It's moving-in week at Lake Hills Elementary School, and a mountain of boxes, dismembered file cabinets and bookshelves awaited second-grade...

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It’s moving-in week at Lake Hills Elementary School, and a mountain of boxes, dismembered file cabinets and bookshelves awaited second-grade teacher Robin Tzuker.

It would have taken her hours to unload it all and get her still-new-smelling classroom put together, but help was on the way.

Yesterday, teachers and staff members at Lake Hills began unpacking with help from 17 or so volunteers. The helping hands came from community members, neighbors, the YMCA and Safeco Insurance employees. It’s one of several volunteer efforts that Safeco and the YMCA are planning for the new school as part of a program called “Neighborhood Matters!”

“We’re hoping to help connect the neighborhood and show grown-ups how to be a positive influence on kids,” said Judy Smith, senior director of community development for the YMCA of Greater Seattle.

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The program is part of a national partnership between Safeco and the YMCA.

Natural focus of program

The Lake Hills community was chosen because it was an area where neighbors were already working toward revitalization, said Keri Stout, associate executive director of the Bellevue Family YMCA. The new school has been a natural focus of the program, she said.

Last year, the school temporarily moved to another campus about a mile away while Lake Hills’ aging, 1958 ranch-style campus was demolished and rebuilt. The new school building is two stories and about 67,000 square feet, about twice the size of the old one.

Judy Buckmaster, Lake Hills Elementary’s principal, said she’s grateful for the help and is hopeful these kind of volunteer efforts can help connect the school to the greater community.

“We are hoping the school will be a gathering place and that it will be accessible to the community,” Buckmaster said.

The school district and the city also are working together to bring city services, like parks-and-recreation classes, to the new school, Buckmaster said.

Negative perception

The largely low-income, diverse student population has translated into a sometimes negative perception of the school and the surrounding area. Lake Hills is also one of the oldest neighborhoods in Bellevue and has been one of the city’s least-cohesive communities, said Chantel Allen, the social chairwoman of the Lake Hills Neighborhood Association.

The association was formed about a year ago and is trying to bring the neighbors together and change people’s perceptions about the community, she said.

“The Lake Hills as a whole area is overlooked as an important history area in Bellevue,” said Allen, who spent part of yesterday volunteering at the neighborhood’s new school. “I think tearing down the [old] school and building new will give people in the neighborhood a new sense of hope.”

It was nice to see new volunteers swarm in, said Lynn Kuske, who has been a school volunteer since her children, now 22 and 25 years old, were students. Kuske, a volunteer math teacher, continues to lend a hand because she knows how much her efforts are needed. A lot of people’s misconceptions about the students are based on the school’s test scores, which isn’t fair, she said.

“People think that these kids aren’t as smart as other kids or that their parents don’t care about education, and that’s not true at all,” Kuske said. “We have some very bright kids at this school.”

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or