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Service Energizes Community During Pandemic

Service Energizes Community During Pandemic
Corinna Crafton

A pillar of our Middle School program is service to and learning from others. Churchill’s words are especially appropriate when we consider the many ways our students serve and learn within and beyond the W+H community. 

Service Energizes Community During Pandemic

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” 
                                -Winston Churchill

A pillar of our Middle School program is service to and learning from others. Churchill’s words are especially appropriate when we consider the many ways our students serve and learn within and beyond the W+H community. 

Our formal Service Learning Program is well-established, and once it is safe to do so, we shall return to shift work at the Hillside Community Food Bank, habitat restoration at Ashbrook Restoration, and visits to learn about physical therapy and to provide companionship to residents at Highlands Care One long-term care facility. We miss spending time at each of these places, working and learning from staff and other volunteers, and contributing our efforts to improving the lives of others and the well-being of our environment.

Destination activities, however, are not the only forms of service our Middle School students perform. There is much that our students do within the Wardlaw+Hartridge School community to support others and, in so doing, they improve themselves. Even now, the work continues. A pandemic cannot stop acts of solidarity, generosity, and awareness raising.

Middle School Student Government has always led efforts to educate and engage peers in active support to address a variety of compelling issues. We work with alumnus Greg Casagrande ‘81, founder of MicroDreams, which supports small women-owned businesses in island nations of the South Pacific. We have an annual partnership with the Crossroads School to provide gifts for economically-disadvantaged children with autism. We engage in many other special activities aimed at both educating our students about important issues and providing them with hands-on engagement in addressing some aspect of the issue in order to make an impact.

The W+H Middle School Community Service Team, made up of students across the middle grades, swiftly moved into action once we began distance learning, volunteering to tutor and play games with younger students in Lower School. These one-on-one sessions provide some of our youngest students with a peer who can read to them, work on homework, or simply joke and laugh during what can be a very isolating time. The Middle School students are inspired by this work and are, themselves, enriched for it.  

The signature project of every Middle School student’s eighth grade year is the rigorous Capstone research project which calls on them to identify an issue that is both personally relevant and globally significant. After months of research and writing, students volunteer to present their findings to a panel of faculty and a community audience. These topics include a call to action, a service-oriented invitation to take the next step and do something to ameliorate a global issue by taking local action. 

This year’s Capstone presentations were incredibly powerful and demonstrated each student’s nuanced understanding of a complex issue. Peruse the topics presented just last week, and you shall see the scope of topics studied reflects both the unique interests of each student-researcher as well as the gravity of each topic as an important issue needing attention and action. Each student ended their presentation with an invitation to the audience to get involved in efforts to help.

  • Decline in bird populations in southeast Asia
  • Causes and consequences of human trafficking
  • Role of religion in reproduction health
  • Impact of artificial intelligence on the economy
  • Water scarcity in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Effects of air pollution on climate disruption
  • Power of media to influence body image
  • Influence of dairy products on human health and the environment
  • Consequences of foster care on child and adolescent development

And so, a pandemic rages. Campus is closed. Uncertainty permeates daily life. Yet, I am grateful for this community and these wonderfully kind, generous, curious, and engaged students. They remind us daily of the great potential for goodness and good works. We see in them great courage in the face of so much uncertainty, and as Miss Tucker shared recently with her students, the collective power of community for the bravest people know they can’t do it alone. 

Perhaps part of why service continues to be so important to all of us at this time is because our current circumstances have magnified just how vitally important it is for folks to care for one another. Uncertain times can breed insecurity, which can lead to mistrust. Or, as it has in our community, uncertain times energize and motivate, inspire and invigorate, leading to even stronger bonds of friendship and mutual concern. Now, more than ever, this is true.

  • Distance Learning