Moments to Momentum: Service Learning Update

Abby Adams
With Covid safety protocols sidelining weekly middle school service trips and limiting upper school students’ ability to meet, 2020-2021 has been challenging for the Service Learning program.

However, according to new Service Learning Director Germaine Jackson, it’s a perfect opportunity for students to both get back to basics and think about service in new ways.

“I want students to reflect on the big moments that are affecting our lives and think ‘I’m a young person with the capability to contribute positively to my environment. What might I do?’” she said.

Here’s a quick update on Service Learning in 2020-2021.

Middle School

In the middle school, Ms. Jackson’s focus is helping students understand the fundamentals of service and reflect on its importance.

“We’ve been talking about what it means to be a community member, assets that each person brings, and resources that exist in our community to serve needs,” she explained.

In the fall, the North County Food Bank (NCFB) reached out to Pacific Ridge for help. Ms. Jackson thought a partnership with NCFB would be a terrific way for middle schoolers to serve during the pandemic. 

“There’s a myth that North County doesn't have needs. However, the director told me that the NCFB services 350,000 people each month. Due to COVID, that number is now over 500,000,” she said.

To respond, middle schoolers organized a physical and virtual food drive, collecting 2,495 food items and raising over $1,800 in monetary donations.

In addition to the drive, students took skill workshops, heard from upper school students about their groups, and are now researching needs in the local community to find opportunities to serve. Ms. Jackson has her eye on T-Mobile’s Changemaker Challenge, a contest for young people with projects they believe will improve the world.

“I want middle school students to think big about being a part of the creation and the owning of something. That will translate well when they get to service learning in high school.” 

9th Grade Transition Program

To help promote synergy among groups with similar interests, Ms. Jackson clustered upper school service groups under seven umbrellas, such as education, or the environment. This grouping is helpful during the pandemic when many groups are facing the same challenges and their recipient communities’ needs may have changed. Students in related groups can find ways to support one another.

In their transitional trimester, ninth graders selected an umbrella and explored how to serve that area in the greater community. They then created asset maps, listing all community organizations doing work in their area. This exercise armed them with ideas and resources they could bring to an existing service group or to one they might start themselves.

Ms. Jackson also worked with ninth graders on communication, helping them draft letters, develop email templates, and practice cold calls with potential sponsors and community partners.

“Their whole generation is about technology, so young people sometimes don’t know how to look you in the eye or give you a firm handshake, or when to email, make a phone call, or write a personal note. There’s an etiquette for communication that makes a difference,” she said.

The final segment of the ninth-grade program focused on leadership and ownership. As of Trimester 2, freshmen are actively participating in existing upper school groups or forming new groups.

Upper School

Most upper school service groups have seen their work interrupted by the pandemic. Those with local partners cannot visit, while groups that rely heavily on fundraising have been unable to hold events.

To Ms. Jackson, this is an opportunity for students to think more deeply about service, while deliberately seeking community partners. Students use asset mapping to locate organizations that may have a focus similar to their service project. Students can tap into these resources, such as asking local businesses for support.

“When there is so much going on in the world, people really want to do some good, and if they listen to young people who are passionate, who have a well thought out plan, and who want to make the world better - who’s going to say no to that?” she said.

An example of the kind of active work upper schoolers have been able to accomplish is Lunch Box. Previously supporting after-school programs, Lunch Box is now providing 200 sack lunches every two weeks to Interfaith Community Services and is developing relationships with local grocery chains for food donations.

Ms. Jackson is energized by the desire of Pacific Ridge students to do good in the world, even if their options are currently limited.

“This year is about moments to momentum – creating positive energy and keeping that energy going. When I hear their ideas, I get so excited. Young people truly can be the driving force to make the world better.”