Integrated Service Learning, or ISL, is a service program that is designed by students to coincide with a course that they have already taken or will take in the next year. With the driving force of Mr. Harris (the English teacher), the first year of ISL consisted of thirteen students leading service projects in agencies around Cleveland. Mr. Harris is hoping to have around thirty students participate in the program this year. Although ISL has been compared to STEMM, another Hawken program that is widely popular amongst students, ISL has more flexibility with the subjects students want to pursue and different requirements. Students must work with the teacher of a course that they are passionate about to design a service project that will apply skills developed in the classroom to the real world. Once a plan of action is produced, Hawken can connect students with an agency in their database, or students can find their own. During their service project, the student must have an off-campus mentor from the service agency who will act as a guide and trainer to teach the student the appropriate procedures of the job. There is a 60 hour service requirement, although students are certainly encouraged to exceed that limit. Participants also keep a blog updated about their experiences during their project. At the end, students write a reflection on the takeaways of their summer service project and attend a showcase to present the valuable skills and lessons they have learned.
An ISL project can cover a wide variety of classes, so it gives students plenty of flexibility to pursue what they are truly passionate about. For language classes, several students helped non-native speakers learn English and integrate into the United States. By using their knowledge of foreign language, they made people feel more comfortable and able to connect. Thomas Jefferson Newcomers Academy was a rather popular location for Hawken students as three of the ISL participants, Ana Vombergar ’17, Naomi Trotta ’17, and Zach Looney ’17, volunteered there to teach English to elementary children. An agency called Us Together also dealt with multicultural aspects and challenged students Hannah Amin ’17 and Dalia Tabachnik ’17 to connect with immigrants and refugees. Seysha Mehta ’17 worked with Esperanza and helped at a summer camp where students primarily spoke Spanish. She was able to use her Spanish education to
bond with the children there. Ammar Lone ’17 used his experience from his rhetoric class and taught children at a debate camp and also worked at a refugee resettlement office where he also gained insightful multicultural exposure. Students can also pair their science classes with a service project. For example, Sarah Allaben ’17 worked at the Holden Arboretum, a botanical garden in Kirtland, where she observed plants and their bloom cycles in preparation for her natural science class this year. While working there, she discovered a “world of plants that she never experienced” and uncovered a fondness for botany. Cassandra Knaggs ’17 paired her project with an English class and volunteered at nursing home. While she was there, she read to the residents and later engaged in book discussions with them. An example of an ISL project incorporating a history class is Molly Webster ’17 and her time working at Western Reserve Historical Society. She was able to utilize their archives and study even more history while also helping clients research about their family roots. Dana Kulma ’17 paired her ISL project with an arts course and she focused on using art therapy to help a variety of patients. Nihaal Rahman ’17 volunteered at a neighborhood developmental organization which helped organize cleanups and plant gardens. Clearly, there is a plethora of unique service opportunities from which to choose.
ISL provides a real-world experience teaching students to use skills learned in the classroom but exercised with people other than teachers and other students. It is an opportunity to, as Naomi Trotta explains, “get out of the Hawken bubble and see a different part of your city.” Although the working environment was a clear benefit of ISL, the exposure to multiple cultures was a huge positive aspect as well. Some students were able to gain a lot of empathetic insight to the hardships of immigrants and refugees who are so far away from home and struggle to assimilate into the United States. The exposure to other people less fortunate and seeing their ability to persevere is also something that students found to be a skill to learn from. Perhaps the most rewarding part of ISL is the service to the community. The mixture of learning and service is the key point of ISL which makes it appealing to students who want to “take their learning in school and do something for the common good” (Sarah Allaben ’17). The huge focus on humility, or humbleness, is something that is both rewarding to the students and to the people they are reaching out to. By the end of this experience, students seemed to be wholeheartedly passionate about the connections that they made and the lessons they have learned while volunteering in the real-world. Many students surpassed the six to eight page reflection requirement and written much more, as Mr. Harris said, to show their eagerness for their ISL projects. Mr. Mesh says that the skills acquired from the ISL program include an “understanding of the world that is very mature” and the “confidence in ability to take on any challenge.” He also mentions that students start an ISL project with a specific goal in mind, however, the end product of so many strong, unforeseen connections with new people and eye-opening learning experiences was something that they never expected.
Although these are only several examples of ISL projects, students who want to participate in this program are given a lot of freedom to tailor their projects to their passions. By working with on-campus and off-campus mentors, participants can target a class that they are very interested in and take it to the next level through ISL. In addition, students will be making positive contributions to the community which is a valuable engagement within itself. This program will undoubtedly provide students with a mind-opening experience that will forever change their lives.