By Ellen McCormick
High School Religious Studies Teacher/Service Coordinator
December 10, 2018
What does it mean to serve? What have I learned about myself in my service to others? What has made volunteer experiences fulfilling? How can my awareness and leadership as a volunteer truly make a difference for those I am serving?
This is a series of questions the Servant Leadership class has contemplated together and independently since we first gathered together in September. Through encounters with the stories of people like Fr. Greg Boyle and Shabana Basij-Rasikh, analysis of the servant leadership model and the two feet of Catholic Social Teaching, as well as opportunities to volunteer and reflect on their volunteerism in the local community, the class continues to develop profound answers to questions above. The students have quickly come to find that service has a depth to it that goes beyond simply "helping someone out." It is about inclusivity, respect, love, empathy, kindness, listening, selflessness, healing, solidarity, equality, and connection. In a word, service is all about kinship. To my delight this isn’t just an answer shared in class and dismissed as they head out the door; it is service they live.
Anxious and thrilled, I asked my thirteen seniors and two juniors to propose service projects -- self-selected opportunities to serve the community every Tuesday and Thursday. I know too well the logistics of scheduling service, arranging carpools, and navigating time constraints, but, for the first time, I decided to give my students control of the process. I was confident this group of upper class students would propose meaningful and realistic service projects that would not only directly support identifiable needs, but also advocate for the people impacted by the need.
Overwhelmingly, the class proposed to continue volunteering in classrooms in the Bellevue School District elementary schools where they previously spent five weeks supporting teachers and students in their classrooms. When given the choice to take on a new project, they recognized the importance and impact of their work at their respective schools. I was honestly astonished but pleased with their decisions to continue with their previous classroom commitments; each student had made a connection with a student or a teacher and that kinship connection could not be ignored. Even more surprising was where kinship was calling them. One of the service project proposal requirements was to identify a way to advocate for the population they would be serving. Their volunteerism in local public schools has raised powerful questions they each hope to answer through research and analysis. For instance, how can we better support the teachers in our community? How do teachers' salaries compare to other professions? What rights do teachers have? How much funding goes to education? How does teacher ratio impact student learning? Is the distribution of the funding from the McCleary decision equitable? How can classroom volunteers better support special education students?
Each advocacy question is driven by the kinship my students have with the people they serve. In the five weeks they spent with teachers and students they observed the challenges that students face in the classroom and, in some cases, witnessed classroom resources and environments that are extremely different from school districts where their family and friends work and learn. Solidarity with the people they serve has taken root. What is even more admirable is how solidarity with people they don't know is being planted. As each student takes on their service project over the next few weeks, I wait in anticipation to see where the answers to their advocacy questions take them.
- Forest Ridge Blog