A sea of red drifted rapidly, covering the front entrance of McAllen High School. “Who are they and what is going on?” could be heard within the school’s walls.

“They,” the 40-plus red-shirted individuals, were Keller Williams (KW) employees, along with their family members, friends and clients, participating in the company’s annual international Red Day. On Red Day, KW closes its offices to “give back to the people who give so much to us,” according to Angela Diaz, team leader and CEO for Keller Williams Realty RGV.

Each year, KW employees choose a project for Red Day. Last year, the RGV office hosted a Health Awareness Day. This year, they decided to focus on McAllen ISD’s new Curb Appeal/Beautification Campaign, designed to encourage community members to come together to beautify district schools.

The idea is based on McAllen ISD Superintendent Dr. James Ponce’s premise that if the district is offering A+ services to the community, exceptional service needs to include all aspects of operations, according to Norma Zamora-Guerra, public relations director for the district.

“Dr. Ponce believes that our schools must be welcoming from the moment students arrive at the front door,” she said.

The program began with the establishment of a district committee, coordinated with the City of McAllen. April 10, 2010, as part of the Great American Clean-up, 13 MISD campuses signed up to bring in volunteers to pick up trash and perform basic landscaping work. Dr. Ponce also participated.

The committee also created a Curb Appeal Standard, which includes components such as:

• All exteriors are clean and orderly, with no trash visible

• Front entrance is pleasantly landscaped and well-maintained

• Plants/trees are attractive or removed/replaced

• Driveways are clean, free of weeds, and free of potholes

The committee decided to start the Curb Appeal program at three of the district’s high schools, Rowe, Memorial and McAllen High School, because they educate the greatest number of students and are the most visible in the community, due to their size.

The next step in the program, implemented during the 2009-2010 school year, involved training in tree trimming. In April, Mark Kroeze, forester for the City of McAllen, and Salvador Alemany from the Texas Forest Service Regional Office conducted an all-day training for approximately 25 school district employees.

“Oak trees are like teenagers,” said Kroeze. “We want to shape them so when they are adults, they will grow correctly.” According to Kroeze, if the angles of branches are shaped in a “u,” the branches will be stronger. Kroeze and Alemany taught district employees the three-step cut for proper pruning, as recommended by the Texas Forest Service:

• Make a cut on the bottom side of the branch, about one-third of the way through.

• Make a second cut on the top of the branch, an inch or so beyond the undercut. (This removes most of the weight of the limb without peeling bark.)

• Finish the cut by removing the stub that is left.

During the classroom portion of the training, Kroeze and Alemany also covered safety.

“Pruning trees is one of the most dangerous jobs in McAllen,” Kroeze said. “The number one way a person can get hurt is from having a branch fall on him. The second way is from coming in contact with power lines.”

Once they completed the classroom instruction, it was time to put what they had learned into practice. Kroeze and Alemany supervised as the newly-trained employees trimmed trees at Rowe, Memorial and McHi.

Kroeze sees this collaboration between the school district and the city as a positive move. “I think it’s really important,” he said. “The more we share our resources, the greater the results. It’s like they say, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.’”

The next step in the Curb Appeal/Beautification Campaign involved the development of landscaping designs. Two local landscapers responded to the call for donated services: Lann Sawyer from Landscaping, Etc. in Edinburg and Daniel Tanguma, project manager for T & T Palms, Trees and More in McAllen. Dave Milas, a Rowe parent and a City of McAllen Parks and Recreation employee, also volunteered his services.

“These gentlemen donated their time and talent to create landscaping designs and to develop a plan for McHi, Memorial and Rowe,” said Zamora-Guerra.

Tanguma’s wife is a teacher at Lucille Hendricks Elementary in McAllen. Tanguma said when Dr. Ponce sent an email to district employees about Curb Appeal, asking if any of them knew of individuals in the community who would be willing to donate their time, his wife thought of him.

“We have spent six-to-eight hours meeting and discussing how to move or add plants to make the high school campuses more aesthetically pleasing,” Tanguma said. “I know this is an ongoing plan, and I absolutely plan to stick with it. I enjoy visiting with the other volunteers and seeing if any of my ideas will help the schools.”

In May, the Keller Williams team gathered at McHi for Red Day, implementing the designs created by Tanguma, Sawyer and Milas.

“We chose McHi because it’s the city’s original high school,” said Diaz. “We completely uprooted shrubs, put mulch in flowerbeds, laid grass in the front and on the side, and planted approximately 150 flowers that were donated to us for the project.”

They wore red for a reason: R stands for Renew, E for Energize, and D for Donate. They lifted, they dug, they planted and they perspired. A lot. But at the end of the day, they received a reward for all their work.

“One of the best feelings we had that day was having lunch in the cafeteria,” Diaz said. “When we walked in, the kids all started clapping for us. That is a very powerful and positive feeling to receive thanks like that.”

McAllen ISD’s Curb Appeal/Beautification Campaign is off to a fantastic start. During the 2010-2011 school year, they plan to begin work at the middle school campuses and to continue with the high schools. In order to make it work, they need more businesses and individuals willing to do some work so our children can enter A+ (Aesthetically+) schools.

The smiles on their faces will be the greatest reward.