By Casey Hans
When Gerald Vazquez took the helm at Scarlett Middle School earlier this year, his plan was to watch, observe and get to know the school community as he considered what changes to make.
He’s started to make his move, and a group of student leaders from the New Life Church on the University of Michigan campus pitched in over a recent weekend with a community service project to help the effort.
About 25 members of the church’s youth Leadership Training Program were on hand to move desks and file cabinets as Vazquez restructures some classroom locations. They also pulled weeds along the building’s front entrance. Paint did not arrive as expected, so that may be saved for another day, Vazquez said.
“I wanted to change things up to benefit the kids,” said the new principal, as he gave the college students some background about himself and told them about the tasks at hand. Vazquez grew up in Southwest Detroit and also worked in that neighborhood as a truant officer and middle school and high school principal for the Detroit Public Schools before coming to Ann Arbor in January. He is a U-M graduate who has stayed living in this area since college and also belongs to New Life Church.
“We always receive more than we give, when you have the opportunity to serve in our community,” he told the students about their afternoon of volunteer work.
In past years, students from New Life have had intensive community partnerships with Vazquez at his schools in Detroit. He said he hopes he can build a similar partnership at Scarlett, possibly having the college students serve as mentors for middle school students in the fall.
Kevin Armstrong is on staff at the church and helps direct the summer Leadership Training Program. There are more than 100 students in the program, with most from U-M and some from Eastern Michigan University. “These 25 decided on their day off they wanted to come clean up at the school,” he said. “A lot of it is our relationship with Gerald. We just really believe in him and want to get behind him with whatever he does and help make it successful.”
Sam Rodriguez is a fifth-year senior studying movement science in the U-M School of Kinesiology. “It’s been something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” she said of the leadership program.
Becky Thiel, who is attending U-M to become a teacher, said students volunteered for the workday at Scarlett. She said such community projects and the leadership program bring out the best in students. “You work and live and grow in character,” she said.
A video highlights the recent workday at Scarlett: