From Local to Global, Bronxville Students Grow into Citizens Who Give Back and Help Others
In recent weeks, large cardboard boxes have been spotted throughout the halls of The Bronxville School. On the walls above them reads a flier: Syria & Türkiye Appeal Needed. Listed are essentials to help citizens of the two countries who have faced devastation this year. The appeal is for funds that can be used to purchase tents and camping equipment in shelters, baby formula in ready-to-feed bottles, diapers, wipes, pacifiers, reusable water bottles and thermos, batteries, power banks and cords, and hygiene supplies for women. The power behind the initiative are Bronxville High School students, a coordinated effort forged by three high school clubs: International Club, Model United Nations, and Human Rights Collation. Once the boxes are filled with collections, they are brought up to Ms. Dioguardi’s classroom where they line the counter along the wall of windows awaiting their departure to greet those in need.
Service oriented projects have long been a staple in The Bronxville School, garnering an incredible amount of support from faculty and staff, as well as parent organizations and the community at large. ‘Doing for others’ is not a new concept across many schools around the country, or even around the world; however, what makes it special in the Bronxville community is the early adoption and planting of seeds that starts in elementary school to create an opportunity for students to grow into engaged and active citizens.
Service Week kicks off on Monday April 17th at Bronxville Elementary School. But to suggest that this only happens one week out of the year would be grossly inaccurate. In fact, doing for others starts early and often during the school year. Since 1990, Bronxville ES art teacher, Ms. Fousek has been organizing the ES Candy Drive along with the assistance of other teachers and the parent community. The donations have grown since those first years from 8-12 boxes to now, most years, over 700 lbs. of candy. The annual drive has provided donations to various organizations from local institutions such as Children’s Village and Midnight Run, Ecap to Feeding Westchester, and to our Armed Services overseas. The school faculty has been working together with the ES PTA on collections and drives for as long as anyone can remember. At the K-5 level, it’s all about introducing the idea of helping others.
Susan Engelhardt and Jessica Clarke, advisors for the 5th grade Student Council, plan service activities to align with Be3 themes almost every month. From the Halloween candy drives, to the collection of non-perishable food items for Thanksgiving, Toys for Tots during the winter holidays, coat drives, and Valentines for Veterans in February that included a collection of toiletry items for a veteran home in Montrose, NY. “Our goal is to keep the tradition of being charitable in the school, with a particular focus on local needs,” said Ms. Englehardt.
For the upcoming Service Week, however, council members will be expanding their service reach in a most environmentally friendly way. Monday April 17th is the start of Walk to School Week for elementary school students and families, in celebration of Bronxville School’s Earth Week. Each morning, Student Council representatives will be stationed at the elementary school canopy handing out stickers to promote walking to school. They will also collect recyclable items for the NexTrex recycling program which uses recycled materials to create outdoor products such as playgrounds, decks, and benches. Student Council members have been making their rounds this week and spreading the word by volunteering in pairs to present to students in the classrooms during the day, and last night, two council members presented at the ES Council meeting about Earth Day and the initiatives under way for next week. “At the conclusion of Service Week, our student council members will make morning announcements, thanking the students and families for donations, and sharing thoughts on their experience. Our hope is that students can take a moment after doing the work to reflect on what they’ve accomplished, and also feel proud,” said Ms. Englehardt.
Lauren Wright, a 4th grade teacher at Bronxville Elementary School, has a personal connection and history to service projects at the school level. Growing up in nearby Pelham, her mother was a teacher in the Bronx. “We gave back all the time. The idea of service-learning was deeply embedded in our family and community. My mother would organize drives for students in her school. Her belief that her students were also her children struck a chord in me at an early age,” said Ms. Wright. Honoring the history of charity, Ms. Wright has been working with Bundles of Joy- a local organization run by Bronxville parent Adrienne Harper, that collects donations for local communities in need. Last year, Bundles of Joy served over 25,000 children in need. Ms. Wright is coordinating a collection with fourth grade students for toiletry kits to be given to children at local shelters. She expects to collect approximately 150 worth of kits. On April 21st, students will assemble the items at school to prepare for the delivery of the bundles. “The collaboration with parents on the collection has been wonderful, and the hands-on experience for students in putting the kits together adds another layer of value,” said Ms. Wright. Once the project wraps up, she is planning for discussions with the fourth graders about their perspectives on the project and what it meant to them to be part of a community effort in helping others.
The Service-Learning component is the evolution starting to take shape school-wide this year. Alyssa Dioguardi, Bronxville High School Humanities teacher, took on the role of Dean of Service Learning and Community Engagement last year to facilitate school-wide initiatives and to begin to move the work into a learning and reflective moment in the classroom. “There is a quote by John Dewey: We do not learn from experience … We learn from reflecting on experience,” said Ms. Dioguardi. “As it relates to our school and students, I know there is a tangible and inherent value in learning from experience. The reflective component serves to provide students with a higher level of understanding that they can carry with them for years to come.”