October 22, 2019
The world starts small when you’re a kid. In a relative bubble of family, friends, and school, it can be challenging for children to think beyond their own backyard, or to reflect on how they can support or contribute to a community that’s different from their own. Cultivating a service mindset in students early is a powerful key to unlocking a larger world view, while also preparing them for college and creating distinction in their educational experience.
The Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common project published a groundbreaking study focused on inspiring community service as part of the college admissions process. The researchers advocate for how service can help students focus on meaningful ethical and intellectual engagement, while creating a platform for long-term success. The study emphasizes that, through their volunteerism, students should be encouraged to:
- engage in meaningful, sustained community service that is authentically chosen, consistent, and well-structured, and that provides opportunity for reflection both individually and with peers and adults;
- take collective action that tackles community challenges;
- have authentic experiences that focus on “doing with” not “doing for”; and
- engage in service that develops gratitude and a sense of responsibility for the future.
The authors underscore that “both ethical engagement—especially concern for others and the common good—and intellectual engagement are highly important.” Through purpose-filled curricular integration and character education, Mounds Park Academy is well aligned with Harvard’s recommendations around student service and volunteerism.
Student Volunteerism at MPA
It all begins in Lower School, where the foundation of caring for others is established. One favorite service-learning activity comes in second grade, when a math unit focused on money comes to life as students host a garage sale with donated items from home. Proceeds are donated to a local animal rescue organization, a natural tie to the animal research projects the students are simultaneously writing. “This is a real-world, hands-on way to use their new-found money skills while tapping into their natural passion for animals,” says second grade teacher Anne Scalia. “They are so little, but you can see the compassion and empathy grow exponentially.”
By fourth grade, students have become Lower School leaders and are ready to serve as conflict managers on the playground. “We help them learn how to have a constructive reaction to natural conflict,” says Yamini Kimmerle, fourth grade teacher, emphasizing how managing conflict equips students with the skills needed for navigating and improving our complex world.
In grades five and six, students focus on the environment and basic human needs such as food and water, clothing, and shelter. They are responsible for handling all of the MPA’s recycling, taking care of the Middle School garden, and working with kindergarten and first grade students several times during the year. As students grow, global studies broadens the scope of their developing citizenship. Collaboration among the grades remains a constant throughout—for example, the annual MPA Blood Drive is hosted through a partnership between MPA’s first grade class and the Upper School Student Council.
Academic Rigor, Community Commitment
As students move into Upper School, volunteerism becomes a required component of their college prep curriculum. Each student is required to complete a minimum of 60 service hours over four years, with 30 hours dedicated to their Senior Service Project. As part of their Senior Service Project, students work individually or as part of a group with a non-profit organization or in support of a community-driven cause. Students submit a proposal, keep a record or journal of experiences, and prepare an exhibit based on their experience. All projects are presented at the Service Fair held on the Monday before Commencement.
Community support continues even as students graduate and move into their adult lives. In 2018, the MPA Alumni Association launched an innovative student enrichment opportunity, pairing Upper School seniors with alumni mentors. The program is designed to enhance personal and professional development experiences for senior class students, while also providing alumni with an opportunity to reconnect to MPA and share their own experiences and knowledge with the next generation of graduates.
“Right making is a seed that is planted in each student and cultivated as they journey through MPA,” says kindergarten teacher Kristine Peterson. “Not only do we teach character traits like inclusiveness and integrity, we promote a do-right attitude through our actions and words while we learn and grow together. This inspires us to dream big and impact others positively at home and in the world.”
Learn More about It: Student Volunteerism
- Embrace the Mayo Clinic’s six key health benefits of volunteering.
- Learn how volunteering supports good health late in life, from the Corporation for National and Community Service.
- Join the nearly 300 friends and family who contribute their time to MPA each year—sign up today to become part of MPA’s volunteer program.