One of the city’s neediest schools has caught the attention of one fraternity who hopes its community outreach initiatives will help the school operate better.
For years, the D.C. City Council has promised to set aside funds to modernize Orr Elementary School, yet the crumbling Southeast structure remains one of only two buildings that have not begun any phase of modernization since its opening in 1974.
Though Mayor Muriel Bowser says every school in the city will receive a full modernization, more than 400 students file into Orr daily in the meantime, amid the school’s disintegrating infrastructure, lack of functional classroom space and occasional vermin.
Members from the Omicron Lambda Alpha (OLA) chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. hope their concentrated community service will help the school until the city completes its modernization.
“It is a priority school for us,” said fraternity member James Wright Jr. “Alphas really care about education.”
Alpha Phi Alpha was founded Dec. 4, 1906, at Cornell University and the OLA chapter was started April 27, 1952, at Howard University for postgraduates. The president of OLA is James McClelland, and the chapter now has over 55 members.
The fraternity’s first encounter with the school was in December when they presented students at the school with books and toys for the holiday season. In February, members read books to a classroom, and earlier this month members returned to the school with a donation of over 300 books to its library.
Members say the purpose of the book donation was to stimulate student interest in reading.
“I am a teacher,” said OLA community services chairman Giani Clarkson. “Students cannot learn and progress when they can’t read. We are donating these books so the students can become scholars at the ground level.”
Clarkson, who teaches at a charter middle school in Northwest, was joined by Wright, Kelly Gilmore, Emerson Bretous, Howard Franklin, Rudy Williams, Michael Matthews, Bruce Mitchell, Robert Mitchell, Victor Lee, Brandon Wheatley and Antonio Alston.
In addition to the donations, the fraternity members helped set up the books in the library and broke up into pairs to read to the students. Clarkson read the time-honored classic “Where the Wild Things Are.”
Orr has consistently been on the list of 40 lowest-performing schools in the city. Ninety-eight percent of its students are African-American. Only 16 percent of their students met or exceeded expectations on the 2016 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the test used to measure student performance in the District.
Dyanna Gardner teaches at Orr and facilitated bringing the books to the school.
“These books are a blessing to us,” Gardner said. “This will help the children to develop an interest in reading and they can start to develop their personal libraries. … It is good for these young people to see black men doing positive things for them.”
Wright said the fraternity hopes to continue to grow its relationship with Orr and will continue to use its community service platform to engage with the school.
“One of the things we found is that they were happy that somebody gave them something,” he said.