Curiosity—that desire to grow, know, ask, create, and solve—is both the fuel of learning and an essential ingredient to success in an ever-changing world; it must be encouraged from the earliest years and throughout life. In 2017, a group of Upper School students expressed interest in developing an Intensive, a three-week long course exploring interdisciplinary topics, centered around learning about and serving nonprofits in Charlottesville. Since then, the Intensive has been a critical experience for students to connect with people in the community while also reflecting upon the philosophical impact of their actions and the mindfulness to be sensitive to the needs of others.
Through volunteer opportunities at organizations like Camp Holiday Trails, Commonwealth Senior Living, and the Haven, the outcomes for this Intensive have been evolving. In the first and second year, students were charged with interviewing someone from the place where they worked, reflecting on their experience, and designing part of the curriculum for the following year. This year’s Intensive, led by faculty members Dr. Paloma Visscher-Gingerich and Jacob Stoner, challenged students to design their ideal community engagement program in alignment with the community engagement tenet of the School’s strategic plan.
Students built upon their past experiences to create robust programs to pitch to a small group of school administrators. Across the five proposals, a variety of ideas were pitched, including:
- The creation of a community engagement committee formed by students and faculty that would help oversee all community engagement programming.
- An extracurricular after-school program of student and adult workshops that would reinforce bonds with students from other schools and adults from our community.
- A service fair where representatives from different non-profits would be invited to the School to talk about service opportunities at their organizations
- A reflection requirement, or mandatory discussion with a faculty member in which students would reflect about their service experience.
- The creation of a website for community engagement.
- An extra-curricular team service program that would require all athletic teams to host a practice and a game with a local non-profit organization each season.
Ultimately, the program’s service-oriented expansion centers around the desire to continue exposing students to the lived experiences of others.
“It is really a wake-up call to how other people live,” student Katie Eastlack, a volunteer at the Haven in 2019, said. “Working at the Haven taught me a lot about not only Charlottesville and the people in it, but I learned a lot about myself. I was able to grow connections to people that I would have never thought to talk to.”
The Intensive has also challenged students' conventional thinking around their preconceived notions of what constitutes "good community service.” One of the main activities in the Intensive is to view and discuss the documentary “Poverty Inc” which presents a very critical view of the traditional “service” approach of volunteering which patronizes people instead of working in a partnership with the beneficiaries.
Emily Trebour ‘18, a recent alumna and a member of the course in its inception, commented after the experience, “I learned that it is important to treat people we are serving with respect and how we want to be treated.”