On Friday, January 29th, Rodeph Sholom School’s eighth graders expanded their relationship with service learning and spent time with City Year, a national education-focused organization dedicated to helping students and schools succeed. City Year partners with public schools in 28 urban, high poverty communities across the U.S. and deploys diverse staff to provide high-impact support to help students stay in school and prepare for college and the working world, improving communities as a whole
During an in-depth Q&A session, past and present City Year members shared their experiences as well as advice about service with RSS students. Much of the discussion centered on the value of service, and how to continue to find meaningful ways to impact our world beyond 8th Grade graduation.
“Our kids were really interested in discussing what qualities are most important in serving, both here and abroad. They had the Israel trip in mind and the kinds of service projects we'll undertake there,” says Cory Schneider, Director of Service Learning and Middle School English and History Teacher.
Director of Studies Laurie Piette and Cory thought the City Year assembly would be the perfect fit for the 8th Grade as they're beginning to think about how to explore service opportunities in high school. As our students prepare for the Israel trip and serving abroad, the panelists spoke to how best to enter new and foreign scenarios with humility and appropriate curiosity.
“The 8th Grade service learning curriculum is very much connected to that Israel trip, and asks kids to dig deeper into the philosophy of service, and what it means to be a ‘global citizen’ or steward,” said Cory.
The eighth graders asked poignant questions of the CYNY employees, and were inspired by the one-on-one time with volunteers who have experienced hands on philanthropy abroad.
Roey N., an RSS 8th Grader, says, “RSS’s philanthropy program truly helps students get a grasp of what it means to be a philanthropist, as well as an active and aware member of any community. The program is incredibly interesting and really encourages every student to participate, as well as to continue their experiences after their time at RSS is over.”
Learning about how CYNY volunteers taught in the inner-city neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. and Central America showed our students how there are myriad routes to give back to communities, and provided a model for behavior abroad.
“We spend a great deal of time discussing what it means to be a “global citizen,” and when we are in Israel, we will be the face of both The Rodeph Sholom School and of the United States in general. I also learned that no matter if you’re looking to improve your own city, country, continent, or the whole world, there is always something that you can to do help,” Roey says.
Camila D., also an 8th grader, was inspired by the variety in the ways that you can make a difference through service. “What I enjoyed the most about the CYNY assembly is seeing how people were able to continue their love of helping throughout their whole lives. I find helping people in need to be very important, and it is something I am very passionate about, so listening to people who were able to make a big difference was truly inspiring, “ Camila says.
“I really loved hearing about the different ways that CYNY volunteers have helped in different communities. They talked to us about a range of different things that they have done, such as volunteering as tutors and teachers to building houses in other countries. That showed me that there are so many ways to help and each one of these ways can make a difference,” she says.
Camila started her own non-profit organization, Art with a Heart, to focus on giving care and attention to small kids living in shelters. Initially inspired in part by the philanthropy program at RSS, Camila brings baked goods and arts and crafts to children in shelters so they can enjoy a sweet treat and simply have a good time. Many of the mothers in these shelters have just escaped abusive relationships and are working hard to get back on their feet, trying to support themselves and their children.
“Simply caring for these kids truly brightens their day. Seeing their eyes glow with happiness only inspires me to continue Art with a Heart, and I hope to do it for as long as I can,” Camila says.
RSS parent Jeremy Kroll, who serves as Board Chair for City Year New York, was inspired along with his wife, Niccole Kroll, and their friends, Cindy Gavin and Debra Wasserman, to make the City Year-RSS introduction. Tying in wholly with the Service Learning curriculum, it was a welcomed alliance not only from RSS teachers and students, but also City Year staff.
"We as parents, business people and members of the NYC larger community care deeply about the the sustainability of our education system. We believe that engaging our youth in community service is a vital opportunity at the intersection between independent and public school communities to strengthen our city," says Jeremy Kroll.
Brian Kilkelly, a CYNY alum and Fellow at the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, was one of the four panelists who came to speak at RSS. He stressed that City Year creates leaders for life, leveraging the power of young people to help address some of our country’s biggest problems – issues that our 8th graders are keenly interested in.
“The students [at RSS] were engaged and asked great questions,” Brian said. “I was inspired to see what they genuinely cared about service learning and the idea of giving back meant something to them. To do this work, you need an open heart and an open mind. You need to make yourself humble, and learn to listen.”
Brian urged RSS students to “seek out opportunities – there are a ton of ways to join in this work. Ask people you know that do volunteer work where they serve and why; think about the issues you care about and give back as much as you can – find ways to help bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice,” he said.
Camila seconded Brian’s call for maintaining an open heart and open mind: “One thing that I learned from this assembly is that as long as you offer your help with the best intentions and a caring heart, your effort will make a difference in somebody's life. They showed us that even a small gesture like simply offering a listening ear could help someone in huge ways,” she says.
“I learned that giving kindness and love is the first step to changing the world – and anyone is able to do it.”