The University of Arizona

Cats in the Community to Renovate the Wildcat School

By Rebecca Ruiz-McGill, March 5, 2010

Three hundred volunteers will work on the middle school campus on Saturday to provide renovations for the soon to be K-8 school that provides science and technology education to low-income students.

Three hundred volunteers will paint, build, garden and perform grounds work at the Wildcat School, a nonprofit middle school, during the annual University of Arizona Cats in the Community Day on Saturday.

UA faculty, staff, students and their families will work from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in three shifts on Saturday to paint the interior and exterior of the building including murals designed by UA graphic design students. They will also build picnic tables and benches, perform grounds work, create a sustainable garden and create covers for books and more.

Every year, the UA partners with a local nonprofit organization to do improvements to its facility during Cats in the Community Day. Cats in the Community day is a program of the UA Office of Community Relations.

The Wildcat School, a 501(c)(3) non-profit charter middle school associated with the UA was chosen as this year's Cats in the Community facility improvement project due to its recent relocation.

The school moved into its current location at 25 East Drachman on July 1 and was able to make the converted warehouse site into a more welcoming place for students through an initial donation by The Home Depot. The Home Depot donated paint and employee time to spruce up the school's new facilities before the students moved to the new location.

The initial painting helped but there were many areas in the school that needed attention and no funds were available to address them, said Lina Lusee director of the Wildcat School.

"The building had a lot of potential but it also had many challenges, and now thanks to the Cats in the Community event, those challenges will be taken care of," said Lusee.

The middle school is expanding to teach kindergarten through middle school aged children next year thanks to the contributions of Cats in the Community Day, Lusee said, as the volunteers will help renovate a building for the elementary school.

The Wildcat school, which focuses on math and science education, helps prepare its students, 95 percent of whom come from low-income families and most likely qualify for the Arizona Assurance program, to attend the UA. The UA's Arizona Assurance Program pays for college for undergraduates from families with an annual income of $42,400 or less.  

Lusee said she had no idea of the magnitude of the renovations possible through the Cats in the Community effort. "Watching the progress unfold, from initial discussion of needs to the final plans, I'm impressed. It will make a huge difference for these students. It will give them a sense of pride and ownership."  

"I can't wait until Monday to capture the look on our student's faces. We are so grateful for the volunteers and their time," she added.

Holly Altman, director of outreach and community partnerships in the Office of Community Relations, said the school was chosen for its commitment to an underserved community and its efforts to provide a gateway to the UA.

Through its collaboration with UA, students at the Wildcat School have access to science and research resources at the UA campus, and Wildcat School faculty work with UA College of Education graduate students who help with curriculum planning and teaching skills.

Altman said the day provides UA community members with a chance to give back to the community, while learning about pressing local needs and creating a sense of UA team spirit. She said the program would not be possible without the contributions of several sponsors including the Marshall Foundation, Dunn Edwards Paints, Long Reality Cares Foundation, State Farm Insurance and Universal Wallboard Corporation.

Last year, Cats in the Community Day partnered with Tucson Urban League's Project YES, an after-school youth tutoring and mentoring facility in South Tucson. The year before, volunteers worked with the Primavera Foundation, which fights poverty and homelessness.