By KATALYN VIDAL
I am a Spanish teacher and I am drawn to service-learning because I feel that it is essential for children to learn empathy and tolerance while immersed in the act of serving.
This can take many forms, and can foster a sense of greater community and purpose. As a teacher that has worked in independent schools for more than ten years, service-learning is often the only way that privileged students interact with issues that impact the wider world.
As members of our individual academic communities, it is our duty to spread the message that by sharing our stories, hearing those of others, building bridges, and thinking of practical solutions, that we can create a healthier society.
This year, I had the honor of attending Community Works Institute ’s Summer East Institute in Vermont. I went with the intention of learning how to build the foundations of a service-learning program at my school, but I ended up leaving with so much more.
Now, months later, I feel that my mission is clear: to bring place-based social education to my school. In the wake of the devastating events in Charlottesville and Barcelona, we need to cultivate interdependence on one another, now more than ever. With all it’s beauty, the small city of Burlington, Vermont was not afraid to tackle issues of sustainability and sanctuary for immigrants while we were attending the Institute, and neither were we.
As a participant I was inspired, challenged and encouraged to present a solid case for why service -learning matters. In a city like New York, it matters. In the smaller community of Winooski, Vermont, (where we did “Collaborative Ethnography” field work at CWI”s Summer Institute!) it also matters. As I plan my spring wedding now, which will combine friends and family from four different states and four different countries, I am certainly certainly reminded of how much this matters.
As a we struggle to know what to tell our students when they ask us why certain people hate people they have never met, I feel that it is our moral responsibility as educators to encourage “transformational intellectualism.” As members of our individual academic communities, it is our duty to spread the message that by sharing our stories, hearing those of others, building bridges, and thinking of practical solutions, that we can create a healthier society.
Now is the time for us to reclaim our time, to re-focus our energies, to roll up our sleeves and build the kinds of communities we want to live in. Not only is that for the common good of all, our society depends on it.
Last fall, I started a buddy program between Speyer School’s two Kindergarten classes and the middle school members of the “Inspeyered” service elective. This elective met three times a week. In addition to that, we visited PS 111 once every other month to visit with their students. I also began and managed a drive for Covenant House New York, with the help of the sixth grade student council representatives and one parent volunteer.
I want to help make service a regular part of our middle school curriculum. As a new school, Speyer School did not have any regular service offerings or programs until this past year. Administration is highly supportive, and I think that establishing a service hours requirement, a division-wide “Service Day,” and expanding our existing buddy program would be enough to initiate service culture at our school.
The greatest challenges to expanding service at Speyer are the small size of our faculty. Most initiatives at the school must be spearheaded and managed by one person, which is often very hard to manage with a full course load and homeroom. I had to run an elective of 15 students on my own, which included some complex chaperoning situations. I am now working to integrate more help from parent volunteers, and the PA Community Service Committee, in particular. I feel like that may be the key to bringing service to Speyer in a manageable, sustainable way.
Katalyn is a Spanish teacher and Coordinator of Service-Learning at the Speyer School in New York City.
Learn more about CWI’s Summer Institutes on Place Based Service-Learning.
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