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With the first day of classes less than a month away, D.C. Public Schools has started a campaign to match schools with local sponsors.

Called “Adopt-a-School,” the program replaces the decade-old “Beautification Day” that helped prepare school facilities for the academic year. The annual clean-up day was usually held on the weekend before the start of classes: Parents, community organizations, and other volunteers used to repaint, repair, and retrofit schools in late August. Last year, roughly 5,000 people participated across the District’s 111 public schools, says Josephine Bias Robinson, DCPS’ chief of family and public engagement. But while school officials and residents appreciated Beautification Day, Robinson explains, they also recognized that schools would benefit from more-sustained support.

“There’s less of a need for parents and others to be slogging away at beautiful schools that are now modernized, or even ones that haven’t been modernized yet,” Robinson says of the decision to discontinue the yearly clean-up day. “We’ve created a new opportunity for local businesses, churches, and other organizations to have a more-deliberate, deeper relationship with schools.”

Coordinated by the DCPS School Partnerships Team, Adopt-a-School will match entities that apply for the program with individual schools based on student needs as well as shared interests. Robinson says the partnerships could manifest themselves in literacy events, donation drives, career fairs, mentorships, and other activities at specific times throughout the year. Applicants are required to submit a yearlong partnership plan and support at least three school-based events during the school year, in addition to attending meetings with the sponsored school and coordinating at least one donation drive. The School Partnerships Team will do the matching.

“I don’t want anyone to have the impression that the central office is telling the school or the partner what kind of partnership they have to have,” Robinson says. “The partners themselves would work out whatever financial resourcing for whatever programs they take on. Some would require only time, like classroom-reading events—there’s no set dollar amount we’ve asked for.”

Robinson adds that a successful program would look like every single school having a “signature partner” supporting them year-round. This, however, would not preclude a school from having multiple partners, or preclude parents from participating in the partnerships or their own events. In particular, Robinson explains, DCPS hopes that schools that haven’t traditionally garnered high-level support will benefit the most from the program and see better academic performance.

“We’re being responsive to what the schools need,” she says. “This is a community-wide effort.”

The first day of the 2015-16 academic school year is Aug. 24. Robinson says many Washington sports teams have already signed up to be part of the “inaugural group” of partners: the Capitals, the Wizards, D.C. United, and a certain football team whose future stadium’s location is still uncertain. By mid-September, she adds, the School Partnerships Team will review overall interest in the program and increase support accordingly to make matches.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery