Class of 2023 attends virtual Service Learning Day

Sophia Paley and Clara Stevanovic

All 11th graders attended a series of virtual workshops on Thursday for Service Learning Day called “Environmental Justice and Stewardship: Exploring Sustainable Practices and Working as a Collective.” Each student chose two workshops to attend during the day.  

The program was intentionally designed to provoke thought about lived experiences and reflection upon conversations about environmental justice from last year’s Service Learning Day, Director of the Center for Community Values and Action (CCVA) Dr. Kimberly Joyce-Bernard said. The theme for Thursday’s event was inspired by the success of The UN Climate Conference in November where international collective problem solving was showcased, she wrote. 11th grade Service Learning Day, like the UN Conference, illuminated the hope acted upon through the collaborative efforts of the HM community and community partner agencies, Dr. Joyce-Bernard wrote in an email.  

“The Class of 2023 engages with community partner agencies, and explores service-learning through a critical social justice lens as they participate in conversations, presentations, and activities that address environmental justice and stewardship,” Dr. Joyce-Bernard wrote. 

Community partners, students, and alumni led the various workshops, CCVA Program Associate Conasia Watts said. The community partners included the Riverdale Neighborhood House, Nutritionist at Riverdale Senior Services Deborah Johnson, the Van Cortlandt Park Coalition for the Daylighting of Tibbetts Brook, Oko Farms, the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center (KHCC) Food Pantry, Muslim Volunteers for NY, and Summer on the Hill, Watts said.

In addition to the various workshops, all students began the day by watching a documentary called “The Sacrifice Zone.” This documentary allowed students to see the experiences of a low income community of BIPOC people who are negatively affected by a waste management facility in Newars, NJ, Joyce-Bernard wrote. 

Like last year, the events of the day took place virtually, with students attending workshops from home over Zoom. In order to structure the day well and provide students with the most engaging learning experience possible, Joyce-Bernard, Watts, and UD Science Teacher and Program Coordinator for the CCVA Melissa Doellman worked closely with the organizations to make sure each topic was coincided with this year’s theme, Joyce-Bernard said. 

The CCVA chose the topic of environmental justice and stewardship because UD students consistently brought it up through the CCVA grade-wide conferences, all School Service-Learning Day, and the Service-Learning Team/HM 246 initiatives. “Many of the CCVA’s community partner agencies are addressing the detrimental impact that the environment has on the health, food access, and housing of the communities that they serve. An example is the Northwest Bronx Food Justice Coalition which Riverdale Senior Services, Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, and Riverdale Neighborhood House are all members of,” Joyce-Bernard wrote.

Although the annual themes for service learning day are the same across grades for the purpose of continuity, every workshop is unique to the grades, Watts said.

In both Johnson’s and the KHCC Food Pantry’s workshop, the community partners  discussed the importance of food. Johnson addressed how food can affect people’s mood and help people with anxiety and depression. The KHCC Food Pantry spoke about food inequalities, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, Watts said. 

Riverdale Neighborhood House, a local settlement house, taught students about food sustainability and sovereignty and told students about summer internship opportunities. 

Phoebe Rice (11) attended the Riverdale Neighborhood House workshop and learned about the friendly fridge, something she had seen before but never knew exactly what it was. “Today I learned that the purpose of the friendly fridge is built around a network of volunteers who help to recover food that might be wasted and redistribute it to the people that need it the most,” Rice said. 

Louise Kim (11) also attended the Riverdale Neighborhood House’s workshop and learned about food insecurity in the Bronx. “I learned more about practices of mutual aid, of collective and communal efforts to sustain each other, including community fridges and gardens, and the workshop has inspired me to look more into how I can be more involved in food access and equity in my community,” Kim said. 

Natalia Hecker (11), who also attended the workshop, learned that systematic racism and climate change intersect when minorities are disproportionately affected by environmental issues, she said.

In a different workshop, students made Valentine’s Day greeting cards for City Meals on Wheels at the Muslim Volunteers for NY workshop, Watts said. This is an organization engaged in charitable work pertaining to education, health and wellness, and environmental work in the New York Area. 

Other students joined a Summer on the Hill workshop, which is an organization centered in the Bronx, Washington Heights, and Harlem and aims to educate low-income public school students. “I’m glad we are engaging with an organization that helps communities near our school,” Amelia Resnick (11) said. The participants learned about the organization’s current programming as well as how the pandemic has affected them, Resnick said. 

The Van Cortlandt Park and Oko Farms workshops discussed environmental justice. Isa Jamira ‘15, who ran the Oko Farms workshop, talked about sustainable and modern ways of farming, specifically aquaponics. Resnick also attended the Van Cortlandt Park workshop and learned about sewage runoff, she said. 

There are many steps involved in crafting a virtual conference, Watts said. After deciding on the theme for this year’s service learning day, the CCVA team sought out the school’s community partners and coordinated the logistics behind making sure that the day would run smoothly, she said. Before the event, 11th graders were required to fill out permission forms and choose which workshops they were interested in attending, she said. 

Service Learning Day helps us learn about organizations in the Bronx doing good work to help others, Rice said. “[Service Learning Day] gives us the opportunity to make a contribution and a difference where our time and effort can have a great impact,” she said. 

Watts believes that service is for everyone, she said. “I think the CCVA’s current model is one that allows for many students from different backgrounds with different passions and abilities to get involved in a very meaningful way,” she said.