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Alabama Residential Program Gets Classroom Makeover

AFT Alabama, along with 60 teachers, students, community leaders and corporate partners, came to Mobile on Jan. 22 to give an "Extreme Classroom Makeover" to the library/media center at St. Mary's Home, a residential program that serves Alabama's most vulnerable schoolchildren in an area economically devastated by last year's oil spill disaster.

For more than 130 years, St. Mary's Home has supported and educated orphans and abandoned children, many of whom have developed severe behavioral and emotional problems due to unstable home lives. The library/media center primarily serves as a classroom and social space for the students. Extreme Classroom Makeover volunteers and designers spruced up the space, which had been in poor condition for years, with a fresh coat of paint, new computers, a computerized "smart board," student and teacher desks and chairs, carpeting, artwork and sorely needed new textbooks.

Seventy percent of the school's funding comes from the state public school education trust fund, which has been severely depleted due to the downturn in tourism caused by the BP oil spill in 2010. For the past three years, an absence of state funding for classroom materials has forced students and teachers at the school to make do with outdated textbooks and inadequate classroom supplies.

"Things were already tough here, and the oil spill just made things worse," says Vi Parramore, president of the Jefferson County AFT. "The Extreme Classroom Makeover is our way of trying to help this school as it has helped so many children in the Gulf region."

Birmingham Federation of Teachers president Richard Franklin says the project was the community's way of giving back. "This is our way of saying thank you for all that the staff has done to improve the lives of so many young people."

AFT Alabama spearheaded the renovation of the library/media center at St. Mary's Home with the help of contributions from many individuals and organizations, including Barnes & Noble, A Winning Streak Soccer & Awards, Academy Sports, Adventure Travel, Bruce Office Supply, Herring Equipment, Southwest Alabama Labor Council AFL-CIO, United Way of Southwest Alabama, AFL-CIO Community Services/United Way, students and staff from Wenonah High School, Tek Links, AT&T Technologies, CWA Local 3907, Long's Electronics, and Financial Matters.

The Extreme Classroom Makeover project was started by the Jefferson County AFT in 2003. The American Federation of Teachers made it a national program in 2006, providing grants to local affiliates in such places as New Orleans, Baltimore and Chicago. [AFT press release]

January 22, 2011