When Andre Harlan was a student at Spain Elementary-Middle School, he never could have imagined years later as a basketball coach and teacher there, things would take a drastic turn.
“Spain Elementary-Middle School was well-known around the country, especially for our performing arts and sports,” Harlan recalled. “Classes were packed with students. Detroit was bustling.”
Harlan was born and raised in Detroit and naturally was excited to land a job at the school he once attended in the heart of Detroit’s midtown cultural district. Because of his affinity for the area, he wanted to raise his own children there. When he returned, however, things were a bit different than he remembered.
“As a teacher, you have this hope to inspire students and give them a chance to be great. When the resources slack and budget cuts make things rough, it’s discouraging. Kids feel neglected. You feel helpless,” he explained.
Over the last few years, the school gym fell victim to the sometimes harsh Midwest weather. The roof leaked, and puddling water eventually warped the floors, making the gym unusable. As mold and mildew spread rapidly, the school had to close off the entire area.
“When the gym was shut down, teachers had to hold physical education classes in the hallway. It was so discouraging,” said Oneika Newman, assistant principal at Spain.
Lowe’s and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” first heard about Spain’s challenges in February and quickly teamed up to rehab and save the gym. Through Lowe’s $500,000 donation and the hands-on help of many Lowe’s Heroes employee volunteers from the metro Detroit region, the revamped gym was revealed to the staff and more than 450 students in mid-September, just after the start of the new school year.
Newman said the new gym makes the students feel safe and loved, and the staff feel appreciated. But its impact, she said, is even farther reaching. “The donation saved the school and prevented teachers from being displaced if Spain closed,” Newman said. “It saved the legacy of Spain.”“The donation saved the school and prevented teachers from being displaced if Spain closed,” Newman said. “It saved the legacy of Spain.”—Oneika Newman, assistant principal at Spain