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Vargas Elementary benefits from volunteer effort

Students use extended pain rollers to paint a multi-colored hallway.

Budding scientists can now get a bird’s eye view of the Periodic Table of Elements atop the playground at Vargas Elementary, which recently transitioned into a science-focused school.

The addition of the over-sized periodic table to the play yard blacktop was just one of several projects done at the school during a coordinated weekend of volunteerism April 25 and 26.

Known as Beautiful Day, the 11th annual event started in San Jose, but has since spread across the county.

Businesses, civic organizations, faith groups and schools work together with the goal of spreading compassion and rallying neighborhoods to invest in their communities.

Sunnyvale residents and former Cumberland parents Mike and Theresa Benkert wanted their church to serve Vargas after the two schools became divided when the district was exploring redistricting in the fall of 2014.

About 600 homes currently within Cumberland’s boundaries would have attended Vargas Elementary. Many parents voiced concern over the matter, citing the close-knit Cumberland community that developed over the years.

Although the district ultimately decided not to explore redistricting, advocates for keeping the Cumberland community intact revealed that many parents were not familiar with the Vargas community, nor the strengths and assets of the Vargas School.

“And that was hurtful to both the community and that school,” said Theresa Benkert. “As a result of all that ill feeling that was relayed, whether intentional or unintentional, we wanted to find a way to bring the community together as well as benefit the school.”

And friends from their congregation at Peninsula Bible Church along with others from Crosswalk Community Church agreed, teaming up with members from across the region to tackle projects at the school.

Upwards of 500 volunteers made the Beautiful Day projects a success. Several got their hands dirty on Saturday and Sunday bringing the school’s Field of Dreams teaching and demonstration garden that was established 10 years ago back to life. When a complicated irrigation system broke several years ago, all future garden projects were put on hold.

Second grade teacher Joe Segal said on April 11 he assisted with pulling out bushes, trees, and weeds to clear space for new plants. Segal said he hadn’t heard of Beautiful Day before, but is deeply impressed with the work they do throughout the South Bay.

“Silicon Valley has so many people with the resources and time to make a difference in its diverse communities, and it is great to see the Beautiful Day folks take it upon themselves to volunteer and really make a difference,” Segal said. “Their work at Vargas has already made a big difference—we are on pace to have an amazing school garden by next year—and this weekend should yield amazing improvements on our campus.”

Volunteers held off on planting any new plants because of the drought but a new drip-irrigation system was donated and installed by Benkert’s landscaping company, Universal Maintenance. Brand new planter boxes with fresh soil are also at the ready, organizers said.

“What I hope to bring to the Vargas community is a sense that their community cares about them and for the volunteers to get the sense of satisfaction one can get in doing a selfless act,” Mike Benkert said. “I hope in doing something like this they discover joy in coming together to serve and think outside of themselves.”

Over the course of the two days, volunteers also helped clean up the landscape on campus, build shelves in the school library storage room, repainted the school’s infamous Rainbow Hallway, and coordinated the donation of 32 iPads.

“I do think it is wonderful for families across the district to work together to build up all of our schools,” Segal said. “That is a positive endeavor that would improve any school district. I will also say that Vargas is an amazing school with great students, fantastic teachers, and a terrific principal, and any parent would be lucky to send their child there.”

Contributor: Alia Wilson

Group paints periodic table of elements on school blacktop
Volunteers paint a giant periodic table outside Vargas Elementary School’s science classroom.


Students use extended pain rollers to paint a multi-colored hallway.
Students add a fresh coat of paint to Vargas Elementary School’s Rainbow Hallway on Beautiful Day, a day of public service.
Volunteers clean up an elementary school garden
Volunteers spent the weekend of Aug. 25 beautifying Vargas Elementary School’s garden and campus.

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