Community Involvement at Germantown Friends School is committed to developing reciprocal relationships between our students and local organizations. Through food drives, reading and math buddies, MLK Day activities, and more, GFS strives to cultivate students’ awareness of privilege, race, and class in relation to Germantown and how we can support the surrounding community in a positive way, by learning from each other.
We want each student entering the outside community with the best possible attitude toward volunteering. A true volunteer spirit bridges gaps between people, and it is the relationships which develop between our students and our hosts which are the core of our program and can be anywhere from interesting to life-changing.
We want students to develop a sense of responsibility for choosing to volunteer: they learn to weigh their priorities and their commitments, a beneficial life skill which will help them even after they graduate from GFS. We are concerned about students’ social and spiritual development as well as their intellectual development. When students truly volunteer, they willingly develop an awareness of social issues, empathy for others, and a better sense of their role in the “Big Picture” of the world.
Ultimately the Community Involvement program is a spiritually based program. As a Friends School we strive to meet that of God in each person. The Community Involvement program exposes students to people whose backgrounds, abilities, or physiques differ from their own. Through discussion and shared time together, students experience the commonality of people and come to understand differences in context. Such an understanding cannot be rushed in an effort to fulfill a certain number of required hours or forced by matching students with organizations with whom they are unlikely to engage. These are the reasons why our program is primarily voluntary after grade 6.
In order to expose students to the possibilities and benefits of Community Involvement, all-grade work days are organized each year for grades 7, 9, 10 and 12. In addition, the eighth grade spends several days on environmental service-learning projects, and the eleventh grade takes the month of January to pursue independent projects. Between 40-45% of these are considered Community Involvement related. Grades 7-8 are “strongly encouraged” to participate in one trimester of Community Involvement during EXPO, a specially scheduled block during the school day.
To this end we begin with teacher-directed projects in grades K-6. In grades 7-10, student projects are mainly organized by the director of Community Involvement and led by teachers and parent volunteers. In grades 11 and 12, student projects are mainly initiated and organized by the students themselves, with support from teachers and the director of Community Involvement. Ultimately we hope that Community Involvement becomes a part of students’ lives beyond graduation from GFS.
In 1997, we intentionally changed the name of our program from Community Service to Community Involvement, in an attempt to emphasize the reciprocal nature of our relationships in the community: to see the community as an intricate educational resource instead of simply a collection of sites which need our “help.” We are continually learning how to articulate and understand this reciprocity. The Community Involvement program serves as a clearing house for students, parents, staff and teachers from other schools seeking contacts and ideas for volunteer projects.
Student Activities: partnerships with neighborhood agencies and schools, all-grade work days, extracurricular Community Action Committee projects, Middle School Project Time, various “drives” and fundraisers for both local and international causes.
Curriculum: e.g., first grade study of Germantown, seventh grade “Germantown week," junior/senior seminar on the Modern City, the senior writing seminar, Junior Projects, Germantown as an extension of the classroom in all disciplines
Institutional Support: hiring locally, serving on local boards, attending neighborhood meetings & assisting in key neighborhood issues, anchoring families & faculty in the northwest, offering financial incentive for staff to live in Germantown.
Local partners include:
- John B. Kelly School
- Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia
- The Pennsylvania School for the Deaf
- Historic Germantown
- Germantown Special Services District
- Holsey Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
- Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church
- Mastery Charter School: John Wister campus
- The Wister Townhouses
- The Penn-Knox Neighborhood Association
- Baynton Hill Neighbors’ Association
- The Nicholson Church Lane Community Garden
We aim to create sustainable relationships that will stand the test of time. At GFS, we want to go beyond transactional acts of service and focus on thinking deeply about the relationships we are cultivating.
It’s important to acknowledge that we all have different facets of our identities. Just as important is cultivating our common humanity, which is the universal backdrop across our differences. Community Involvement at GFS teaches that it’s crucial to reach out to one another and share our stories in order to build a more empathetic world.