Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic this year, Fay’s seventh, eighth, and ninth graders explored the themes of empathy, purpose, and connection through the Upper School’s service learning program. Through unique service learning experiences, students were challenged to think about their responsibility as individuals and members of the global community and to find ways to make a positive difference.
Throughout Upper School, the focus of the Service Learning program tracks with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1940s that describes the basic needs that all humans must meet before they can achieve “self-actualization.”
In seventh grade, students focused on a human’s most basic needs as they learned about food waste and food insecurity, a particularly pressing problem given the estimated rise in the number of Americans experiencing food disruptions from 35.2 million in 2019 to 45 million in 2020. First, students met with representatives from two nonprofits: the Center for EcoTechnology in Springfield, Massachusetts, which helps businesses and people reduce food waste; and Lovin’ Spoonfuls, the largest food rescue organization in New England. Then, armed with a greater understanding of the problem and some ideas about how organizations make a difference, students worked in small groups as they focused on one aspect of the problem and brainstormed solutions. “The kids tend to want to solve huge problems, and we encouraged them to avoid that,” says Creativity and Design Teacher Andrew Shirley, who took students through the Fay Design Process to guide their thinking. “We want students to learn that dedicated small actions can make a real difference with these issues.” Students came up with various creative solutions—from educating the public about expiration dates to prevent unnecessary waste to encouraging people not to take more food than they need— and they designed websites to present their final ideas.
In eighth grade, students focused on the themes of safety and belonging. They formed a new relationship with Head Start, an early childhood education program that provides resources to low-income families, and their mission was to write, illustrate, and bind children’s books written around themes of diversity and equity which they could give to the Head Start students. After meeting with representatives from Head Start to learn about their work and the background of the families they are serving in Worcester, Massachusetts, Fay students started their research by reading a variety of children’s books and learning about the four Social Justice Standards: identity, diversity, justice, and action. Next, students worked in groups of three or four to create their stories around a wide variety of topics and themes. For example, one group wrote about a group of rocks who ostracize one member for having a bump on his head that looks different until they realize that underneath he is just the same as they are. In another story, the main character is a tiny lion cub who is bullied for being clumsy and weak until he saves the bully from a pack of coyotes. A third book focuses on an autistic child who is teased because he doesn’t like to talk to people until the new girl in school befriends him, and they enter and win the science fair together. “The book is about respecting people’s individuality and recognizing that not everyone is the same,” says Victoria Liu.
Ninth graders volunteered with Outreach360, an educational nonprofit that operates learning centers for underserved students in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. The focus of their work was on achieving one's full potential through education. For many years, Fay students have traveled to the Dominican Republic in the winter to spend a week teaching English through the Outreach360 program. Although travel was impossible this year, students had the opportunity to spend Saturday mornings teaching English virtually this past fall to Outreach360 students. Working in a team, students created a lesson plan for their class each week. The Fay ninth graders worked with the same students each week, and Director of Service Learning Craig Ferraro notes that the relationships they built over time were a highlight of the experience. “There was a benefit to meeting once a week throughout the fall instead of one intense week,” says Craig, “because it takes time to build those connections.” The Outreach360 refrain of “poco a poco,” meaning little by little, was apt as each week Fay students strengthened their relationships with the children.