The 2018 Horace Mann School season of graduations and commemorative ceremonies saw a new tradition added to the end-of-year calendar when graduating students gathered for a final Service-Learning Team Reflection.
Service-learning has been a part of Horace Mann School since 2006 and the founding, by Dr. Jeremy Leeds ’72, of the School’s Center for Community Values and Action (CCVA). This model emphasizes an ongoing relationship with the partner or organization served, that yields a learning experience for the students involved, as well as positive results for the community. While community service has long been a part of HM, for the past 12 years Upper Division students have engaged in and even launched a variety of continuing programs benefitting children, older adults, the environment and institutions in HM’s surrounding Bronx neighborhoods, as well as other parts of the Tri-State region. Some students engage in service and advocacy efforts on an international level. Service-Learning became an integral and required part of HM’s Upper Division curriculum four years ago, with over 750 students involved in the 2017-2018 school year. However, the Class of 2018 was the first-ever to engage in service-learning throughout high school, from ninth-through-twelfth grade.
Individual and group reflections are an essential part of service-learning and Service-Learning Team work at HM, giving students a chance to learn from the experience, evaluate their efforts, restructure their work if needed, and share their experiences with one another and with their faculty advisors. However, the reflection session held on May 22, 2018 that brought the entire senior class together provided an opportunity to look back over the past four years of service-learning, in which each of the students had been involved, and to pause for a moment of appreciation of all they had done with one another. The “SLearn” event—now the nickname for HM’s service-learning efforts—brought the seniors into the Cohen Dining Commons (CDC) for refreshments and to hear from Dr. Leeds, Horace Mann Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly, and Service-Learning student leaders about the impact that service-learning has had on HM and on the institutions with which the students are involved. The seniors then broke up into smaller groups in classrooms in Rose Hall to discuss with one another in detail what they, themselves, had learned through their experiences over the last four years. The event, which was coordinated by CCVA Fellow Helen Feldman ’10, then saw the students return to the CDC for some final thoughts by advisors and SL Team leaders, and to partake of a celebratory cake.
Dr. Leeds began the evening by recalling with the students a day four years earlier, on December 11, 2014, when service-learning was a new concept to these students—then in ninth grade. It was on that day that they were first introduced to the service-learning requirement, as they visited a variety of our partner neighborhood centers, and even worked clearing brush in Van Cortlandt Park on this wet winter day. On view throughout the SLearn evening was a presentation of images depicting the students’ younger selves during that first visit to the different sites. The images provided a sharp contrast to those shown four years later by several student speakers who described projects they had initiated and pursued, as they became more involved in service-learning, and more confident about sharing their abilities as teachers, musicians, artists, robotics instructors, social activists and more with others.