learning spaces and transforming bland and rundown spaces into “inspiring spaces” for students.
Jill Heath, the president and chief executive officer of The Heart of America Foundation, said the non-profit is a more than 15-year partner with PGCPS and the county government and has renovated more than 10 county school libraries including Thomas Stone Elementary, Seat Pleasant Elementary and Langley Park/McCormick Elementary.
“We know that learning happens on multiple levels. We know that students need the tools and resources that are very basic and rudimentary, but they also need to be in a space that feels comfortable and inspiring to them,” Heath said. “You can see this is an old school. It’s clean and it’s functional, but the students deserve an inspiring environment.”
A number of community partners, most particularly the local civic association, reached out to the foundation to consider Brandywine Elementary for renovation, and Heath said it found the school well supported with an “excellent team” of administrators, making it a perfect fit.
But the renovation didn’t happen overnight. The Heart of America started its partnership with the school nearly four months ago as it and the community planned out the new library space.
“We take their design inspiration and dreams and try to make it a reality for them,” Heath said.
The actual renovation took approximately three weeks with the work capped off the morning of Jan. 13 as volunteers arranged furniture and placed thousands of new books in the library’s shelves. Every student at the school also took home three of their own books as well.
As the clock neared 1 p.m., a line of students with their eyes closed were ushered into the library by their principal to see the renovated room for the first time. As they opened their eyes, a few covered their mouths in surprise as others ooh’d and ahh’d the brightly colored walls, new shiny floors and fun furniture.
They almost immediately ran for the beanbag chairs and excitedly talked amongst each other, pointing out new posters on the walls and various eye-catching changes.
“We’re talking about a space that has been transformed from a dreary kind of area to something bright and inviting. It’s more up-to-date, more modern,” said Brandywine Principal Teri Lee. “The kids are excited about this.”
Lee believes the library will create an “extreme sense of pride” for the students because “it’s beautiful,” but also because it shows that the community cares about them.
Some of those community members were alumni of the elementary school as well.
“It was a prideful moment for us as well,” said Renee Hall, assistant principal at Brandywine. “(We’re) just so excited that they came back to their elementary school and thought about us and the children here.”
On top of creating inspiring spaces for students and providing them with a path to literacy, Maxwell said The Heart of America Foundation also gives PGCPS a way to do small renovations without breaking the bank.
Throughout the partnership, Maxwell said, the foundation has also helped with bridging partnership with community organizations.
“We talk in our budget meetings about how challenged we are to do everything that we’re asked to do,” Maxwell said. “So the Heart of America Foundation has been doing at least a school a year for us. And doing these renovations and bringing business partners and folks together and giving us something that we really don’t have the resources to do ourselves.”
Shari Blohm, the PGCPS supervisor of library and media services, agreed with Maxwell and said the impact of the renovated libraries is “huge,” because she believes the renovation would not happen with The Heart of America.
“In the years that I’ve been working with them, it has been almost all make-overs, which is huge. So it means that we start with brand new books in the collection. We start with all new furniture. We get new floors. We get paint; we get the whole thing. It’s pretty astounding,” Blohm said.
During the ceremony last week, Heath and Lee talked about the project, how it came to fruition and unveiled the next project for the school: an outdoor learning area.
The students gathered cheered for the next step, which will also be completed through The Heart of America Foundation.
After a few more speeches, the ribbon cutting and posing for dozens of pictures, the students were finally able to explore the library as they darted from shelf to shelf, picking out which book to read first.
“My role here isn’t to say a hundred million words, its just to say ‘thank you,’ and I can’t thank the business partners (enough),” Maxwell said.