Oshkosh Curb appeal: where it all started

From roaring Wildcats, Panthers, and Tigers to howling Wolves and soaring Falcons and Eagles, the mascots and students in the Oshkosh Area School District are never short on school spirit, which is shown as they raise the bar for test scores and participation in advanced classes, sports and music. Commission Chair for Oshkosh4Education, Beth Wyman, came to realize that while the students that fill the halls had transformed the reputation of their schools, the outside of the buildings were falling further and further behind. Thus was born Project Curb, a grassroots movement that beautified the exterior of 18 schools in the Oshkosh Area School District.       

“Oshkosh4education was born in 2012 due to the fact that our schools were not necessarily connected to what was happening in the rest of the community. We went all the way to Mobile, Alabama to learn about a similar program that they have called ‘Yes We Can.’ From that, our strategic plan was born,” she said. “Our district hadn’t had a strategic plan in over 13 years, so many of the ideas weren’t focused for just the district; they went every which way.”

Oshkosh4Education has blossomed into an organization doing far more than originally intended. One example of this is Project Curb. An acronym for Collectively Upgrade, Restore, and Beautify, this project works to update the exteriors of schools in the Oshkosh community.

“The Curb Appeal Project is a community effort to beautify the exterior of our schools. We learned in the focus groups for the strategic plan that a lot of neighborhoods wished that the outside of our schools looked a little better and could be a little bit more inviting to outsiders, their friends, their guests, and their families,” Wyman said. “Our schools are becoming more community-based, more neighborhood-based, and there are more neighborhood associations.” Wyman believes that this communal desire has one common thread -- the recent excitement and pride running rampant throughout the city.

“We decided to do Project Curb because it seems that Oshkosh has a buzz about it and the schools are doing well in test scores; we have the Chromebook initiative, and our schools are kind of rocking it right now and we can’t do a lot on the inside of schools,” she said. “We are the watchdog for the grades, for the strategic plan to make sure that the district is living up to what they say they are going to do and we can certainly ask the questions, but the outside of our schools is some place where we can be an advocate for our schools.”

Other than the Oshkosh4Education organization, this project wouldn’t be possible without the large volunteer base and the donations from community members. With over $160,000 dollars in donations, and immeasurable resources, all aided in the completion of this extreme exterior makeover.

“Our motto is ‘We need green thumbs as much as we need green paper.’ This was an opportunity for people to dig in and give us their green thumb if they didn’t have extra money to donate,” Oshkosh Area School District Board of Education Member Stephanie Carlin said. “I love that this was a project that really everybody could get involved in. We collected money in any way, shape or form that we could. We had website donations, we had in-kind donations. For example, Real Nurseries gave us a lot of green thumbs and a lot of their time. The labor that they have given us is just unbelievable.”

In order to get this much recognition and support from the community, Oshkosh4Education needed to advocate for their project and advertise it to the community. One outlet utilized by the organization was the Oshkosh Farmers Market. Carlin, who manages the Facebook page for Project Curb, regularly ran the booth and attests to its success.

“The Farmers Market was awesome. We had people that would stop by our booth and ask us about the project and what they could do to help. Throughout the summer people would start to ask us ‘how’s it going?’ or ‘are you getting closer?’ We also had a little sign for checking off boxes for how close we were getting or who was ordering benches and trees,” she said. “We had regulars who would stop by every weekend and ask how we were doing and stop and tell us that their church or group was signing up to help. It was fantastic.”

Even with assistance from the public, priorities needed to be established to ensure the schools with the most needs got the landscaping and beautification upgrades that they needed.  

“We had donors that specifically donated to a bench, to a tree, to playground amenities, and those are for primarily the schools who have limited resources or don’t have PTO’s that can help fundraise for it. Certainly we tried to help all of the schools, but it was those with the most need that we placed on high priority,” Wyman said. “The most work was done at Merrill. It is one of our oldest schools, built in 1901, so it required the most landscaping work.”

Although West didn’t have an exorbitant amount of landscaping done with this round of landscaping, volunteers were still present and working on the exterior of the school. In order to come up with specifics for the future, Principal Erin Kohl created a wish list for West.

“We were asked to put together a wishlist of things that we would like to see outside of our buildings, so their hope is to start working on that with the next wave. One of the things I would really love to see at West is all of the yellow spots on the side of the building get painted with our school colors or just at least a fresh coat of some color because it just looks dingy,” Kohl said. “I think that now that door 38 is a visitor’s entrance, I would really like to see that area spruced up a bit. And put something more in our school colors or some signage saying that this is Oshkosh West High School, and I would also like to get nicer signage outside of door 24 because that is the entrance that is the most heavily used.”

Despite how these are small cosmetic changes, the impact still resonates within the community, displaying the true confidence the Oshkosh area has in their school system.

“Your first impression of a building matters. No matter where you are going, you get your impression of a place when you are walking up to the door. It says a lot about the community when you drive by and look at the schools. If they look bad, it shows that you don’t care that much about your schools, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Carlin said. “The community really cares about our schools and we want the exteriors to reflect that. This whole effort is so astonishing. I am just so proud of our community and how everyone can come together. We had so many volunteers; we had UWO involved; we had so many businesses. It was amazing.”

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