Happier Schools = Higher Performing Schools: How Elevate to Educate is Making a Difference in Hampton Roads

posted by on

Summer: It’s a time to relax, take a break, and — in the case of Junior League of Norfolk-Virginia Beach — make a BIG difference for a not-so-Little school.

Over the course of Aug. 9-11, more than 300 volunteers came together for the first ever Elevate to Educate Makeover Weekend. Inspired by last year’s Project Makeover Hampton Roads, Elevate to Educate is a community initiative whose purpose is to improve the learning environment for elementary students in Hampton Roads. This year, JLNVB partnered with Little Creek Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia for this one-of-a-kind school makeover, fulfilling the school’s repair-and-beautification wish list and providing students with a positive space to pursue their education.

In just 2.5 days, JLNVB with the support of the Hampton Roads community made a impact for more than 700 students at Little Creek Elementary. The results of our makeover weekend were as follows:

  • 2,115 direct service hours completed by volunteers — 845 of which came directly from JLNVB members!
  • Painting and mounting more than 75 murals across three school buildings;
  • Updating 8 bathrooms with a total of 30 stalls, each with a positive message hand- painted on the stall doors
  • Repainting and adding bright pops of color to the school’s breezeway and both of the school’s media centers/libraries
  • Adding 42 teacher’s mailboxes to the school’s classrooms
  • Cleaning and painting the school’s playground structure
  • Building and staining 17 pallet benches to create an outdoor classroom
  • Digging, painting, and placing 10 posts to serve as safety markers for students playing in the field near Little Creek Road
  • Creating 6 different asphalt games outside the school gym for students to play on
  • Painting all the outdoor trash cans on the school grounds; and   
  • Completely rehabilitating all 12 basketball backboards and poles on the school’s basketball court to create a larger-than-life “field of sunflowers”, designed by local art icon, Onie Tonie

There is no doubt that our Elevate to Educate makeover weekend was an outstanding demonstration of what our league is capable of when we collaborate with our community partners, sponsors and community-minded individuals towards a common goal. It was a jam-packed weekend, led by our Community Events Committee, that won’t soon be forgotten by everyone involved. The makeover was only the beginning of the Elevate to Educate program though, because our work doesn’t end when the paint dries. Instead, this fall, JLNVB will engage with LCES administration and staff to plan, develop and implement two years of custom programming and host special events that focus on promoting JLNVB’s signature issues of childhood literacy and women’s health.

JLNVB strongly believes both parts of the Elevate to Educate program—the makeover and the long-term programming—are critical to making an impact on the lives of students and improving childhood literacy. To understand the role the makeover plays, Lauren Roberts, JLNVB’s Assistant Vice President of Community and Special Education Teacher for Chesapeake Public Schools shares why Happier Schools = Higher Performing Schools. 

How does making over elementary schools help students in their academic careers? Wouldn’t it be better to provide books or tutoring? 

LR: As an educator, I have seen first-hand the happiness on my students’ faces when they come to school and there’s something “new” for them to see, engage with or explore. Whether this is a fresh coat of paint, new furniture, upgraded playground equipment or just new supplies in the classroom, they are excited and often more engaged. I consider it a great thing any time my students are excited to be at school because it often leads to higher engagement and retention of the subject matter. But don’t just take my word for it—many experts agree that the physical space in which we learn impacts how we learn. 

Numerous articles and studies show a direct correlation between a positive school environment and higher performing students. In a September 2018 feature from eSchool News, Principal Tracey Smith of Brookwood Elementary School in Cumming, GA, shared that creating a happier and more caring environment for students and teachers had positive effects at their school, which has higher school performance scores compared to other schools in the state with similar student populations. 

This sentiment is echoed by the National Association of School Psychologists who stated that “a school’s environment—and the degree to which students feel connected, accepted, and respected—heavily influences students’ academic achievement, mental health, and overall school success.”

What is a positive school environment? How does it support academic performance?

LR: It is a place where students feel safe, comforted and loved. It is a space that inspires growth for students and allows them to thrive. It is the combination of social, emotional, interpersonal and physical factors—all working in harmony to create an inclusive and supportive climate for learning.  

Research shows that creating a positive environment can actually lead to higher attendance rates, an issue that is often at the root of many performance woes. This positive environment also helps to reduce stress on both students and teachers, and creates an overall more positive mindset for everyone involved. 

In an article by neaToday, Professor Ron Avi Astor of the University of Southern California shared that “by promoting a positive climate, schools can allow greater equality in educational opportunities, decrease socioeconomic inequalities, and enable more social mobility.” All of these factors work together to set students up for success. 

Why is it important that organizations like JLNVB collaborate with schools to create these positive environments for students? 

LR: School administrators and teachers work tirelessly every day to create a positive learning environment for their students, but often times, they simply don’t have the time or resources to make changes to the physical environment of the school on the same scale as Elevate to Educate. There is always going to be a host of pressing issues within a school system, and there is never enough capital improvement funding to address them all. When organizations make a commitment to develop programs like Elevate to Educate and dedicate their time, money and expertise, it helps to fill the gaps.

A positive school environment is about more than just beautifying the physical space though. It’s also about lifting up the community that surrounds the school which is something organizations like JLNVB are experts at! If you were at Project Makeover Hampton Roads last year, the precursor to this year’s Elevate to Educate, then you know that our efforts inspired our Hampton Roads community to come together and create a positive environment for the students, faculty and staff at Jacox Elementary. In the words of Dr. Litchmore, Jacox Elementary Principal, the 23504 zip code is not usually on the news for positive press, but with our first makeover, we were able to shine a light on Jacox, helping to raise the moral of both the school and the community that it serves.

This year, we adopted the makeover as a signature event for JLNVB under the name Elevate to Educate (E2E) and selected Little Creek Elementary for our 2019 makeover. Our first E2E makeover was met with the same enthusiasm and community engagement as last year, and once again, showed what we can do when we come together as a league and unite the community behind our shared vision! 


How does Elevate to Educate specifically support JLNVB’s signature issues of childhood literacy and women’s health? 

LR: Elevate to Educate has incredible potential to support both issues for local schools. Will we be promoting literacy? Yes! Many of the murals and projects were inspired by books and serve as learning resources for teachers to promote literacy with their students. Will we be positively influencing mental and physical health? Oh yes! Every single bathroom door at Jacox and at Little Creek boasts a positive message to uplift and encourage students to believe in themselves and be kind to others, and the outdoor play spaces upgrades will be used frequently for physical education. Will we be creating happier schools and making a positive impact on the lives of children in Hampton Roads? Absolutely! 

More importantly though, Elevate to Educate is about more than just making over a school! Our makeover weekends are only just the beginning of our community impact and service to our adopted schools. In the coming months, our Community Council will be working hard to create programs and events for students and staff to continue to promote literacy and girls’ health! We are so thankful for the support of the over 300 volunteers, community partners and sponsors who helped make our 2019 Makeover Weekend at Little Creek Elementary a success ! We look forward to continuing to build on the spark that has been ignited through this new initiative and serving LCES over the next two years!



A complete photo album for our Elevate to Educate makeover weekend  is available online, compliments of Chelsey Rose Photography.