Trash cleanup, lunches, and park maintenance: Service Learning in MD

Nia Huff and Samantha Matays

Head of Middle Division (MD) Javaid Khan pointed to the MD Service Learning Statement and said, “The MD Service-Learning program encourages students to see themselves as members of an interdependent New York City community. We support the leadership of our community-based partners by learning about the issues that affect our neighbors and provide volunteer service to local organizations. In addition, we seek to understand how the major issues of the day impact our lives and how we can creatively and inclusively meet these challenges.”

This years’ MD Service Learning program is in full swing. In previous, sixth and seventh graders did service learning with their advisories and eighth graders signed up individually for activities that were facilitated and chaperoned by MD teachers, Service Learning Coordinator Caitlin Hickerson said. This year, all grade levels will do service learning through their advisories to comply with the COVID-19 protocols and decrease potential exposure, Hickerson said.

After school began, Khan utilized his bi-weekly meetings with Hickerson to plan the service learning activities. As the Service Learning Coordinator, Hickerson develops ideas for activities, ensures that they run  smoothly, and coordinates with the CCVA to plan activities between multiple divisions, she said. 

Advisory Coordinator Norrma Rodgriguez and Hickerson met over the summer to prepare the upcoming year and discuss how service learning will be implemented in the advisories, Advisory Coordinator Norma Rodriguez said. “The goal is to continue to build the community within the advisory so the advisor is more involved,” Rodriguez said.

Before the pandemic, MD service learning included trips to Target, the Mercy Center, and the New York Common Pantry. However, these plans can no longer take place due to COVID-19, so Hickerson pivoted to outdoor activities that worked well with the ages of the students, she said.

This year’s theme in the MD is “A Climate Healthy Future for All,” Hickerson said. “A theme establishes a cohesive idea around which to plan and reflect on a set of activities,” she said. “The sixth and eighth grade activities are most directly connected to this theme, and there will also be division-wide activities that speak to it.”

Each grade in the MD works on different initiatives. In sixth grade, advisories go to Broadway Avenue and pick up trash in the neighborhood. Lila Lee (6) found her experience engaging and thought it was a great way to build bonds with her friends, she said.

In seventh grade, two advisories every week pack 100 sack lunches for the New York Common Pantry (NYCP). 

Ava Litman (7) enjoyed packing bags because it was a great experience to see her advisory come together and divy up the tasks. Her advisor, Math Department Chair Quentin Brooks, laid out cards that listed food items and the budget an individual had to work with, showing the students the difficult economic choices people make when grocery shopping. It made her even more appreciative for what she has and for the school, she said.

In addition to service learning in advisory, Caroline Mignone’s (7) Spanish class wrote notes in multiple different languages for the sack lunches for the NYCP. “It was a good way to be kind and bond with our class,” she said.

In the spring, the eighth grade class will perform trail maintenance with the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance, Hickerson said.

Future service learning plans include an assembly in January with a speaker on climate justice and climate law, and an upcycling activity where students will turn t-shirts into bags, Hickerson said. Later this year as well as in future years, Khan hopes to return to working with the school’s partners.