Sally W. Rosenberg, Director of Service-Learning & Community Service
There are no tests in the real world, no extra credit for being kind; there are no grades for community service! So why is service part of Greenhill’s mission and how do we validate its “worth” if there are no honor courses or AP’s involved?
After a Meals on Wheels delivery, a kindergarten student who says “I feel happy because I gave someone a meal who might not have eaten that day”, is developing an understanding and compassion appropriate for his or her age and level of development. From the same experience, an eighth-grader might say he or she “feels sad” or “privileged” or “feels grateful that they have food to eat every day” demonstrating a deeper level of understanding. Many of the eighth-graders reflect back on their kindergarten years and remember the excitement that they felt when they delivered the meals at five and six years old and how different they feel now. These are powerful, ungraded lessons.
Pennies have more value when time is spent making beautiful seasonal items that are then displayed and sold by the pre-k students. “Something that is not for me, but for a child in need” is a huge concept, one well learned by these children. We touch on this again in 5th grade when we head to visit Dallas’s state-of-the-art day care center for the homeless, Vogel Alcove. At this level of understanding, children want to come back again, donate, help with their families, and then many join the Teen Board in Upper School. Making a difference, learned early and remembered.
Veterans as heroes, political controversies and civic issues make for great volunteer opportunities and that is seen in 4th grade and throughout the Upper School. Students delve into all aspects of political campaigns and it’s a great way to find out how things work on the inside. They learn about voter registration, canvassing neighborhoods for the president of the United States, congress or town mayors, and the process to repair pot holes and change burnt out red lights. What our students absorb now about our city and even our Student Council, are spring boards to active citizenship – the very core of volunteering in whatever community they choose to settle.
From cleaning up trash while paddling the Trinity River as part of an AP Environmental Science class to cleaning up around White Rock Lake on Saturday mornings, from Lower Schoolers transporting the recyclables from the buildings on campus to growing trees in Primer, helping the environment is critical to our future, and our children know how to do their volunteer part.
Lots of us are close to people who have a medical problem. We learn we can’t support them all, but many individuals on campus, students and adults, happily donate time to organizations that raise money for research, delivering meals, or offering other help to people with an illness. Occasionally, in support of these types of issues, there are special days that might include bake sales, walks/runs, or simply general education, support, ways to volunteer, understanding and hugs.
Volunteering is a great way to learn new skills, whether we volunteer as part of a service learning class, as part of a team or on our own. It gives us a chance to discover the activities we’re best at and enjoy the most. A volunteer job that we love can even help shape our ideas about a future career.
Volunteering teaches responsibility because people depend on us. Volunteering develops a new understanding of a variety of people and issues— children that need tutors or mentors, people with disabilities, the homeless, the elderly or animals. Volunteering offers perspective on our own lives. Sometimes it’s easy to get consumed by everyday worries and although these things seem important in their own way, it can be helpful to get some distance and think about other things. Volunteering allows us to do this. It lets us focus on others and see that our involvement in the world matters.
Consider these statements from Mrs. Woolley’s Blended Nations English elective, where students are asked to spend 10 hours volunteering in an area that is “uncomfortable” to them.
• I learned so much kindness, gratitude, happiness, patience, and love from the one hour sessions I spent with the students. And for that, I will be forever thankful.
• I can say that my service-learning confirmed that I must combat the disparity that exists in America. Whether it is education or healthcare, I know that my career must include working to improve the lives of those who do not benefit from privilege. If I had the time to tutor all the students that attend at-risk schools, I would do it in a heartbeat. But, since I do not have that kind of time, I believe it is my purpose to grant all students the chance at a fair education, and I will work until I find a way to achieve my goal.
• The shelter changed my view of Dallas. It felt so alien to go from peaceful North Dallas enclave to another part of Dallas completely. Only 20 minutes away from my house but the gap between my Dallas, the Dallas that I knew, and the Dallas that I have no clue of has become apparent. The experience has let me grow as a member of Dallas. I know so little of this city even after living here for 18 years. I want to learn more and know more.
• We are all just people; we are all human beings. I know now that I am not much different from those I serve at the shelter, not by a long shot.
There is great “worth” in the depth of what is learned from the experiences through the years of volunteering at Greenhill. Last year our Upper School students volunteered 22,179 hours. Independent Sector’s most recent quote of the value of a volunteer hour is $23.40 = $518,989 given back to the community. While there are no grades for community service, each one of our students is heart smart, and that is an invaluable part of a Greenhill education.