Service Learning at St. Anne’s Episcopal School: Nurturing Compassionate Learners and Enriching Our World
December 6, 2023
Service Learning at St. Anne’s Episcopal School by Assistant Head of School, Lori Frank
Service has always been at the heart of St. Anne’s Episcopal School. Our Founding Sisters first came to Denver with the goal of taking care of children who were suffering from illnesses such as polio and tuberculosis. Later, they created a school with the purpose of meeting the needs of children who were not being well served by their neighborhood schools. Loving God and loving children was at the heart of everything that the Sisters did.
Years ago, inspired by the work of the Sisters, St. Anne’s committed to creating opportunities for students to reach out to the Denver community and serve those in need. Middle-school students would pay regular visits to a soup kitchen, a day care center for the elderly, and local public schools. Younger students would make donations to animal shelters, visit nursing homes, and write letters to troops, among other projects. As a school community, with the support of the Outreach Committee of our Parents’ Association, we have collected food, books, clothing, shoes, toiletries, and coins for various organizations.
Of course, many of our initiatives were stalled or permanently canceled during the pandemic. While we continued to collect donations, opportunities for in-person service were limited. With a return to more “normal” school activities and a strong desire to deepen our commitment to helping others, the school decided to take a new look at how we do service.
Thus, in the spring of 2023, faculty volunteers met to discuss how service could be made more meaningful for our students and those whom they serve. We brainstormed possible projects and how they might impact people, places, and/or pets. We also discussed the importance of teaching children about service in a sustained, holistic manner.
What is service learning and how is it different from volunteering or other one-time philanthropic efforts? Primarily, service learning is a pedagogical model that combines critical thinking, social responsibility and civic education to benefit authentic community partnerships. It is a way to practice and express our values, to form thoughtful leaders, and to inspire a heart for positive change. Service learning is at the nexus of theory and “real world” experience, and is intentionally designed in response to the genuine needs within our community be it the classroom, the school, our city, or even the world. Service learning teaches agency, ownership, belonging, and is driven by students’ agency. It does noy bypass historical causes of social and economic inequalities, and allows students to develop civic and cultural literacy, enhance personal growth and self-image. At its core, service learning remains about helping and empowering other people. But rather than simply sharing goods or money, service learning focuses on providing opportunities for real engagement with others, guided by the cycles of investigation, planning, action and reflection. In our overhaul of the program, we aspired to embed service learning in our curriculum, integrating math, reading, and writing with projects that support others. Service learning can support the fundamental curriculum as well as be co-curricular!
When we approach service with dignity, humility, and compassion, we acknowledge the inherent worth of every person we encounter. This means treating individuals with respect, regardless of their background, status, or circumstances. It means recognizing that we are all human beings with unique stories and experiences. By approaching service in this way, we create a culture of empathy and understanding that can help to break down barriers and promote positive change.
Our revamped service learning program has several key features: designated dates for lesson planning and program implementation, teacher-led lessons, integration with the curriculum, and opportunities for student reflection on their experiences. In our August in-service, teachers at each grade level chose topics to explore this year: gratitude (PS/PK), pet care (K), community support (Gr. 1), wildlife (Gr. 2), food insecurity (Gr. 3), wildfire prevention (Gr. 4), literacy (Gr. 5), recycling and composting (Gr. 6), microloans (Gr. 7), and trail building at St. Anne’s in the Hills (Gr. 8).
While this program is still evolving and developing, early feedback has been quite positive. Teachers have eagerly embraced this opportunity for meaningful conversations with their students, and students have expressed surprise and wonder at the impact they can have on their greater community. As one student shared with her teacher after working in the St. Anne’s vegetable garden, “At first I felt sad that there are people in the world who need this much help. Then I felt happy that I could actually do something about it as a 3rd grader. And at the end, I looked at what we harvested and I was so excited and proud of what we accomplished."
In the spring, students will have an opportunity to share their service experiences with parents and caregivers, giving everyone a glimpse into how service learning at St. Anne’s has always aligned with the school’s mission: Grounded in our founding values, we cultivate a community of curious and compassionate learners who are inspired to serve and enrich our world.
We are proud of how dedicated St. Anne’s community is to service and are excited to be developing the best ways to bring it to life!