To help welcome the return of school, former Redskins running back Clinton Portis visited Savoy Elementary in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to give away backpacks and speak to students.
Before former Redskins running back Clinton Portis even showed his face on Tuesday, the first through fifth graders of Savoy Elementary in southeast Washington, D.C., were already energized, dancing and singing to some of their favorite hip-hop, excited for a back-to-school pep rally in the gymnasium.
The Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation teamed up with former Redskins RB Clinton Portis to give away backpacks and visit classrooms at Savoy Elementary School on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015.
Their cause for excitement changed when Portis introduced himself and the curtains above the stage behind him parted to display a long line of tables with new Redskins backpacks awaiting them. Those moments provided the loudest roars of approval and excitement, though the reason Portis and the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation were treating this school with gifts was based on their commitment to quite the opposite.
"Be Safe. Be Respectful. Be Responsible" is the slogan that the school's principal Donyale Butler instituted with her creative team this year, a way to encourage positive behavior, and rewarding it when it is shown in class and in the hallways. Though Savoy opened for school two weeks ago, having Portis reinforce the message after a long weekend was a needed event.
"This was like the new first day of this school year," Butler said. "For us to be able to start it out this way, with the pep rally and with Clinton being so personable, with the kids and being so warm right away -- they just want to know that people care about them and this was a great opportunity for the organization to link up with us and show that to our kids."
Portis skipped (quite literally) into his speech to everyone, expressing his background growing up in Laurel, Miss., and how he transcended some of the limitations attached to his town's socio-economic status. Many of the kids, too young to have remembered Portis playing days, remained attentive throughout his talk, learning of his cultural importance based on the smiles and thrills on the faces of their teachers.
Once he concluded, teachers escorted their classes up to the stage for students to choose one of 15 different kinds of Redskins backpacks. Portis greeted them at the end with a team bumper sticker, an NFL schedule and plenty of high-fives.
As they waited, some dance competitions broke out – usually the case at Savoy, an art-focused school – and the best were awarded more prizes.
"I think it's encouraging," Portis said. "For myself being back in these schools, my kids are in elementary, so I know what it's like. Just to be in the home rooms, the kids have so much energy they need to release and it's hard to keep up an attention span…You know it's always going to be a memory to somebody, once they get older it will become more appreciative."
Portis continued to make the day special for 10 students when he made surprise visits to different classrooms throughout the school. Before briefly interrupting a lesson, Portis learned of a particular kid's achievements in fulfilling the school's three tenants.
He made a brief announcement to each class and called up the special student to present him or her a T-shirt and a "Tiger Buck," a school-specific currency to be saved and used to purchase supplies and prizes.
"For [Portis] to come here to Washington, D.C., to express that he has the same values as them as far as being safe, being responsible, being respectful, it showed that they can do things, they can achieve different things by just staying the course we're trying to put them on so early in life," said health and fitness teacher Chris Cannaday.
Portis, who was impressed by how quiet and courteous the students had exhibited themselves, never had the opportunity in his hometown to see any famous stars as a kid. He knows firsthand the value he's able to provide with a simple visit and a few words of support.
"Anytime anybody of a notable profile comes and takes time out of their busy schedule, and feels as if investing in students is important, then that's really meaningful to us," Butler said. "We oftentimes work in our small silo of learning and education, and we forget that there are so many committed adults outside of the education arena that are really very thoughtful and well-meaning towards education and providing hope for our kids."