After she left Red Bank High School late Friday evening, Deb Weiss' restless mind was racing.
"I couldn't sleep. I was as excited about this as I am about the first day of school," she said.
Weiss, a Red Bank teacher for nine years, was up bright and early for the Saturday morning kickoff of "Be a Part of the Pride," a multiphase communitywide effort to spruce up the high school campus.
As students, teachers and community members began scraping, painting and cleaning the school, Weiss thought not only about how the work would brighten up the school, but the message it would send to Red Bank students.
"This says to them that the community supports us," she said. "It gives them pride of ownership. They're going to be the greatest watchdogs of this project."
The Red Bank project was modeled after similar makeover efforts at Normal Park Museum Magnet School's upper and lower campuses, though Red Bank's work is more cosmetic and less intensive.
Elaine Harper, a former Red Bank teacher who has a ninth-grader starting there next month, was busy overseeing workers in one of about 45 classrooms getting makeovers. She persuaded her husband to take on the project after they worked on Normal Park's remodels and saw the benefits of community involvement.
"We just saw what a great process it was for getting the community into the school. It built a lot of excitement and pride. And we wanted that for Red Bank," Harper said.
The effort has relied on cash, time and material contributions from area businesses and residents. So far, the group has raised about $50,000, though eventually organizers hope to put about $150,000 into campus upgrades. Groups or individuals were able to adopt a classroom for a $2,000 donation.
Kristy Fairchild, with Live It! Realty, adopted an upstairs classroom. Her ninth-grade son is entering Red Bank after attending Normal Park, where they helped in renovations.
"We had already seen the difference that giving a school a face-lift could make. It changes the dynamic and gives it a new energy," she said. "We knew it was possible that once you put the plea out, the community responds."
And as a Realtor, she said she recognizes the value of successful schools.
We know that strong schools build strong communities," she said.
Organizers said about two-thirds of Red Bank's teachers will be participating in some way throughout the weeklong project. On Saturday morning, dozens of students pitched in with painting and outdoor cleanup. Some students have centered senior capstone projects around the makeover project, while students council members will dedicate the week to updating the faculty lounge.
Destiny Prince, an upcoming senior, said the school's faded paint and mishmash furnishings needed an upgrade, especially with the new Red Bank Middle School opening up just steps behind the high school campus in 2013.
"I think it's a huge thing, especially it being my senior year. And it's really important with the middle school coming up right behind us," Prince said. "It definitely needed something to brighten it up."