Volunteering: Education for the Real World

By Sally Rosenberg, Director of Community Service & Service Learning

On the bus ride back from delivering Meals on Wheels last week, the Kindergartners, and their confident eighth grade buddies, played “I spy”. It made me think that I get to play “I spy” with 1280 kids every year and how I would love to share what I have spied from time to time. Here’s a sampling:

And the wheels on the bus go round and round….

From the other side of the world our visitors from Taiwan spent the day with me seeing a different side of Dallas. In the morning we volunteered at the North Texas Food Bank. Results: 9,360 cans of beans, soup and corn boxed = 7,740 pounds = 6, 450 meals. They were impressed with what fifteen of us could accomplish in just under two hours. Then it was off to serve lunch to 496 clients at The Bridge. Their words as we reflected:

  • It was much harder emotionally than physically.
  • If we could stay longer, we would surely like to do more.

And the wheels on the bus go round and round….

Saturdays I spy Upper School students currently involved in political campaigns, helping at local carnivals, on various youth boards, cleaning up area lakes and last year at almost 400 non-profits for a total of almost 25,000 volunteer hours. Of those, over 2000 were given each Saturday from 9:00 – 12:00 and during Spring Break to help change the trajectory of a child’s education at a local elementary school. The principal credits our volunteers with taking her students from the 50% range to well above 85% in Reading, English and Math on state testing. We’re back this year with more volunteers and better skills. Here’s what some of our kids say about this experience:

  • Mentoring/Tutoring has made me take a hard look at myself as I examine the privilege that I’ve grown up with, both in terms of my educational and socio-economic background.
  • I find myself thinking about “my kids” who are struggling quite a bit during the regular week, often jotting down ways I could explain a particular concept to them as I think of it in class or in the car.

And the wheels on the bus go round and round….

Back at school, my office phone rings and I spy an alumna name on the screen, calling to tell me that he is involved in a non-profit and perhaps I could offer a little advice. I love these calls. Most of these regular calls are from past students that I rarely “spied” volunteering when they were here as students. They were too involved in other things. I knew they would give back when time allowed, because we opened their hearts to the idea and gave them ample opportunities to learn about the joy and responsibility of volunteering. We all can’t do everything.

And the wheels on the bus go round and round….

A stroll across campus, I see the donation boxes full of school supplies, the cans stacked high and ready for the sixth grade trip next week to the food bank, the super hero underwear overflowing from bags in Fifth grade ready to go on their service adventure. But it’s almost time to wave to the seventh graders as they walk across the far field to tutor at our neighbor school and for me to spy in on the fifteen Eighth Grade Service-Learning elective students. They are matched with individual classrooms throughout our Pre and Lower School. They provide written reflections for me periodically. Many say things like this:

  • I don’t want the Second graders to be afraid of the kids that are older than them. I want them to know that Greenhill is full of very generous and kind people.
  • …After seeing what a teacher has to deal with I am thankful for my teachers and my parents.”

And the wheels on the bus go round and round….

A Tenth grade English class takes a day to judge poems and essays written by the clients of The Stewpot for their annual Halloween talent show. The winners will receive cash prizes. This job is very important and the students understand that. They take the task seriously. The next day, the class again pauses from their study of The Scarlett Letter to reflect on what they had done and what they had learned about the clients who wrote the pieces – all of them homeless.

“What words do you think of when you see a homeless person on the street?”

Bum, scam artist, sad, desperate, lack of morals, lonely, pathetic, scary, dirty, poor.

“What words would you use to describe the authors from reading their works?”

Religious, appreciative, lovely, educated, seemed normal, found beauty in simplicity, determined

“What made their works original?”

Spark of creativity, new perspective, made you think, entertained you, moved you

“What do you think they wanted you to know or think about them; or about being homeless?”

They are vulnerable, they are nostalgic, they feel alienated, they have hope in and believe in a divine  power or something bigger than themselves, that it is not their fault, they long for comfort, sometimes just a smile, and a world of peace.

 I thanked them for their hard work and thoughts and reminded them that none of the clients at the Stewpot, choose the life of homelessness. They grow up as kids playing outside, going to school, enjoying life, with dreams and aspirations, just like each of us. As the class turned back to The Scarlett Letter I thought Hester probably didn’t plan the twists and turns that her own life took either.  Service Learning. Something to think about.

And the wheels on the bus go round and round….

Back on the bus, after our Meals on Wheels delivery, we seriously discussed why the clients confined to wheelchairs, with various disabilities, really aren’t so different than we are, and in fact, how we are similar. That was followed by:

  • Hey, we are hungry too!
  • My heart feels so good right now.
  • We really are lucky to help these clients live independently. I’d like the chance to do this again.
  • I remember this building, knocking on the doors and pushing the elevator buttons from when I was in Kindergarten, Mrs. Rosenberg. That’s pretty cool.

You bet it is!

Encouraging service is an important part of our mission. I spy our students practicing, through volunteerism, the lessons and big concepts they have learned about respect and compassion.

Greenhill. Education for the real world.

And the wheels on the bus go round and round….

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