Our independence is among our greatest strengths. We get to choose our mission, we get to select our curriculum, and we get judged by how well we do what we say we do. But, though we celebrate our independence, we are no more independent than any other organization. We are, as the poet John Donne describes in No Man Is an Island, a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If this is true, and I think it is, then we have a clear call to engage with our community, to be part of the main. Like many independent schools, that call has roots in our mission, which charges us with “inspiring and educating responsible, globally aware citizens.” And, we choose to be part of the main through service, a sort of public mission for our private school.
Our program has been longstanding, but, under the direction of Lorie Shetter, it has gained clarity in recent years. We have age-appropriate partner organizations with whom we are connected, and whether we are restoring an eco-system at Walden ponds, making a blanket for a family served by There with Care or serving a meal at Bridge House, students not only learn of the inner workings of these organizations, they develop empathy, compassion, and a sense that they are part of something larger than themselves.
Beyond this, we have community service requirement for our middle school students and opportunities for our families to serve together under our school’s banner. To add up the hours of time we dedicate to making sure this place is “transmitted to others greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us” would be a tall task. We embody the quote made popular by President John Kennedy, but originating in Luke 12:48:
“To whom much is given, much is required.”
But, we also gain from serving others. We develop skills like cooperation, collaboration, problem-solving, and creative thinking, all of which are identified by schools, colleges, and businesses as important to a 21st Century education. In a sense, we have our service to thank for our own personal growth. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, a win-win situation.
Dan Simonet, AmeriCorps*VISTA, wrote about this in a research paper published in May of 2008. His focus was service learning’s impact on higher education, but his finding are just as valid for our PS – 8th grade school. His key point is this: service-learning creates greater student engagement. For those counting on a scholastic scorecard, “integrating academics and community service delivers greater student leadership development, enriched learning, and improved academic performance.”
Finally, the emphasis on service fits well with some of our youngest citizens. Connie Cass summarized this phenomenon when she reported on the findings of an Associated Press-GfK Poll. She wrote of the millennial generation, “today's young Americans are more serious about giving back than their parents were. In fact, those under age 30 now are more likely to say citizens have a ‘very important obligation’ to volunteer.”
All of this drives me back to my original question: what role for our school in its community? I like John Donne’s thought. Our school is not an island; it’s a piece of the continent, a part of the main. On behalf of all of us at Boulder Country Day, thank you for allowing our piece to fit in with yours, and for helping us learn about ourselves through serving others. I know we are better for it.