As we all prepare this week to give thanks with family and friends, at Shipley we move into the "Grace for the Doing" portion of our motto during our annual Thanksgiving All School Assembly, concluding our Community Thanksgiving Food Drive. So it seems appropriate to shine a light on how Shipley’s service learning program develops in all students the desire and skill for compassionate participation in the world.
This month’s community letter traces a conversation among three of our leading social activists – Margie Winters, Coordinator of Service Learning, as well as Student Service Learning Co-Heads Isaac Keiser '20 and Sarah McGrath '20. In this exchange about service learning, we see some of what makes the human condition so profoundly challenging, rich, and rewarding, as well as some of the very best of what makes Shipley special.
With extraordinary gratitude for the continued warm welcome the Shipley community has offered the Turner family, I wish you and yours a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.
Michael G. Turner
I joined the Shipley community in August of 2018 as the Coordinator of Service Learning. What attracted me to Shipley was the breadth and depth of the service learning program and the emphasis on students becoming “compassionate participants in the world.” Service learning helps students in PreK-12 grow in compassion by enabling them to engage in a meaningful way with those whose lives are different from theirs because of race, socioeconomic status, education, immigration status, etc. Our hope is that the students’ compassion – rooted in relationships, education, and reflection – leads them to grounded, meaningful, and committed action in the world. Service learning is integral to Shipley’s PreK-12 program and offers many and varied opportunities for students throughout the year.
I love the focus on the student experience at Shipley. There is no better way to shine a light on this than to ask our Upper School Service leaders, Sarah McGrath (SM) and Isaac Keiser (IK), to share their thoughts.
MW: The first question is for both Sarah and Isaac. What has been your most meaningful service learning opportunity at Shipley? Why?
SM: Since coming to Shipley in the ninth grade, the opportunity to plan and participate in Shipley’s first Mini-THON last year likely holds the most personal significance. Mini-THON is a dance marathon and fundraising effort for pediatric cancer research at Penn State Children’s Hospital, and I am so proud to say that the Upper School raised over $16,500. Through this process, I have become connected to thousands of other students both online and in-person who participate in dance marathons across the country. It has been a privilege unlike any other to see members of my own community and beyond rally in support of a cause that I have come to care about so strongly.
IK: Although every aspect of service has been meaningful to me, the Positive Paws program will always hold a special place in my heart. In the winter, when I do not play a sport, I spend my Tuesday afternoons at the Andrew Jackson School in South Philadelphia. We bring snacks and fun activities for the kids, which focus on a Positive Education character strength. I love sitting and talking with the adorable first-graders, hearing about their days and gaining unique perspectives. My favorite part of the day is when we go outside and play tag and hide and seek. I always make really close connections with the kids, and they definitely make as great an impact on me as I do on them.
MW: There are so many opportunities for students at Shipley. I wonder why you got involved with service?
IK: In my life, I have gone through some very tragic times where I have had to rely on others for help. Being in that vulnerable position, I can understand the feeling of needing help. Service has been a big part of my family ever since I can remember; my family has always made me aware of my privilege and how I can use the gifts given to me to help others.
SM: While I had always been casually involved with service, it wasn’t until my time in middle school that I started to engage with service more passionately. During my eighth grade year, I organized my classmates in a variety of service projects from Alex’s Lemonade Stand to the Philadelphia Race for Hope. I decided to continue this pattern after coming to Shipley – something that proved to be especially easy considering Shipley’s vast service opportunities.
MW: This question is just for Sarah. Tell me about the plans to create a new “Save It for a Snowy Day Fund?"
SM: Every year, food pantries tend to receive an influx of donations during the holiday season, but later during the year, people are a lot less likely to give and the shelves of food pantries become bare. That is why this year the service team has decided to create the “Save It for a Snowy Day Fund.” On November 26, all three divisions participated in a flannel-themed Spirit Dress Day. All of the money raised contributed to this fund. In the winter months, we will collaborate with the Ardmore Food Pantry to use the money to buy canned goods and other staples that they need. Holiday giving is a wonderful tradition, and the service team remains extremely proud of Shipley’s efforts. We hope that this fund will enable us to continue the season of giving throughout the whole year.
MW: Isaac, looking ahead, do you see yourself carrying forward your commitment to service into college and beyond?
IK: I definitely think so. I love spending time with kids and will definitely want to do that in the future. Since I have been the Shipley Service Head the last four years, I have learned how to seek out opportunities wherever I am, and I will continue that drive into adulthood.
MW: One last question for each of you. This is a bit more philosophical – conventional wisdom is that volunteers get more from their volunteering (sense of meaning, well-being) than the people they are helping. Your thoughts?
SM: I believe that personal fulfillment should simply be a happy side effect of service endeavors, not our primary reason for engaging in them. Service should not be treated as an opportunity to celebrate our own generosity. Service is about attempting to help our neighbors – even when the work is not particularly glamorous. Service learning becomes particularly meaningful when it enables us to learn from the world around us. Through this exchange, we are able to grow in our understanding of others and their life situations, becoming better people and more informed citizens in the process. At the end of the day, service learning furthers our capacity for empathy. It has the ability to expand and deepen our worldview, instilling in most volunteers a strong desire to serve again.
IK: I would agree. It is definitely true that volunteering provides a space where people are able to gain purpose and meaning by helping others. But thinking of service in self-serving, victimizing terms is completely missing the point. An example of thoughtful service is my volunteer experience a few summers ago to help out at a farm that generates produce for food pantries. Before anyone in the group started helping out in the fields harvesting cucumbers, we learned about food insecurity throughout the region and some of the causes of the issue. If I had not been given that preface, the vegetable harvesting would have been far less meaningful and would not have been able to spark greater change. Thinking about the larger implication and roots of the systemic issues one’s service is addressing is a crucial part of any service endeavor. When I pay attention to the bigger picture of service, I find it vastly more meaningful and significant.
MW: Wow. Thank you both for your thoughtful and inspirational conversation. And I hope the readers out there have a renewed appreciation for what makes Shipley such a wonderful and compassionate place. Thank you.