This week is a whirlwind of activity as we prepare for Service Week. Amongst the last minute preparations, I’ve been doing my best to keep a healthy perspective on what it is that we do as a school when we undertake a large scale project like Service Week, when I help place, mobilize and support 360+ people with much help from my colleagues and community partners.
Working on a building project at an orphanage in Peru.
Of course, I want students to have an outstanding experience that is smooth and easy. I want four sunny days and light traffic as our buses take students to their destinations. I want organizations that are glad we are there and that utilize us in the best way possible. I want our students and faculty to be happy, healthy and have positive attitudes. Finally, I want all students to walk away with a deep understanding of service and how it impacts their lives.
Yet, I realize that no matter how many phone calls and emails are exchanged and how much I desire perfection for next week, it is unattainable, and that is OK. As a school, we strive every day, in every way possible, to ensure the safety and well-being of our students. During Service Week, safety is always of paramount importance. But beyond safety, are there gifts in the chaos, imperfection and hiccups that will happen next week?
I believe so. I believe that a “perfect” Service Week is not the goal, and that the lessons that our students are learning are valuable because of the challenges we will overcome along with our community partners.
When we take on Service Week, and when we do service learning in general, we enter the “real” world, which is filled with inconsistencies, last minute changes and which demands flexibility.
Stocking the food pantry and doing meal prep at St. Vincent dePaul.
We ask a lot of our non-profit and community partners, because we request that they host a group of high schoolers for four consecutive days for 5-6 hours each day.
Of course there’s going to be some down time! How could we possibly stay busy for every single minute?
We are grateful to be invited into these spaces and to be able to work with clients and community members. I think what’s important is that we emphasize that both the work time and downtime are important, as the downtime allows our students and faculty to be present and aware of what they are doing - it is a time to reflect and to think about service.
When plans change at the service sites, our students and faculty are learning to be patient, flexible and humble. When groups have been out in the heat or the rain for five hours, getting a project completed because it is sorely needed, our community is learning grit and determination.
When plans need to be reworked and the schedule we thought we had changes, participants learn to adapt and make the most of the situation-always with a mindset that we are there to help, serve and listen.
These, I think, are the unintended gifts that come with Service Week.
Shorecrest students offer tech tutorials for residents of Westminster Palms retirement community.
I no longer wish for perfection during next week. Instead, I sincerely hope our students and faculty have a transformative experience where service is the driving force of our work, where we are reflective and thoughtful about examining our own privilege and our human existence, and that we treat challenges as opportunity for growth.
Of course, I hope our students and faculty are happy, but just as important, I hope our community organizations and their clients - our fellow citizens and St. Pete community members - are also happy and satisfied with our work and effort.
Service Week is about building better citizens, and being a good citizen means being an empathetic, understanding and flexible servant in the best sense of the word. I am excited to hear the resulting great stories of successes and especially the challenges that our students and faculty accomplish and overcome over the next few days.
The lessons learned over Service Week are lessons that will last a lifetime as we strive to build socially responsible citizens.
2017 is the eighth consecutive year that the Shorecrest Upper School has dedicated an entire week to Service Learning.
In addition to Service Week, Shorecrest is home to CSLL - the Center for Service Learning Leadership - a professional development institute for independent school educators to engage with the foundation, praxis and practice of Service Learning.