Grade 11 students in Elise Rodriguez and Erica Huerta’s advisories were at both Orange County Head Start locations, where they helped clean and organize playground equipment and supply closets during their first visit. Down the street at the Orange County Fire Station 7 in San Juan Capistrano, Upper School juniors in Kimberly Kim’s advisory prepared and served lunch to the local community’s first responders.
In San Clemente, two advisories were taking part in a beach cleanup as part of a service partnership with Drains to Ocean. In Laguna Beach, Dr. Janice Avalone’s advisory visited The Friendship Shelter where they prepared a meal for the residents living there as part of a transitional housing program.
Throughout the school year, St. Margaret’s Upper School students are building relationships through service, learning more about the needs of the local community and helping others during the school day through the division’s service-learning program.
The service-learning block takes place seven times during the school year, during an extended Wednesday experiential education block. Two grades take part in experiential education (ExEd),
while the other two will do service learning during the block. The grades then rotate for the next block.
The structure of service learning in the Upper School has been in place for several years now, designed to build relationships through long-term partnerships with organizations in San Juan Capistrano and beyond. At St. Margaret’s, service learning moves beyond volunteering and documenting hours, to creating connections and deeper meaning with specific learning goals. That includes developing an understanding of societal issues and systemic causes behind community needs, fostering empathy for others, identifying real-versus-perceived needs, cultivating life skills through experiential projects, and reflecting on the experience.
Several advisories partner with a local organization in grade 9, and maintain the partnership during the entirety of the advisory’s time in the Upper School. Such longer relationships foster better learning outcomes, deeper investment and more meaningful contributions to important community needs. St. Margaret’s has developed such partnerships with organizations like Laura’s House, Family Assistance Ministries and Special Camp.
“When relationships are made, the human connection leads to higher engagement, better learning outcomes and, ultimately, a partnership that better serves the community,” Upper School Director of Community Life Lora Allison said.
Other partnerships are newer. St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church launched its Infant Pantry
in 2021, and several Upper School advisories were eager to forge a partnership with the pantry’s important work. Three advisories are partnered with Infant Pantry, helping stock items, organize donations, label inventory and even promote the program. This year, two advisories will address the most critical need of the Infant Pantry, sourcing baby and toddler formula.
Other partnerships include Goin’ Native, Capistrano Senior Living, Father Serra’s Pantry, Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley, San Juan Elementary and the Pet Project Foundation.
During the first service-learning block of the year, the Upper School advisories dedicate time to participate in a guided workshop dissecting the “why” of service learning, creating better understanding of real needs versus perceived needs, and discussing how students can better serve as strong volunteers supporting their partner organization’s mission.
The service-learning partnership will last the duration of this school year, with four more blocks scheduled during the school day.
The next ExEd block will take place in January, with grades 9 and 10 participating in service learning and grades 11 and 12 participating in ExEd activities.