It was a warm, sunny morning in late August. The HMS staff and faculty of the 2016-17 school year had come together for a day of joy and learning in the community. Later, we would be painting mugs at Java & Clay and later still we would be running through downtown Gig Harbor on a scavenger hunt. But right now, we were examining our practice. What norms and values did we want to bring to the forefront of the school year? What would be our theme?
This introspective practice in the form of a theme is something that we started last year. As mentioned in my blog from September 19th, last year’s theme was Assuming Positive Intent. We found that when we intentionally focused on assuming the best of people and their intentions, not only did our perspectives change, but our relationships grew. Now it was time to find a theme once again. The parameters would be that it needed to be something multi-faceted, something that could be done at any age level, something that could include a reflective question and most importantly something that was appropriate to our school mission. We wanted our theme to be as transformational and intentional as assuming positive intent was the previous year. The choice was clear. Why not put intentional focus on something that was already so integral to our practice and to what we want to instill in our students—service.
The wheels were set in motion much earlier, of course. We had already decided that in celebration of our school’s 35th anniversary, a school-wide service project was in order. Two of us were already registered to participate in the American Montessori Society’s Peace Retreat in New Orleans, which will focus on Service Learning. Service is what we do in our school and what we want to encourage in our students. Middle School students develop and participate in five service projects over the course of the school year. Individual classrooms do different projects throughout the year, as well. Children are constantly serving each other by being mindful community members.
In our Middle School students work in groups to come up with five projects they want to complete over the course of the school year. The students take charge in researching the projects, coordinating with the appropriate project leaders, communicating to parents, gathering extra volunteers when needed and any other logistics. The students then reflect both in their journal and as a whole group when the project is complete.
Many leaders in education use the term service learning instead of community service. By definition service learning has a reflective piece to it that goes beyond the community service aspect. Whenever possible the projects are decided and developed through both the need of the community and the passion of those serving. Service learning teaches children not just about the impact they can make on their community, but the impact that helping others makes on us.
We know service is important to our staff and students. We also know it is something that our parent community values. Asimina Kubaitis, Board member and HMS parent, said it well. “It’s very telling that the most popular parent committee is the Service Project Committee. We don’t even have a project or a date set and already people are asking to be a part of it!” It is true, of all the committees parents have signed up to participate in, the Service Project Committee has the most members.
Service at any age allows us to not only help others, but to find our own passions. Service helps us develop our morals and values and connects us with our community. The hands-on opportunities of going out and helping, of seeing change with our own eyes and of being part of that change last a lifetime. Furthermore service learning allows us to develop gratitude for our own lives and experiences.
Of course, service isn’t just big projects. Service happens every day. Our intention to focus on service this year means that we need to continuously ask ourselves if our actions are part of serving. When we are in the classroom are we serving our school mission and our students? When we are communicating with parents whether via email, in a conference, or in the lobby is our conversation serving the parents? When we, as students, are creating projects or persevering through challenging work, aren’t we serving our intellects in the best possible way? When we have discussions at staff or board meetings are we serving our children, our families, and not to be forgotten, are we serving each other?
That morning in August, we came together and chose a theme that we all feel passionately about. We encourage our students and parents to participate in our theme, too. Whether it is serving on a school committee; taking part in a service project; or even serving ourselves through rest, exercise and healthy eating; the opportunities are endless.