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Volunteer college students transform drab McKee Elementary in Jeannette

Jacob Tierney
| Saturday, April 16, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Cal U student Brittany Piper of Fredericktown and Slippery Rock student Alyssa Rosencrance of Glenshaw paint walls while participating in the Outreach to Teach event, where volunteers came together in an effort to 'brighten up' the environment at Jeannette McKee Elementary School in Jeannette on Saturday, April 16, 2016.
Brian F. Henry | For The Tribune-Review
Cal U student Brittany Piper of Fredericktown and Slippery Rock student Alyssa Rosencrance of Glenshaw paint walls while participating in the Outreach to Teach event, where volunteers came together in an effort to 'brighten up' the environment at Jeannette McKee Elementary School in Jeannette on Saturday, April 16, 2016.
Seton Hill University student, Meaghan Sherer of Vero Beach, Fla., paints a mural of the Jeannette Jayhawk onto one of the walls at Jeannette McKee Elementary School in Jeannette on Saturday, April 16, 2016.
Brian F. Henry | For The Tribune-Review
Seton Hill University student, Meaghan Sherer of Vero Beach, Fla., paints a mural of the Jeannette Jayhawk onto one of the walls at Jeannette McKee Elementary School in Jeannette on Saturday, April 16, 2016.
Jane Hoch of Ligonier, secretary of the Education Department at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, traces a projection of the women's bathroom symbol onto a wall at Jeannette McKee Elementary School in Jeannette on Saturday, April 16, 2016. Hoch was one of many volunteers who came together in an effort to 'brighten up' the school during an annual day of service.
Brian F. Henry | For The Tribune-Review
Jane Hoch of Ligonier, secretary of the Education Department at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, traces a projection of the women's bathroom symbol onto a wall at Jeannette McKee Elementary School in Jeannette on Saturday, April 16, 2016. Hoch was one of many volunteers who came together in an effort to 'brighten up' the school during an annual day of service.
Alex Toras of Upper St. Clair, Kayla Gery of Burgettstown and Autumn Trembow of New Egypt, NJ, all juniors at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, participate in the 'Outreach to Teach' event, where volunteers came together in an effort to 'brighten up' the environment at Jeannette McKee Elementary School in Jeannette on Saturday, April 16, 2016.
Brian F. Henry | For The Tribune-Review
Alex Toras of Upper St. Clair, Kayla Gery of Burgettstown and Autumn Trembow of New Egypt, NJ, all juniors at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, participate in the 'Outreach to Teach' event, where volunteers came together in an effort to 'brighten up' the environment at Jeannette McKee Elementary School in Jeannette on Saturday, April 16, 2016.

One day is all it took for 150 volunteers from nine colleges to transform Jeannette's McKee Elementary School.

Once-drab walls all over the school now are vibrant with murals and inspirational quotes. The faded pillars outside have been brightened with yellow paint. And new furniture and fridges have been added to the teachers' lounges to make their relaxation time a little more enjoyable.

“This building really hasn't changed in 20 years,” said Matt Jones, principal of Jeannette Middle School, as he took a stack of pizzas inside to feed the hungry volunteers. “Now everywhere you look there's color.”

Saturday's Outreach to Teach effort was organized by the Southwestern Region of the Student Pennsylvania State Education Association, or SPSEA.

The association has organized similar initiatives, but this is the first time a regional chapter has taken on a project of this scope, said chapter president Bryan Edwards, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.

Edwards spent more than a year planning it.

“It's a lot of work, but it's really rewarding, and I can't express how happy I am,” he said.

McKee Elementary School was selected because it is in a low-income district that can't afford many nonessential improvements. There were more than 30 individual projects within the school going on Saturday, most of which involved painting walls to bring some much-needed color.

“A lot of people said it looks kind of like a hospital walking through here,” Edwards said.

That quickly changed once the students got to work.

“It looks completely different to how it did when I walked through here last night,” said Shelby Pepmeyer, a junior at Clarion University of Pennsylvania and president-elect of the statewide SPSEA.

“It's definitely been crazy, but everyone's been working so fast, so hard. Everything's getting done,” she said.

The student volunteers created a parent resource center in the school. The computers and printers there can be used by parents who might not have Internet access to check any online announcements or posts teachers make regarding their children's classwork.

Students raised almost $30,000 in grant money for the project.

For many of the volunteers, McKee Elementary School was the perfect place to make a difference. They're studying education and spent time there getting on-the-job training.

“We've all been here before, and all know the school, and we wanted to make an impact in this community that we've spent so much time in,” said Stephen Barnhart Jr., a student at Seton Hill University.

Stacie Krusper, a junior at Carlow University, said she grew up in Jeannette and wanted to make a difference in her hometown.

“It will be cool to see it, after it's done, and say, ‘Oh, I helped,' ” she said.

The SPSEA also acquired playground equipment that will be installed at the school another day.

The work was done in semi-secrecy. Only administrators and a few teachers and staff members were informed of the project.

“I can't wait to see their faces,” kindergarten teacher Sandy Shaw said.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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