Community members gather to beautify, revitalize Hamilton County Schools ahead of the first day of school

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Academic coach Laura Sport pulls weeds in a garden area at Rivermont Elementary School on Saturday, July 29, 2023.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Academic coach Laura Sport pulls weeds in a garden area at Rivermont Elementary School on Saturday, July 29, 2023.

As Kristen Laramore pulled back weeds that had overgrown during the summer from the garden beds at Rivermont Elementary School, she uncovered a strawberry patch that students had planted last spring.

Laramore, a parent of an incoming kindergartener at Rivermont, left the strawberries behind, ready for the school's garden club to pick when they come back in two weeks.

"I feel like kids will be excited to pick the actual fruits of their labor," she said.

Across Hamilton County on Saturday, community members helped spruce up around 30 school campuses as part of a districtwide service day ahead of the new school year. Projects included painting, organizing classrooms, landscaping and pressure washing.

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At Rivermont, weeding and beautifying the garden, a center point on campus that children regularly walk past, was the largest project, but other volunteers also helped pressure wash sidewalks, trim bushes and paint parts of the building's interior.

For Laura Sport, an academic coach who has worked at Rivermont for five years, investing in the school in that way is part of ensuring it continues to thrive and be well-respected. Each morning after the Pledge of Allegiance, students say a mantra about their commitments for the day.

"One of the pieces of our chant is respect. We also talk about how that also means your things, this school, this building and this campus," Sport said. "We're trying to set a good example. We don't want them to come back and then say, 'They don't care about our school. Why should I care about my classroom?'"

Volunteers could pick which school or project they wanted to help with, whether it was pressure washing the signs at Brainerd High School, painting the concessions stand at Hunter Middle School or building a fence at Normal Park Museum Magnet School.

Up the road at nearby Alpine Crest Elementary School, Principal Shelly Jackson had asked for 10 volunteers. More than 30 showed up.

"The community support here: I've never seen anything like it," Jackson said. "It helps everyone. It's not just for our school community. It's for our whole community, and so it makes a big difference when you have everyone involved."

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Parents and other members of the community helped spread mulch across the playground, paint bathrooms and doors, and stain picnic tables as well as other set-up for the forest kindergarten class starting this fall.

"If we don't reinvest in it, nobody's going to," said Joshua Ewing, a parent of two students at Alpine Crest who said he and his wife try to go to as many of the service days as possible. "It's part of our community responsibility, civic duties, to come out here and do it. So many people complain, but they don't come to the meetings. They don't come to the workdays. Talk is cheap."

Both Sport and Jackson emphasized the effect this work would have on teachers.

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"None of this would happen with just me or just the teachers. They're trying to get ready to plan and to be prepared on their first day back," Jackson said. "Knowing that this is one less thing that they have to worry about, it puts them at ease and gives them a little bit of peace to start the year."

Contact Shannon Coan at or 423-757-6396.

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