For many years, service-learning in the Ellis Upper School has involved a limited number of students who actively participated in Guild—a longstanding tradition at Ellis since the club was established in 1938—through activities such as the Best Friends program at The Children's Institute or dinners at the East End Cooperative Ministry (EECM) Men's Shelter. Outside of this, much of what we’ve called “service-learning” was more accurately characterized as simple charity, such as bake sales and other on-campus fundraisers. As such, many students’ view of service-learning was fairly limited and often uninteresting. In order to shift this paradigm, as the Community Engagement Coordinator, I’ve broadened our definition of service-learning this year to provide a wider range of opportunities for engagement to students.
As a part of this process, we’ve replaced “service-learning” with the term “community engagement & service,” which is defined as“an effort that benefits people and/or organizations in need, but provides no monetary benefit to the student.” This renaming of the program is important because it opens up options for other types of effort and activism as service beyond the traditional definition of charity work. Beyond these traditional volunteer efforts, this could also include things like:
Working with a neighborhood or public interest organization, or a political campaign
Assisting with events and projects such as museum activities or ethnic festivals
Serve as a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters, Scouting, or other youth organizations
Helping senior citizens with a variety of activities that enhance their quality of life
Coaching or refereeing youth teams for athletics programs (Dynamo Soccer, etc.)
Technology support for nonprofit or community organizations
Peer tutoring at Ellis or another school or organization
Conservation or preservation work at parks, historical societies, or public museums
Many other efforts in which Ellis students already take part
In order to recognize and value the work that our students already do within their respective communities, and also to encourage more students to explore service opportunities both in and outside of school, we’ve also adopted a program in which community engagement and service remains wholly voluntary, but is then formally recognized on a student’s school transcript once she has fulfilled a basic set of requirements. These include 40 hours of service, positive supervisor feedback, and a reflective essay.
My role as Community Engagement Coordinator in this program is to help interested students and faculty connect with the many local and international service opportunities, and to track students’ hours and efforts as they proceed. In addition, through Guild, we’ve started organizing service events open to the larger Ellis community, beginning with a morning of organizing and packaging medical equipment and supplies at Global Links in Greentree on December 1.
There’s more information about the Community Engagement & Service program, as well as a listing of upcoming service opportunities, on MyEllis. Otherwise, please feel free to get in touch with me if you have questions or other ideas.