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The Importance of Service Learning

In the days when things cost a lot less, an eight-year old boy entered the coffee shop and sat down. The waitress approached the table and the boy asked, “How much is an ice cream sundae?” She replied, “Fifty cents.” The little boy pulled a handful of coins out of his pocket and studied them carefully. “How much is a dish of plain ice cream?” he inquired. Some other people were now waiting and the waitress was growing a little impatient. “Thirty-five cents,” she responded brusquely. The boy again counted and said, “I’ll have the plain ice cream.” The waitress brought the ice cream and the check. The boy finished his ice cream, paid the cashier, and left. When the waitress came back to clear the table, she swallowed hard at what she saw. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies – her tip.

I don’t know whether this is a true story and it doesn’t matter. What matters most is how we, as parents and educators, feel about it. Would we not be proud if the little boy were one of our own? Since charity is a learned value, what can schools do to instill in our children a spirit of charity and of service to others?

In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul the Apostle wrote: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” Bible scholars believe the word charity in this passage is synonymous with love for mankind. Saint Augustine wrote that charity is a virtue that unites us with God. If we are to fulfill our school’s mission of providing a Christian environment, then we must teach our children to be charitable, to love our neighbors, and to be involved in our communities, helping those in need and working to preserve societal values in which we believe.

Charity is not something children are born with. It is natural for toddlers to be very possessive. Parents and early childhood educators work with the children and teach them to share. Does our responsibility end there? I think not. We should continue to extend the principle of charity throughout their elementary and secondary education, as well. It pleased me to see our school conduct a food drive last fall and I know our Bible lessons and many other activities are designed to promote charity, caring, and service to others less fortunate. There’s more that we can and should do.

It would be excellent training if our sports teams performed a service activity each year. Membership in Beta Club should also carry with it a community service project. Many independent schools have a community service requirement (a specified number of hours, for example) for students. I hope that such a commitment will emerge from our selfstudy and strategic plan. There’s good evidence that by having a community service requirement while in school, students will carry these and other desirable attributes into their adult lives.

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) compiles a remarkable number of statistics on independent schools and other types of schools. Following are a couple of excerpts from NAIS articles regarding graduates of independent schools:

They volunteer more. Private high school students are four times more likely than public high school students to have a community service requirement for graduation, according to Private Schools: A Brief Portrait. Also, The Freshman Survey Trends Report, a survey of first-year college students that’s conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute, found that 90 percent of independent school graduates had participated in volunteer work in the preceding year.

They’re more likely to become involved as citizens. Both the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS) and the Freshman Survey Trends Report showed that graduates of independent schools were more active in civic life as young adults. Whereas 57% of all the students who participated in the NELS voted in a presidential election as young adults, 75% of participating students from independent schools did so. Independent school graduates were also nearly twice as likely to volunteer to work for a political campaign as the group of students surveyed as a whole.

We recognize that issues like available time and transportation affect families’ abilities to assist students with service and charitable projects, so requiring service should probably be postponed until high school. While I am not advocating the immediate introduction of a service requirement, we should be looking to expand opportunities. For example, I have contacted a local Rotary Club official to ask for help in starting a student service organization called Interact Club.

Interact Club is a high school outreach program of the service organization Rotary International. Rotary’s motto of “service above self” communicates clearly a fundamental reason why adults join local Rotary clubs. I am hopeful that we can get an Interact Club started at DEA next year. If parents want to get involved or have suggestions for our Interact Club or other service projects, please contact me or our Dean of Students, David Lamm.

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