Effective Practices : Pedagogy
Pedagogy Section 8
1. Does your school have a formalized program of community service? If so, how was this program developed and how is it coordinated today?
2. If no formalized program of community service exists, describe the various community service activities underway at your school by grade.
3. What developmental needs are being met in the child through participation in community service projects?
4. What is your school’s philosophy with regard to student participation in community service programs?
5. What aspects of your school’s community service program are particularly strong, and why are they effective?
6. If there were something you could change with regard to community service at your school, what would it be and why?
Does your school have a formalized program of community service? If so, how was this program developed and how is it coordinated today?
One of the guiding premises of Waldorf education is that its purpose is to create human beings who are active and effective citizens of the world around them. As a result community service programs and service projects have a strong base of support in our schools.
Community service programs have been developed in schools for students of all ages. One school with students in kindergarten through grade 8 has a program which is focused on class participation in community service activities. The school requires 10 hours per year of class participation in community service work for grades K-3 and 20 hours per year for grades 4-8. One member of the faculty serves as the coordinator for the program, fulfilling his committee participation requirement in this way. He was selected for the post based on his interest and previous experience at other schools.
The program coordinator seeks out volunteer needs in the larger community and posts these opportunities on a bulletin board for teachers to consider. The school has developed relationships with several assisted living facilities in the neighborhood, and with the local department of parks and recreation which often has needs in the maintenance and development of its parks.
On the bulletin board there is also a thermometer which gives a quick visual indicator of how the school is doing with respect to its goal for community service hours. When a class completes some community service work the project coordinator is notified and the hours worked are posted on the bulletin board. Each class lists the specific work that was done, and the number of hours that were donated.
The school recognizes that some kinds of learning take place best outside of the classroom, and that the feeling of responsibility for being an active citizen is built through service. Through this program the school has also built strong ties with the greater community.
Another K through 8 school has an active program for students in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades. The 6th grade students have taken on the responsibility for recycling at the school. They collect paper and plastic lunch containers from the classrooms and take it out for pickup once a week. Additionally, the 6th grade participates in a medieval knighting ceremony at the end of the school year. One of the requirements for being knighted is the completion of ten hours of community service outside of school hours. These hours are signed off by a parent.
Students in the 7th and 8th grade elect to participate in the Social Action Committee, the Festivals and Project Group, or the Buildings and Grounds Committee. One period per week is dedicated to the students’ work in these committees.
The Social Action Committee was formed as an offshoot of the work with Kim Payne on social inclusion. The students in this group attend a one day training session with Kim and then serve in a variety of ways. One area of service is in playground support. In this capacity the students listen for inappropriate or harsh language on the playground and then model better word choices for the younger children. A teacher is called if the modeling is ineffective or the situation escalates, but oftentimes the presence of the older student is enough to change the behavior in a supportive, non-punitive way.
Students in the Social Action committee are also trained to help in developing student change plans. In these cases the student will sit down with a teacher and a younger student who is experiencing behavioral problems. They ask the student questions to help him see the implications of his current behavior. The older student often shares a story about a time in his life when something similar has happened so that the younger student can feel the support and interest of the older student and know that he is not alone in facing these difficult situations.
Sometimes the students in the Social Action Committee may participate in a Circle of Friends that provides support for a new child at the school or one who is having social difficulty. The students also go to the younger classrooms and put on skits that show bullying or other poor behavior. They then engage the students in conversation about how the situation should be handled. They also break into small groups to discuss what rules the younger children would like to see put in place regarding the proper way in which students should treat each other. The Social Action Committee is putting these recommendations into a written Code of Compassion that will be given to the faculty for approval and implementation.
The students who participate in the Buildings and Grounds committee are involved in a variety of projects at the school. When a tree falls on campus they might become involved in stacking the cut lumber for firewood. Other projects might include repainting the bulletin board frames on campus or spreading mulch in the garden beds.
Students in the Festivals group have a role in the preparations for each of the festivals and holiday celebrations that take place at the school. At Michaelmas they built frames that were used by each class to build a scarecrow, and they have helped build structures for the winter fair.
A school with an active high school service program notes that it considers the development of civic consciousness to be a core value for its graduates, and hopes that all involved with the school will find purpose in a connection to the wider community. Community service at this school is defined as voluntary activity which involves interaction with individuals, groups or organizations that contribute to the progress and development of society. All high school students are expected to complete 20 hours of community service in each of their freshman, sophomore and junior years. The completion of this service requirement by Labor Day of the student’s senior year is a prerequisite for graduation. The school emphasizes service to the local community outside of the school.
This school recognizes that its students participate in many volunteer activities as a direct result of their involvement in school activities. These activities such as participation in the school’s student council or the school-wide Michaelmas community clean-up celebration are not counted for credit toward the individual service requirement. All individual community service that takes place within the school context outside of the school day, such as tutoring support, must be proposed in writing by the student and the sponsoring faculty member and receive approval by the Community Service Coordinators in advance of implementation. Students are limited to being credited for a maximum of one-third of their total individual service within the school community.
Students may also receive credit for work done outside of the local community, but as with in-house service, a student will only receive credit for a maximum of 20 hours or one-third of the total individual requirement.
Obviously it is necessary to back up these individual requirements with a stringent administrative paper trail. The school updates hours on a quarterly basis in the public folder of the school’s computer network so that the faculty and staff can access the information. The students receive updates in this rhythm through their Class Advisor. The school makes the community service verification forms available on the school web site so students can easily click and download the form. These forms must be completed by the institution that the student is serving as verification of the service hours spent. The school will also accept written verification of service hours on the organization’s letterhead. The student’s community service requirement on the transcript is updated annually for grades 9, 10 and 11 and quarterly for seniors in default of the policy. The notation on the transcript is complete or incomplete.
If no formalized program of community service exists, describe the various community service activities underway at your school by grade.
One school without a formal program for community service at this time notes that for many years the school had an extensive community service program for high school students. It began as a program just for the 9th grade, and expanded due to its success. In the beginning the 9th grade class walked to a local elementary school and read with the second graders. In subsequent years the 10th and 11th grades students began traveling to a public school in an economically challenged neighborhood, and served as homework buddies to the students there. Then with the advent of additional testing requirements in the public school system the public schools changed their schedules to eliminate study periods and provide additional instructional hours instead. This change prevented our students from being able to provide tutoring and reading help during school hours. At the same time that this service opportunity disappeared the school had to look at the expense of operating the community service program in its current format. Bus expense to travel to the inner city location was more than $300 per week, and needed careful evaluation. The students did try visiting regularly with Alzheimer patients, but this was not as successful. We found that students at this age are still enough ego-centric that it was quite difficult for them to return each week and not be recognized by the patients they had so much fun with at the previous visit.
At present the school requires its 10th grade students to read on a weekly basis with its own 2nd grade students. There is no other organized community service program in the high school. The lower school has an active recycling program, and some classes have made a significant commitment to community service including traveling to Mexico as a class to build homes.
Despite the lack of organized community service activities in the high school, the students are quite committed to making a difference in the world through service. Three students in the 10th grade have started their own foundation and have made a commitment to raise funds to purchase Life Straws and mosquito nets for every student at a school in a Nairobi slum. The Life Straws, manufactured by Vestergaard Frandsen, filter out a large percentage of the impurities in water sources, making water that was previously unfit for drinking potable. Another student coordinates an annual school-wide food drive for MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity), the largest poverty agency in the area. Yet another student serves as the middle school volleyball assistant coach, donating her time to support the younger students in their after school athletic pursuits.
Another school with an active service program for its high school students notes that in its middle school, grades 5-8, Community Service is approached within the structure of the class group and is generally curriculum based. There is not a school wide requirement, but service is highly encouraged and rests at the discretion of the class teacher. Examples of service projects undertaken by classes include the 8th grade working for the day as a class at a homeless shelter, a 5th grade class teaching knitting to a public school class once weekly for a quarter, daily chores such as cleaning the classroom and the school tradition of the 6th grade students serving the hot lunch to grades 1 to 4 in their classrooms.
What developmental needs are being met in the child through participation in community service projects?
There is a sense of self worth that comes from doing service work that is affirming for students of all ages. For the middle school children the opportunity to get out in the world and do something physical is a positive use of the energy that emerges at this age. The middle school child is turning inward at this time in her development, and becoming increasingly self aware and self conscious. This sometimes painful birth of the astral body can be helped by encouraging students to help others, keeping part of the students’ focus on the world outside themselves. By the 7th grade it is possible for the student to look back at her own experience and remember what it was like to be a younger child. Everyone has had the experience of being bullied or targeted, and it is helpful for the student at this age to bring this to consciousness and then to participate in ways to change the situation positively for others. The students are learning the beginnings of mediation skills that will serve them into the future.
Developmentally, adolescents need every opportunity to develop empathy and understanding. Community Service offers this opportunity, whether with fellow humans, animals or the environment. Furthermore, high school students learn a great deal by working in a new environment that is away from the familiar comfort zones of home and school. Through this experience adolescents can find a wider perspective of their skills and character through meeting the world on different terms.
Community service is so important because it helps the students to look outside of themselves. Some Waldorf students are from affluent families and are at risk for being unaware of the struggles faced by so many people in the world. Community service helps them get a larger world perspective, and to see that one person can make a difference and make the world a better place.
For the class the opportunity to do service work builds a feeling of class identity and wholeness. There is a feeling of giving and generosity that arises and that the students take pride in. It is always a proud moment when a class receives a thank you note and can post that correspondence on the community service bulletin board.
Even the smallest children take pride in helping others, even if it is in the form of picking up litter on a nature trail, or in using kindergarten buckets to spread wood chips in a local park. Students of all ages learn through activity that they can make a difference in the world.
One school noted that some exciting things have happened when it has been able to connect the curriculum with its community service work. One class was studying local geography and had a discussion at the beginning of the year about ways in which geography can be changed. During the year the class built a two-mile nature trail in partnership with the local VFW. At the end of the school year the students reviewed a local map and were able to point with pride to the change that they had made in their community’s local geography during the year.
In another case a class was able to share extra food from the school garden with the local food pantry. Later the class did a play from Norse mythology in which a Norse god came to the door in the disguise of a wanderer seeking food. The class asked for donations from those who attended the play, and gave all of the proceeds to the local food bank. The message of hospitality towards all in need was beautifully reinforced through the interaction of the play and the community service work done by the class.
What is your school’s philosophy with regard to student participation in community service programs?
Community service meets the needs of the middle school and high school child. It builds self confidence as they are becoming self conscious.
Students in the middle school years turn inward and become more aware of their emotions. The community service program helps to keep them also focused on the outer world and to realize that they have something to offer that world.
A quote from Albert Schweitzer sums up the ideal for our community service program, and is placed on the completion certificates that all students receive when they finish their service requirement:
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
Doing community service work together as a class helps to build a sense of classroom unity and pride in the group’s accomplishments.
As an independent school we could become quite insular and isolated. We saw a need to build a bridge back to the community. Doing community service work has helped to reverse some of the misconceptions that arise from people’s assumptions about a private school.
The program coordinator needs to know the community well enough that he is able to find real needs that the students can address.
Community service opportunities are an important developmental tool for students in the middle and high school. Community service provides the students with a means of looking beyond their own inner worlds, and to see the difference that one person can make in the world.
What aspects of your school’s community service program are particularly strong, and why are they effective?
Schools in our study made the following observations on things that were working particularly well for them:
The commitment to work as reading volunteers with the school’s younger students serves the developmental needs of our high school students while providing positive role models for our younger students.
The school is quite willing to support individual student service initiatives. Promotional support in the school’s weekly bulletin is provided for these causes, as is space and manpower support to help ensure the success of student led programs.
The bridge building that happens between the school and the community as a result of service work has been particularly strong. Last year the mayor visited the school at the end of the year and presented a plaque to the school recognizing the many hours of service that the school and its students had given to the larger community.
Students enjoy a real feeling of self worth and a pride in their accomplishments.
Class unity is built through the process of taking on a project together and bringing it to completion.
When a student really takes up community service the results can be quite wonderful. Often these students do far more hours than are required, and these individuals gain a real sense of independence and confidence in their abilities and a healthy awareness of their weaknesses.
If there were something you could change with regard to community service at your school, what would it be and why?
What has been difficult is that the program is relatively new and so there are not so many faculty members who are committed to supporting it. There is a lot of work to be done in identifying the projects that the students will participate in and then prepping them so that the students can work on them and make something happen in one period per week. We are adding the requirement of supporting the community service program to the job descriptions of the teachers. We need to change the attitude so that everyone understands how important this is for our students, and not just feel that it is an extra period that a teacher is being asked to cover.
As with many K-12 schools we lose and gain students between 8th-9th grades and the way in which we transition the student body at this juncture regularly returns as a topic of faculty conversation. We hope to see Community Service as part of this discussion in the future, and would be particularly interested for the school to consider creating a more structured program in the 7th and 8th grade of community service as well as factory visits. This would not only help prepare the students for the more independent level of community service they will experience in the high school, but also work more deeply with the development of the faculty of empathy.
The high school faculty is conflicted over requiring a gift of service. We ask, “How can we maintain the value of community service in our curriculum without undermining its authenticity by requiring it?”
The program is still fairly new and is evolving. Some teachers have been less enthusiastic about the program than others, and sometimes there is a feeling that the community service obligation is just one more thing that needs to be attended to. We work to remind teachers of the benefits that this service work brings to their students, the class, and to the school.
The school needs someone who has the passion and the time to create a more complete community service program for our high school students. Our students want to serve the world and would appreciate the support that a more formed program would provide.