Encouraging Transformational Intellectualism

By KATALYN VIDAL

Katalyn and colleagues at CWI’s Summer EAST Institute.

I am a Spanish teacher and ​I am drawn to service-learning because I feel that it is essential for children to learn empathy and tolerance while immersed in the act of serving.

This can take many forms, and can foster a sense of greater community and purpose. As a teacher that has worked in independent schools for more than ten years, service-learning is often the only way that privileged students interact with issues that impact the wider world.

As​ ​members​ ​of​ ​our​ ​individual​ ​academic​ ​communities,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​our​ ​duty​ ​to spread​ ​the​ ​message​ ​that​ ​by​ ​sharing​ ​our​ ​stories,​ ​hearing​ ​those​ ​of​ ​others,​ ​building​ ​bridges,​ ​and​ ​thinking​ ​of practical​ ​solutions,​ ​that​ ​we​ ​can​ ​create​ ​a​ ​healthier​ ​society.​ ​

This year,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​the​ ​honor​ ​of​ ​attending​ ​Community​ ​Works​ ​Institute​’s Summer ​East Institute ​in​ ​Vermont.​ ​I​ ​went​ ​with​ ​the​ ​intention​ ​of​ ​learning​ ​how​ ​to​ ​build​ ​the​ ​foundations​ ​of​ ​a service-learning​ ​program​ ​at​ ​my​ ​school,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​ended​ ​up​ ​leaving​ ​with​ ​so​ ​much​ ​more.​ ​

Now, months later,​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​that​ ​my​ ​mission​ ​is​ ​clear:​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​place-based​ ​social​ ​education​ ​to​ ​my​ ​school.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​wake​ ​of the​ ​devastating​ ​events​ ​in​ ​Charlottesville​ ​and​ ​Barcelona,​ ​we​ ​need​ ​to​ ​cultivate​ ​interdependence​ ​on​ ​one another,​ ​now​ ​more​ ​than​ ​ever.​ ​With​ ​all​ ​its​ ​beauty,​ ​the​ ​small​ ​city​ ​of​ ​Burlington,​ ​Vermont​ ​was​ ​not​ ​afraid​ ​to tackle​ ​issues​ ​of​ ​sustainability​ ​and​ ​sanctuary​ ​for​ ​immigrants​ ​while​ ​we​ ​were​ ​attending​ ​the​ ​Institute,​ ​and neither​ ​were​ ​we.​ ​

As​ ​a​ ​participant​, ​I​ ​was​ ​inspired,​ ​challenged​ ​and​ ​encouraged​ ​to​ ​present​ ​a​ ​solid​ ​case​ ​for why​ ​service​-learning​ ​matters.​ ​In​ ​a​ ​city​ ​like​ ​New​ ​York,​ ​it​ ​matters.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​smaller​ ​community​ ​of​ ​Winooski, Vermont,​ (where we did “Collaborative Ethnography” field work at CWI”s Summer Institute!) ​it​ ​also​ ​matters.​ ​As​ ​I​ ​plan​ ​my​ ​spring​ ​wedding now,​ ​which​ ​will​ ​combine​ ​friends​ ​and​ ​family​ ​from four​ ​different​ ​states​ ​and​ ​four​ ​different​ ​countries,​ ​I am certainly​certainly​ ​reminded of how much this matters.

As​ ​we​ ​struggle​ ​to​ ​know​ ​what​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​our​ ​students​ ​when​ ​they​ ​ask​ ​us​ ​why​ ​certain​ ​people​ ​hate people​ ​they​ ​have​ ​never​ ​met,​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​that​ ​it​ ​is​ ​our​ ​moral​ ​responsibility​ ​as​ ​educators​ ​to​ ​encourage “transformational​ ​intellectualism.”​ ​As​ ​members​ ​of​ ​our​ ​individual​ ​academic​ ​communities,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​our​ ​duty​ ​to spread​ ​the​ ​message​ ​that​ ​by​ ​sharing​ ​our​ ​stories,​ ​hearing​ ​those​ ​of​ ​others,​ ​building​ ​bridges,​ ​and​ ​thinking​ ​of practical​ ​solutions,​ ​that​ ​we​ ​can​ ​create​ ​a​ ​healthier​ ​society.​ ​

Now​ ​is​ ​the​ ​time​ ​for​ ​us​ ​to​ ​reclaim​ ​our​ ​time,​ ​to re-focus​ ​our​ ​energies,​ ​to​ ​roll​ ​up​ ​our​ ​sleeves​ ​and​ ​build​ ​the​ ​kinds​ ​of​ ​communities​ ​we​ ​want​ ​to​ ​live​ ​in.​ ​Not only​ ​is​ ​that​ ​for​ ​the​ ​common​ ​good​ ​of​ ​all,​ ​our​ ​society​ ​depends​ ​on​ ​it.

Last fall, I started a buddy program between Speyer Legacy School’s two Kindergarten classes and the middle school members of the “Inspeyered” service elective. This elective met three times a week. In addition to that, we visited PS 111 once every other month to visit with their students. I also began and managed a drive for Covenant House New York, with the help of the sixth grade student council representatives and one parent volunteer.

I want to help make service a regular part of our middle school curriculum. As a new school, Speyer Legacy School did not have any regular service offerings or programs until this past year. Administration is highly supportive, and I think that establishing a division-wide “Service Day,” and expanding our existing buddy program would be enough to begin to initiate service culture at our school.

The greatest challenges to expanding service at Speyer are the small size of our faculty. Most initiatives at the school must be spearheaded and managed by one person, which is often very hard to manage with a full course load and homeroom. I had to run an elective of 15 students on my own, which included some complex chaperoning situations. I am now working to integrate more help from parent volunteers, and the PA Community Service Committee, in particular. I feel like that may be the key to bringing service to Speyer in a manageable, sustainable way.

Katalyn is a Spanish teacher and Coordinator of Service-Learning at the Speyer School in New York City.

Learn more about CWI’s Summer Institutes on Place Based Service-Learning.

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