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    All photos by Christian Gooden
    Clinton initiative volunteers paint, plant, lay carpet at St. Louis magnet school


    PD Clinton
    Breanne Bennett, (center with shovel) and Denisa Meskovic, (right) seniors at Gateway STEM High School shovel mulch to load wheel barrels on the third day of the Clinton Global Initiative University conference on Sunday, April 7, 2013. Gateway STEM is the recipient of CGIU's large-scale service project in which about 575 conference delegates performed restorative work on the school like painting the hallways, landscaping grounds and building large planters for plant science education. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

    April 08, 2013 12:15 am • 

    ST. LOUIS • They descended on Gateway STEM High School on Sunday with a list of tasks. There were walls to paint. Carpet tiles to install. Gardens to plant.

    But first, 575 college students from around the world gathered in the school’s auditorium for a quick pep talk from former President Bill Clinton.

    “One of the things that proves we are serious about integrating service into everything we do is doing this project,” Clinton told them, standing on a stage in bluejeans and sneakers and holding a microphone.“Let’s go to work.”

    The sixth annual Clinton Global Initiative University at Washington University concluded Sunday with a daylong volunteer project at Gateway STEM High, a magnet school in the St. Louis school system with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math. St. Louis Rams players, school district leaders and U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, also came to show support.

    Outside the building, dozens of college students in blue T-shirts installed garden planters so horticulture students could learn urban gardening. Employees from Kansas City-based Brightergy demonstrated the solar panels they donated and installed last week on the roof. The panels are expected to save the school $3,000 annually in energy costs. Washington University is partnering with the school on ways to incorporate the panels into science courses.

    Inside, volunteers cleared out classrooms. They laid carpet tiles in the band room. They painted walls in classrooms, stairwells and in the cafeteria. For years, the cafeteria had been orange, purple, light blue and yellow. Now, it is three shades of blue.

    “Tomorrow, when the kids come into the cafeteria, it will be a whole new place,” Principal Elizabeth Bender said. “That has such a huge impact on kids who often don’t get what they deserve.”

    The Clinton Global Initiative University is an outgrowth of the William J. Clinton Foundation. Clinton launched the university initiative in 2007 to energize college students with ideas on how to tackle global challenges. To participate, students must pitch their action plans and then may receive seed money to get started.

    At the end of the weekend event, Clinton leads a volunteer project in the host city.

    “We’ve gotten so much from this weekend, it’s important to give back,” Josh Lansford, 22, a chemical engineering major from the University of Virginia, said as he painted an assembly room. “This is what it’s about.”

    Several service projects in St. Louis were considered. Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea Clinton, told volunteers that they liked how Gateway STEM, on McRee Avenue, is trying to help students prepare for careers in fast-growing fields where there are shortages of American workers.

    “The faculty and leadership of this school are giving these students a chance to be a full partner in the 21st century,” the former president said. “They’re given a chance to succeed in a world where the doors had been shut to too many of their parents because they didn’t have those opportunities.”

    With 1,175 students, Gateway STEM is the largest in the St. Louis school district. Students must apply to attend Gateway. Those who qualify are then selected through a lottery process. The student body is 60 percent African-American and 27 percent white, with the rest Asian or Hispanic. More than 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches.

    Chelsea Clinton spent nearly an hour talking with two dozen Gateway students and school leaders outside the building about the school’s programs and their interests.

    The project could have a profound impact on the student body, Adela Redzic, a senior, predicted later.

    “It’s going to make them feel they matter,” she said.

    Jon Walter, a senior, agreed after shaking hands with the former president and talking with Chelsea Clinton.

    “It really makes you feel like what we’re working on is important, and we’re not just hidden away in a corner of St. Louis,” he said.“I’m ready to go back to school on Monday and do something for the world.”

    All told, the volunteer work, the solar panels and the upgrades were estimated to be worth about $250,000. Materials such as paint, carpet and plants came from private sources, Washington U. or the initiative itself.

    “It’s surreal. It’s an honor,” Bender, the principal, said as volunteers planted pepper plants and other vegetables, annuals and hostas outside the building. “It makes you want to work harder than you’re already working.”


    The story can be accessed here.