Nine days before the first day of class, the halls of Samuel C. Barnes Elementary School in Bed-Stuy are already bustling.
Principal Anthony Pirro surveyed hallways with a canary yellow cape around his neck as some 50 volunteers from all over the city helped clear out classrooms in the five-story building.
"It's a fresh start," said Pirro, who will open the doors of the magnetschool as its new principal on Sept. 9.
It's a new beginning only made possible, he explained, with the help of a group of people with little more in common than the fact most of them are workout buddies.
The clean up effort came together with the help of The Uprising — a nonprofit born in April out of a boutique, Broadway-oriented gym in Hell's Kitchen specifically designed to give back.
Uprising Executive Director and co-founder Talia Corren likened the organization's community work to approaches to healthier living taught at Mark Fisher Fitness, the nonprofit's parent entity.
"Small changes every day over a long period of time can make a difference," she told Metro. "You can be charitable and give back just by making those small changes, even if it means four hours one Sunday."
Corren, like Pirro, donned her own cape as they helped volunteers take stock of materials in any of the 25 or so classrooms in need of decluttering.
Those underused rooms inside theschool focused on environmental science and community wellness, Pirro said, are suddenly freed up to become labs and learning spaces that align with the school's STEM-based curriculum.
The school wasn't The Uprising's first community-oriented project; previous events had volunteers — also referred to as everyday superheroes, hence the capes — repaint the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youth and work with the inner city kids theater the 52nd Street Project.
It was, however, a unique proposition. Pirro reached out to the nonprofit through his wife, an Uprising member. The Uprising then sent out a clarion call for help. Almost 100 people responded — half of whom took a morning shift bright and early at 9 a.m., while the other half arrived in the early afternoon.
Volunteer Sue Berch said she felt compelled to sign up for both shifts despite living in Manhattan. She explained her mother was born only two blocks from the school; her father was a public school teacher from Brooklyn.
"One of my neighbors who I grew up with gave me grief about doing it and asked why we don't just call the superintendent and ask why they aren't doing their jobs," Berch said. "I told them they didn't get it — it's about being part of a community. It's the way it used to work, too."
Standing nearby, Pirro agreed: "That's what we're going back to."
Pirro got approval from the Department of Education to have the volunteers in the building, and explained that principals are generally given leeway on how they use they prepare for the school year — clean up included.
The teachers under his care were more than grateful for Pirro's leadership and idea to bring willing, able bodies to get the school ready.
Claudette Reid wore a dust mask as she sorted out the back of what would soon be her new pre-kindergarten classroom. Stacks of papers, books and toys that took over students' cubbies over the years now sat in sorted stacks.
"I found charts that I did 10 years ago," said Reid, who has worked at the school for the last 25 years and now found herself with five volunteers clearing out the room.
"There's no way I could do this alone," Reid added.