CLOSER LOOK: Old Schools Get Makeovers Through Heart Of America

Posted on Thursday, January 11, 2024 by Rafael Sierra, Marya Morgan

(K-LOVE Closer Look) – Visit public schools across the U.S. and you travel back in time. 

“This country created the majority of its schools during the 1940s, 50s and 60s,” says Jill Hardy-Heath, President and CEO of Heart of America. Classrooms in disrepair impede learning. “If you walk into a school where you have peeling paint and ceiling tiles that are falling, and things have not been updated – think about how that would make you feel.” HOA is committed to raising the spirits of those students and teachers. Fresh paint is only the beginning. Hardy-Heath sends an expert design team to infuse each renovation with vibrant color and creative flair. “We transform spaces,” she smiles. “Think about Extreme Home Makeover, but School Edition.”

The organization updates everything in aging schools from lighting to desks to pencil sharpeners -- and upgrades essential infrastructure like electrical boxes to provide crucial access to the Internet. Once the space is certified ready for the 21st century, modern digital learning tools are provided for students. “We have infused more than $7.5 million in learning technologies, mostly computers and individual devices into schools and community centers.”

Since Heart of America launched in 1997, it has completed renovations in more than 1,000 schools nationwide. Serving the poorest districts both rural and urban, and on Native American reservations, the makeovers cost these schools zero dollars. Corporate partners are recruited to support the projects and an army of community volunteers are invited in for finishing touches like arranging desks and hanging the wall décor. 

Sparkling-new libraries are the HOA crown jewels. “One space being improved in the school often creates a domino effect,” says Hardy-Heath. “We may go into a school and transform the library -- which we consider the heart and soul of the school -- but all the partners we bring in to help with that transformation - whether they donate services or product -- they then see what else needs to be done.” 

These new libraries house more than 4-million books made available to children who might not otherwise have access to them. Kids sometimes hug the books when they see them. 

“There have been studies across the globe that connect the type of learning environment to the self-esteem of the student,” she says, adding “in renovated spaces in schools we see attendance go up, disciplinary actions go down.” 

See more pics of some Heart of America school renovations on Facebook

New library built and stocked, "Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader" on wall
[Photo Credit: Heart Of America:Facebook]
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