This week will bring the end to a series of days that the middle school has spent in service learning this fall. Service has had a long tradition in the middle school. Five years ago, we began making connections with off campus partners so as to make service a part of every students’ program.
Our first years were spent doing “community service,” but without a particular “service learning,” component. For those unfamiliar with the term, service learning is a high standard where the students learn about a topic and the service project is an outgrowth of the learning. Service learning, of course, continues to benefit whichever community partners are involved. By thinking of the learning as part of the service, students stand to benefit more because the experience has a broader context and is often connected to other areas in their education.
Last year was our first time organizing students into groups that usually met, for part of the learning, in a class like environment. Teachers organized their service learning course with a particular sequence. This year, the results are impressive: We have partnered with ten organizations, including our own, across the five courses! In addition, I am very happy to see that almost every course has had “making,” as one of its results.
Consider the Early Literacy course, for example. Under the organization of Malorie Seeley-Sherwood, these students started close to home, by spending several hours in our lower school classrooms. They also took a field trip to our public library branch to learn how the library supports literacy. Our students read to the daycare students across the street, and will end their course by putting together book packs for underserved students (partnering with the local branch of AAUW, the American Association of University Women), and finally, completing a display for the public library.
Another example is the Oral History class. With their teacher, Shirley Rinaldi, the students interviewed residents of the Manor at Woodside, asking them about what the world was like when they were pre-teen age. Our students have spent the remainder of their work time turning the oral history into a movie– with images and music that reflect the stories they learned from the residents. The movies will be burned to CD and given as a gift to the Manor community.
Some of our projects are focused closer to home. Emma Sears is working to re-establish a healthy snack stand for refreshments during our home basketball games. They’ve done market research and cost analysis, and are drumming up a volunteer corps to man the stand. I’ve been working with students on small PDS service project, and student are answering the question “Who helps PDS?” They have done some service projects at school, like repainting the gazebo. Another part of their course has been to interview support staff and non-teaching administration. The students will be making a bulletin board display to share what they learned with the rest of middle school.
Jake Lahey has had students off campus to do outdoor service at Roosevelt National Park, Locust Grove, and finally, the Rail Trail. They’ve been busy and garnered much gratitude for their energy.
Finally, Karl Mauks and Joan Garcia have designed an early childhood Maker Faire activity. The students research crafts that were appropriate for young children. They raised funds for art supplies by holding a bake sale. The first group of small children to try the maker projects were children from our own lower school, who came to the MSLC for an in-school field trip. Next, the class visits a downtown daycare in Poughkeepsie, Community Family Development, to bring the making activity to those students. Finally, the group will come together, one last time, on November 14, and bring their activities to our own Maker Faire at PDS.
As these students moved through their education, we hope that being of service will remain a core part of their lives. They will be among the most well educated members of their communities as adults, and their work on behalf of the local and global communities will make a difference to all of us.