This Thursday, sophomores participated in the school’s first tenth grade Service Learning Day, marking a shift in the service learning requirement from a project composed of direct experience and reflection opportunity to a mandatory Service Learning Day for each grade.
The year-long project system had presented logistical challenges, especially the unevenness of the projects students chose to participate in, as some students perfomed far more service than others, but received the same amount of credit.
“We wanted to move away from a one-way community service model and the idea that you’re counting the time you do something rather than the meaning of what you’re involved in,” Director of the Center for Community Values and Action Dr. Jeremy Leeds (‘72) said.
However, some students were concerned with the changes to the program. The structure this year may reduce the amount of involvement of each individual student in the service learning program, and there may be a newfound disconnect in actually giving back, Dalia Pustilnik (10) said. Still, others are hopeful that the reforms will reignite fervor for service learning. The new structure may make the day exciting for all students, Walker McCarthy (10) said.
Tenth graders were involved in the planning of the day; students on the Service Learning Committee, the Service Learning Team, and HM 246 spearheaded workshops and spread awareness among classmates, Leeds said.
The workshops were held by students, faculty, and various alumni, Mekhala Mantravadi (10) said. Certain clubs held workshops, like the Cancer Awareness Club (CAC) and Glam4Good, she said. “60 multifaceted workshops will be offered by the CCVA and have been generously chaperoned by HM faculty and staff,” Associate Director of the CCVA Dr. Kimberly Joyce-Bernard said.
“The unique thing about the structure [of Service Learning Day] this year is that we can customize our day instead of being told to go somewhere, so we can partake in something we’re interested in,” Mantravadi said.
Glam4Good’s workshop, “How You Can Use Social Media in Your Community to Make a Difference,” featured a discussion with the founder of the organization, world-renowned stylist Mary Alice Stephenson, explaining Glam4Good’s work and how to use social media to make an impact, founder of the HM Glam4Good club and Service Learning team member Sarah Taub (10) said.
The CAC presentation discussed the state of cancer in America, the premise, makeup, and impact of the CAC in school, and ways students can get more involved in the CAC and make a difference in their community, Pustilnik, the CAC junior coordinator for the MD Committee said. After the presentation, there was a Sunshine Mail activity where the students wrote and decorated cards to children in the hospital with cancer, she said.
The Service Learning team held a panel to explain to the rest of the tenth grade students what the team does every Tuesday and Thursday. A few representatives from each partner site the Team visits explained each site, how they are different from each other, and different activity groups they participate in, such as art, music, science, and literacy, Taub said.
Alumnus Anthony Ramirez (‘96) and Paul Ramirez ran a workshop called “Taste of the Bronx,” where they discussed their Bronx-based businesses, The Bronx Hot Sauce and Mainland Media, and the importance of social entrepreneurship.
“The Committee for the Tenth Grade and Dr. Joyce-Bernard queried the grade and asked what issues were most important to them,” Leeds said. Students asked for workshops on the environment, so alumni presented many environmental workshops, as well as a workshop on journalistic ethics.
McCarthy didn’t have concrete expectations because this year is the first time this structure is being run, he said. This year is very important in that it is a fresh start for this program and it will show the strengths and weaknesses of the structure, he said.
Service Learning Day started with an A period assembly in the Recital Hall, led by Dr. Leeds, the Dean of the Class of 2020 Dr. Glenn Wallach, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly, and Dr. Joyce-Bernard. The students participated in various workshops B through F period, and the day culminated in a screening of the film “A Decade of Fire” by filmmaker Vivian Vásquez followed by a talkback with Vásquez during G and H periods. “This film provides a complex and meaningful narrative about the assets within the Bronx, and the ways in which the voices of those who have been historically marginalized in the U.S. can have their perspectives centered in conversation,” Joyce-Bernard said.
The day was filled with tons of activities, both educational and fun, just as Shaari had expected, he said. Shaari found the movie interesting because it sheds light on one of the most controversial topics in the South Bronx, the decade of fire. It taught him how the government’s systemic inequity and racism was involved, he said.
English teacher Rebecca Bahr went to the “Taste of the Bronx” workshop. She was impressed by the men’s story and hard work they put in to establish themselves in this business that also has a social purpose, and inspired to learn more about the Bronx, she said.
Many students found the format similar to Book Day, a day centered on a specific book where students can choose from the many workshops held by students, teachers, and guests. “Last year’s Book Day was really enriching, and I hope that Service Learning Day is as fun and insightful as Book Day,” Mantravadi said.
Many students also compared the structure of the Tenth Grade Service Learning Day with Ninth Grade Service Learning Day. Shaari found Ninth Grade Service Learning Day to be too structured. He wished that the day gave students more freedom because all students partook in similar activities, he said. He liked the meaning of the day but felt like the day was designed mainly for students to complete their service requirement, he said. “Compared to last year, especially since students run their own workshops, I think it’s going to be a much more authentic and genuine day where people share interests with their class and grade,” he said. Though the workshops appealed to a variety of interests, the day followed a particular theme.
Every Service Learning Day this year has a theme, Leeds said. The tenth grade’s theme was getting to know more about the school’s community partners and more about the Bronx, he said. Some community partners that held workshops were the Ittleson Center, Mosholu Montefiore Community Center, Riverdale Neighborhood House, Riverdale Senior Services, and Kingsbridge Heights Community Center.
Although the CCVA looked forward to their first-ever Tenth Grade Service Learning Day, there were various challenges in the planning of the day. “As much support and enthusiasm as the school has shown, it has been a huge effort to get everything in place. Since this is the first time this day is happening, the challenge is to put into practice what the vision of the day will be,” Leeds said. Leeds hopes the day “grows and becomes a part of the fabric of the school.”
“Students can sometimes feel disconnected from service— in school, you go to your classes, you learn and do homework, but on this day, you stop and realize that as a school, you can do something with the things you have and help other people, and help ourselves in a way,” Pustilnik said.
“It’s exciting to lead a presentation and be part of a panel, but I’m also excited to see what my other peers and classmates have in store,” Pustilnik said.
“I hope to see students get exposure and experience a wide range of different experiences and meanings of what service could be by hearing from their classmates and learning what the wide spectrum of community-based activities in the greater New York City area are,” Wallach said.