A Year of Service Learning

Our Elementary School Counselor Carin Chou describes the service learning activities at PKS from the past school year.

One of the guiding principles of our mission is igniting connectedness and engagement in the world. At the center of this goal is a commitment to preparing our students to become participating members of their democracy. In our classrooms, through our programs, and in our community, we collaborate to find authentic ways to contribute.

For example, teachers weave service learning into our school's units of exploration. As a part of the first grade’s work learning about habitats, they partnered with the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department to work on a habitat restoration project in Golden Gate Park. Learning matters more when we get to apply and extend our knowledge and have a positive impact on our community.

Other units of exploration have included a coat drive as as part of studying weather, a mural walk in the Mission district to bring art to life, or hosting a transgender day of visibility assembly as a part learning about our bodies. For learning to "stick," we believe it is critical to pair classroom experiences with real civic engagement.

Additionally, we use our school-wide character education program to inform our community work. Each month we explore a PKS habit of character in our assemblies, our morning meetings, our mindfulness classes, and in our Jiating (family) groups that span grade levels. 

In March, we collaborated on ways we can be caring towards community members who do not have reliable access to food and shelter. This culminated with a school-wide Jiating activity where we all worked together to make hundreds of bagged lunches for the homeless in our community. We partnered with a local nonprofit to distribute the lunches that day to homeless people. The students were able to connect with each other (the big kids taught the little kids some of the finer points of sandwich-making) and also roll up their sleeves and do something about the social issues that we see every day in San Francisco—homelessness and hunger.

Assemblies provide more opportunities for us to engage with our habits of character. We host special guests to educate our community about social justice issues. In February, we posted a prominent activist who has protested the Dakota Pipeline. He shared stories about times when he had to overcome significant obstacles, such as being hosed with cold water in freezing weather, to stay strong in his support of the Standing Rock Reservation. In conjunction with this presentation, students discussed character and resilience.

In May, we posted Mike Pedersen, a Salesforce employee who is blind and who works as a user experience engineer for accessibility. His presentation helped us understand May's habit of character -- "collaborative" -- as his work helps ensure technology is accessible to people with visual impairments. Mike also introduced us to his guide dog, Wasabi, and taught us about how he and Wasabi trained together and developed a mutual understanding so that they can collaboratively navigate the world.

Our dynamic Chinese New Year parade team annually visits a local senior center, where our students perform their parade routine, sing, and make Valentines with seniors. The children love being semi-celebrity guests at the center, and they get to experience how simple acts of kindness and connection to their elders can be mutually fulfilling. Kids are used to having things done for them, but when they get the chance to be the “do-ers” it ignites their self-efficacy and confidence.

Presidio Knolls School has an active parent-led community service/social justice committee that coordinates a diverse array of family-oriented community service opportunities. Parents have organized many trips to the local food bank, where children as young as five can pitch in and help package food for distribution to hungry families. Our students appreciate the tangible satisfaction that comes from something as concrete as spending a few hours bagging rice or sorting vegetables. 

Our parent committee has also organized beach clean ups, assembled Thanksgiving crafts for homeless families, sponsored a blood drive, and held canned food and warm clothing drives throughout the year. Each community service experience affords us another opportunity to appreciate our shared humanity and our shared responsibility to each other.  These kinds of experiences empower our students to understand that they can make a difference and that each one of them has something of value to contribute to the world. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”

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