I can’t pinpoint when exactly I became a “community service person.” It was more of a gradual process rather than a specific transitional moment in time. I do know that volunteering has provided room for me to grow personally and professionally over the course of my life. When I was younger, volunteering provided opportunities for me to make social connections in high school and college. As I grew older, I found that service work helped me make meaning of life during difficult stretches; it also has pulled communities like Dana Hall together as we worked toward reaching a single goal.
Service is part of Dana Hall’s mission statement, and I think that most members of the Dana Hall community believe that service is a nice thing to do, a good thing to do—maybe we could even go as far to say it is the right thing to do. Moreover, our students stand to gain a lot by getting involved in service. Service puts much of what our students are learning in the classroom into context. While working at a food pantry, students may find themselves using their language skills by speaking Spanish, Mandarin, or navigating the differences between French and French creole as they serve clients. Students studying algebra exercise their extrapolation skills as we determine how many boxes of apples we need to dig out of the walk-in refrigerator. Service also demands that our students take on the perspective of others. This last skill is a key part of adolescent development, and service provides an authentic venue to practice stepping out of one’s own world and into another. Service offers lots of leadership opportunities as students need to organize themselves, set goals, and design an action plan to meet those goals.
I see service placements as extensions of the classroom and important educational opportunities. Service is far more than just “a nice thing to do.” According to research published in 2000 by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA, participation in service work has a positive effect on grade point average. In other studies, reviewed by HERI, students who participate in service work report increased trust in others, lower rates of depression, and greater confidence. Although most of the research focuses on college students, it isn’t hard to imagine these benefits also impacting the lives of middle and high school students. I believe that I have experienced these benefits and I feel confident that some of my students have too.