1,500 volunteers descended on Ocala Middle School in San Jose Friday to perform a massive makeover of the school’s buildings and outdoor facilities.
One volunteer, 22-year old Herman Grewal, had special feelings about the project because he grew up in the working class neighborhood.
“I was seeing progressively less and less resources directed to the schools,” said Grewal as he helped roll out new sod onto a playing field.
“Things like books and computer labs were decreasing and the schools here were getting gray and lifeless,” Grewal pointed out. “It is something that you see in many public schools, but magnified in east San Jose.”
The two-day makeover is designed to change that at Ocala.
The project was initiated by the Alum Rock School District and fueled by money, materials and labor from San Jose, community groups and Silicon Valley tech company Nvidia totaling about $1 million.
“This is families: people of different disciplines, different communities. And we’re all here for the same purpose,”said Nvidia co-founder Chris Malachowsky as he pushed a wheelbarrow of dirt.
The project goal is not just beautification.
A representative from education nonprofit City Year pointed out Ocala feeds into a high school with the highest dropout rate in San Jose.
“Revitalizing a space is fundamental to encouraging kids to come to school and stay in school,” said City Year Executive Director Toni Burke.
Ocala Principal Oscar Leon agrees.
“We have to understand that if we don’t reach them [students], they can easily be reached by gangs and different groups” Leon said.
Alum Rock Board President Dolores Marquez was almost giddy watching crews set up heavy lighting equipment and rolling out yards and yards of sod.
“We’re doing a whole field for soccer, football and little league for the whole community to come to use!” Marquez exclaimed. “It’s just an awesome, awesome thing that’s going on here today.”
The makeover will wrap up Saturday and students will see their new school Monday.
“I think it’ll be almost a shock to them,” said Grewal with a smile. “They’re so used to being overlooked.”