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Service Learning Undergoes Paradigm Shift in Upper School

Grade 9 students embarked on a revamped service learning requirement in the Upper School this month, designed to deepen empathy, connections and the impact of their service. 
Beginning this year, St. Margaret’s initiative to advance the personal growth of students through service learning will have an enhanced approach.

Grade 9 students embarked on a revamped service learning requirement in the Upper School this month, designed to deepen empathy, connections and the impact of their service. Students will begin to forge a consistent relationship with a nonprofit organization to support ongoing service needs through volunteering. Working within their advisories, students will focus on one specific organization, developing a partnership that could last up to four years.

As part of an expanded emphasis on service learning, students also will have dedicated school time toward serving their designated organizations. Advisories will meet with their nonprofit partners five times during the school year for a half day of service, beginning Oct. 11.

Students have long had a set number of required service hours as a graduation requirement, but the evolution of that setup was prioritized in the 2016 Strategic Plan and validated through student feedback. Upper School students reported that they would like the opportunity to visit a local community organization several times over an extended period, adding that a greater understanding of the organizations they served would make their work more meaningful on both sides.

The shift to a more consistent partnership was piloted by a group of Upper School students last spring, and was scaled to this year’s entire freshman class.

The program started with a brainstorm and discussion of potential organizational partners at the grade 9 retreat, and continued when school leaders organized a panel presentation featuring nonprofit leaders from Family Assistance Ministries, Great Opportunities, Breakthrough SJC and Special Camp for Special Kids. The panel was designed to help students better understand the role of a strong volunteer.

Students also participated in a workshop on develop cultural competency skills, such as managing intent and impact, to better empathize with the people they are serving.  

“In switching to a program where grade 9 advisories are going to make a commitment to a single organization, we wanted to make sure they were equipped to reach out to these organizations,” said Lora Allison, Upper School director of community life. “In developing meaningful partnerships and understanding authentic needs, these panels give students a better understanding of the nonprofit sector and the skills these organizations value in volunteers.”

Organizations that advisories plan to partner with include Family Assistance Ministries, Brookdale San Juan Capistrano, HomeAid Orange County and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
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