Assembly explores service-learning opportunities

Natalie Sweet, Staff Writer

This past Thursday, several Upper and Middle Division (MD) students sat down with staff from different New York community service organizations for a Q and A session. The discussion occurred during a service learning assembly led by MD history teacher and service learning coordinator Caitlin Hickerson. 

Madison Kim (7), Zachary Kurtz (8), and Laila Farmer (9) interviewed representatives Neill Bogan from the New York Common Pantry, Emily LoBou from Sanctuary for Families  and Mary Anne Sheridan from the Mercy Center.

The Mercy Center has a long-standing tradition of partnering with the school for events such as the sixth grade service learning carnival, Kim said. The questions she prepared included asking what role the Mercy Center plays in the Mott Haven community, where the center is located in the Bronx, and what students can do to support or help the Mercy Center, she said.

The assembly also included information about the Sanctuary for Families dinner in the winter, where children and their families come to the school for a night of food and fun, Farmer said. Sanctuary for Families is an organization primarily located in the Bronx that works with families who’ve  experienced abuse, she said.

During the Sanctuary for Families dinner, student volunteers play games with the children and do activities such as face painting, Farmer said.

“Overall, it’s a really good and happy time for the community, and seeing all the smiles of the children is really fun and heartwarming,” she said.

During the assembly, LoBou talked about the different programs that the Mercy Center runs.

“We have eight English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for parents who want to learn English, which serve 250 adults per day,” she said. “We also have a family-oriented program called ‘Families Moving Forward,’ which has over 400 participants,” she said.

Kurtz asked Bogan about the size of New York Common Pantry.

“We distribute groceries to about 400 households, as well as running a hot meals program that serves breakfast and dinners,” he said.

Later in the assembly, Bogan reflected on how important training volunteers properly is, since the New York Common Pantry is almost entirely volunteer run.

“It’s really important for the volunteers to understand that the people they’re working with are just like them, so they should treat others the way they wanted to be treated,” he said.

Sheridan strongly agreed with Bogan, she said. The circumstances of those coming to Sanctuary for Families may be different, but they are just like everyone else, she said.

“At Sanctuary for Families, we try to make sure that everyone feels that their self-worth is still looked upon with respect, no matter what situation they may be in,” she said.

According to Hickerson, service learning assemblies for the MD have occurred in the past as well. However, they have typically been geared to one grade, while this assembly is meant for all grades to learn from, she said.

The goal of the assembly was to give the students a better sense of how our contributions impact the community and why service learning work is so important, Hickerson said.

“I want to give our community a solid foundation and understanding of who they are working with and what they can expect when they participate in service activities,” she said.

Students should know about the community around them and how they can help it, Kim said.

The assembly was a good opportunity to hear how students can participate through service learning, Farmer said.

“To most people, service learning sounds like a chore, so I hope the assembly can help people realize that it’s actually a lot of fun,” she said. 

Kurtz thought it was exciting to meet people the school has worked with to organize service learning programs before, he said.

“It was really interesting to learn about how these organizations provide fundamental resources that most students take for granted,” he said.

In the future, Hickerson is looking forward to expanding he MD service learning program, she said.

“I look forward to working with the grade deans and Norma Rodriguez on creating some richer preparation and reflection activities for advisory,” she said.