More than 50 Indian Creek Elementary students, college students and volunteers spent their Saturday morning getting down and dirty to clean up trash in the wooded area behind the school.
The Oct. 13 event was a part of the effort to clean up the school and surrounding area. Since March, groups of volunteers have cleaned up the campus and the woods, built paths, initiated an on-going litter abatement program and improve various areas of the campus by mulching, removing black mold, washing windows and more.
The project was started by Susan Rawlings, a community volunteer, who saw the condition the school was in and wanted to do something about it.
“When I came over here originally you wouldn’t believe the garbage that was on the property,” she said. “The woods had been over. grown and there was black mole. I mean it was like nobody was paying attention to the school.”
Since the project began, Rawlings said the students have been very involved in cleaning up their school. So far, nearly 540 have put in volunteer hours. At the Oct. 13 cleanup, kids were picking up trash, digging up debris, sawing and cutting over grown tree branches along with volunteers from Emory University and the community.
“They always show up and they are taking ownership [of the project],” she said.
Rawlings said the project has also become an educational tool for the students. With the help of Keep DeKalb Beautiful, the students have learned about litter through the litter abatement program and how to keep their area clean.
“There were no trash cans except for the one on campus and we got 20 trash cans donated to the school,” Rawlings said. “Each homeroom has adopted [the program] and the kids are responsible for the area and emptying the trash cans.”
Litter and debris found in the woods included broken glass, bed springs, air mattresses and a broken ceiling fan. Rawlings said that there has been drug activity and prostitution in the woods. When she went to the DeKalb County Police with the information she was told that it is out of the police department’s jurisdiction.
“Apparently the school district police department manages all the police activity around the school property,” she said. “And they’ve been totally [nonexistent]. Sometimes they show up, sometimes they don’t. They’re aware of this problem and they’ve been aware of it for many, many years and have done nothing.
DeKalb County School District spokesman Jeff Dickerson said the wooded area is own by the school district but security resource officers only patrol areas where children are.
“If we’ve got a three-acre campus but own another surrounding two acres, the school resource officers are going to patrol the three-acre campus,” he said.
Dickerson said the district has heard complaints of drug activity but said he doesn’t know if there has been an actual case of the illegal activity.
“It’s been evidence of it back there and I think that’s what the real concern is,” he said. “But our [security resource officers] are very limited in what they can do and it’s difficult enough for them to police our school grounds much less police the areas around our school grounds that are being used by people other than students.”
Dickerson added that he thinks it is encouraging that the community and the school are working together to try to fix the problem.
“The school is very engaged making sure that the area is cleaned up and stays clean,” he said. “There are efforts to try to get lights back there to cut down on any illegal activity.”
Rawlings said volunteers are in the process of working with Georgia Power to do an estimate of how much it would cost to put security lights in the back of the school. She also said she hopes to have the project completed by next summer.
“It’s going to be where we want because we would like to focus on other things like getting benches, plants and the nice things in life,” she said.