True Service Learning Couples Awareness and Agency


A student walked into my office today, with great excitement. She and her mom had taken time after school to deliver a play kitchen to the downtown Poughkeepsie daycare where some of our students volunteered during this year’s service learning classes.

It is a wonderful measure of the success of the program when a student can transfer the connection from school time to private time. The student recounted being recognized and received with excitement by the daycare children. She completed the circle of connection by making sure she had a chance to let me know about her extra efforts, outside of school, to help the daycare.

One long term goal of our service learning program is to foster a strong sense of connection to different areas of our society. Equally important,though, is the sense of what we call “agency:” Students need to know not only that there are people and causes in need, but also that they themselves can fill some of these needs. To have awareness without agency leads to cynicism and even despair. To connect awareness with agency leads to empowerment and connection.

Our service learning program is structured as a series of day-long classes using the time in our schedule that is set aside for interdisciplinary studies. In addition to the early childhood class that worked with the Poughkeepsie day care, other choices for service classes were: Green Team, Outdoor Service, Encouraging Childhood Literacy, and Oral History. Every class had a community connection, from the National Park Service, to the library, to The Landing, a retirement community, or to the farm that receives our food waste each week.

Part of the American experience has long been service to the community. We are a rather unique country this way: Service transcends our government, the immediate family and religious organizations. At PDS, we firmly believe that as our students grow to assume more responsibilities to society, seeing need and working to address it, will be an important part of their futures. We start in middle school (and, actually, even earlier, in our lower school program) so that students will feel comfortable and secure in finding ways to help as adults.

Enjoy the photos that teachers captured, while the students were in action:

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