SEGL launches new community service partnership with local elementary school
“Do you do community service at SEGL?”
It is a question I hear regularly when sharing our school with new audiences. Until this semester, my answer has been incomplete. Yes, we have students who perform service while at SEGL, yes, our students’ social venture projects demonstrate service at its finest, and yes, the topics we learn about often inspire service. But we have always felt we could do more.
This semester, each one of our students does meaningful, weekly service at Thomson Elementary, a Title I public school 15 minutes from SEGL’s academic building. The school is overwhelmingly poor; nearly all of its students are Latino/a, Chinese, and African American, and many are the first in their family to be U.S.-born.
On Wednesday afternoons, we plan and facilitate “Books and Basketball,” an afternoon program for some of the most needy 1st and 2nd graders in the area. Using mini-basketballs and a gym with six regulation baskets, we provide the only organized sports activities that many of the children have ever enjoyed. And then we provide one-on-one reading instruction to the same students, many of whom are English Language Learners and/or reading below grade level. We have only just begun the program, but already the children are endearing themselves to our students.
Service brings with it a host of ethical questions that can inform intellectual debate. (In our case: Should we provide the proverbial “hand out” or “hand up,” and what is the best way to do each? Do the children of undocumented/illegal immigrants deserve our resources? Do we do service to assuage guilt or justify exorbitant spending on personal luxuries? What role, if any, should private schools with more resources play in educating the less fortunate?) Though these questions are important, and though many of our students buzz with them on Wednesday evenings after coming home from Thomson, they seem less important after witnessing a post-basket smile or a triumphant first reading of Green Eggs and Ham.
Special thanks to Katie Solli, a DC Teaching Fellow and 1st grade teacher at Thomson, for making our visits possible.