On March 28, Nueva’s middle school students were joined by 24 Japanese exchange students on their last community service learning (CSL) day of this school year. Fourteen of the Japanese students joined seventh and eighth graders at the Brentwood Academy in East Palo Alto, while the remaining exchange students participated with their Nueva host students at Grass Roots Ecology, Family Connections, La Comida, and Beechwood School.
According to Nueva Japanese teacher Valerie Minakawa, these types of community service learning programs are uncommon in Japan, so this day provided unique experiences. At Brentwood Academy, the Japanese students were paired with a Nueva students and each pair worked with first graders on art projects, then read or played with them outdoors. “This community service field trip was completely new to our visitors,” said Valerie. “Reading to the first graders was English practice for them. Our exchange students dove right in and had a wonderful time. When you have attention and joyful interaction, there’s no language barrier.”
CSL Program Overview
Nueva’s CSL program incorporates many of the best practices in community service work by offering service positions that are challenging, developmentally age-appropriate, and that make a meaningful difference to the organizations with which we work. In addition, we seek experiences that enrich the themes of each grade’s classroom studies to the greatest extent possible.
For fifth and sixth graders, the program objectives focus on breadth of exposure, scheduling trips across the year so that students have different opportunities for service. Fifth graders focused on beach cleanup, environmental conservation, and habitat restoration. Over the year, all sixth graders had a chance to work at the Ecumenical Hunger Program, connecting to their curriculum examining world food supply, and they also participated in one habitat restoration project.
By seventh and eighth grade, our students are ready to deepen their commitments. Advisories partnered with a specific organizations and returned there on all three community service days over the year.
Brentwood Academy is one of the sites our students visit repeatedly, capitalizing on a long-standing relationship. Sandy Chang, Nueva middle school writing teacher, described the excitement of the Brentwood students and the mutual benefit that this commitment provides. “The first graders are adorable and they get so excited to see their buddies that they literally jump into their arms. This has been a beautiful bonding experience. Our students get to see the little things that make these kids so happy, some things our students may take for granted.”
The MS CSL program is organized and coordinated by a team of middle school parents who work with advisors to plan trips for the entire year. This CSL day alone consisted of fourteen distinct trips around the Bay Area and the parent volunteers were the primary points of contact, handling scheduling, paperwork, and transportation logistics.
Additional Service Experiences
Several sixth-grade advisories went to the Pedro Point Headlands, where they supported the work of the Pacifica Land Trust by planting native grasses as part of a restoration project. On a beautiful day overlooking the Pacific Ocean, they hiked to the top of the headlands, where they had to really exert themselves to break into the rocky shale soil with their pickaxes and trowels.
“It was as beautiful and memorable a day as anyone could hope for. Our students worked hard, and it was incredibly meaningful for them to think that their impact would snowball over time. What started as a deliberate habitat restoration project will eventually cascade into a renewed landscape,” said writing teacher Karen Tiegel.
Fifth graders in three advisories went to Veggielution, a nonprofit farm in San Jose dedicated to creating a more sustainable food system. As part of their work, Veggielution provides community engagement through their farmers’ market and youth education opportunities. Our students pulled invasive weeds, planted seedlings, and composted in the youth garden, gaining an authentic experience of community gardening and farming.
Karen Teigel reflected on the day. “Our students learned a lot while completing tasks that added value to Veggielution. Some of the most fun moments included sampling the various herbs, including chocolate and spearmint leaves, and finding truly enormous grubs in the compost. It was a beautiful day, and we all enjoyed being outdoors.”
April 7, 2017