Community service has undergone a transformation at St. Paul’s!
It is still integral to the school’s mission, but since last year, community service has been upgraded to “service learning.” The change means that students aren’t just helping an organization, they’re learning about the reasons behind it, too. All of this means that we continue to improve on our mission: St. Paul’s develops…compassionate, engaged citizens.
“Service learning brings the service experience back to the classroom,” says Mindy Stephenson, Toddler through 2nd grade Division Head.
Beginning last year, St. Paul’s paired every grade in the lower school with a different community service organization. Each organization, which will remain attached to the same grade year after year, was carefully chosen so its mission had a natural connection to a particular grade’s curriculum.
For example, 4th grade at St. Paul’s emphasizes reading and book clubs, so the teachers decided to work with Reach Out and Read, an organization that incorporates books and reading into pediatric care. Over the course of the school year, St. Paul’s students hear from a representative about the organization; spend time packaging books for young patients; and visit a Reach Out and Read site – a hospital or clinic – so they can volunteer reading to children who are waiting for health services.
“One of our goals is to get kids out into the community so they can see an organization first-hand and really understand what the organization does,” says Stephenson, who previously taught fourth grade.
She remembers chaperoning a small group of students volunteering at the Women’s, Infant, and Children Clinic at Swope Health Services last year when they encountered a child their same age who couldn’t read.
“The fourth graders recognized that this child was a non-reader, and that made an impact,” Stephenson says. “I think it made them grateful for their own education.”
As children progress through St. Paul’s, service learning becomes an even more integral part of their experience.
Middle school students go on-site to their service learning organization – Kansas City Community Kitchen – weekly. Every Friday, Dean of Students Ted van Thullenar or Head of School Andrew Myler take a small group downtown to work as servers for the organization’s “Dine with Dignity” initiative.
The experience is eye opening to young people who have probably never had to worry about where they will find their next meal, he says. “The organization helps anyone who needs a meal – anyone with food insecurity.”
In addition to this service opportunity, every middle school student must perform at least 10 hours of community service outside of school hours. Students are exposed to speakers during chapel who talk about various community organizations and share volunteer opportunities.
St. Paul’s has designated early dismissal days as community service days. Whether it is called Community Service or Service Learning, St. Paul’s has upped its game with respect to developing compassionate, engaged citizens!