How do you teach fourteen year olds to become active citizens? What does it mean for our students who drive past San Quentin everyday, see homeless people on the streets, or see the Occupy movements in San Francisco and Oakland? How do you get teenagers to focus on the bigger picture while they are balancing their own schoolwork, sports teams, and social lives?
This is a question that parents, teachers, government officials, religious leaders, and others often struggle with. Several years ago, Marin Academy decided to remove its community service requirement: rather than making volunteering mandatory, we focused on continuing to integrate civic engagement into our core curriculum.
One of the ways we introduce students to social justice and public service is through Freshmen Seminar. All freshmen take this class upon arrival, and it serves in many ways as a crash course to MA: students hear from school leadership, learn about technology, and start to understand what makes Marin Academy Marin Academy. A third of the course is devoted to service projects in the surrounding community. According to a 2007 article in Marin Magazine, Marin County has more than 1,800 nonprofit organizations (or one for every 100 adults). Yet despite Marin’s reputation as one of the most affluent communities in the United States, it has its share of social and economic issues.
This week students will begin projects with Canal Alliance (focusing on immigration), Insight Prison Project (focusing on incarceration), LIFT for Teens (focusing on public health), Grassroots Leadership Network of Marin (focusing on Social Equity), and Homeward Bound of Marin (focusing on homelessness) in the Canal, Marin City, and parts of Novato. With MA’s Crossroads and Community Action Director Lauren Toker, students learn about social justice issues, hear from people who work for the nonprofit organizations and those who are served by the organizations, and collaborate on projects in the community.
“We’ve gotten to know many agencies in the local area and together create mutually beneficial projects,” explains Lauren. “Our goal at MA is to give students the opportunity to learn about big issues hands-on. Our partners get to share their mission and get assistance from groups of 20 students during each visit.”
It’s exciting and effective. Take it from some of last year’s students:
“I’ve thought all my life that Marin was an idyllic suburb and that the city, where I live, was where all the real stuff went down. It as eye-opening to find out that San Rafael has its problems with any other place.”
“I will take away from this project the idea that all people are equal, despite their financial, social, and economic differences. It has made me think about doing some community service, and I hope to do at least some during my time at MA.”
“My favorite thing about working on this project was gaining knowledge of a world/society that didn’t occur to me. I really wanted to hear what everyone had to say.”
As a member of the MA and local community, it’s thrilling to watch students grapple with big societal issues where there isn’t a clear right or wrong. They can build their competence to include skills that are different from what they develop in the classroom. Most importantly, they can stretch outside of their comfort zone, interact with diverse communities, and get a taste of the real world.
If you’d like to get involved with this effort, join in the students’ donation drive. As part of their work with our partner organizations, freshmen are collecting items from the list below during the month of November. You can drop off items in the colored bins in the entrance of the BBLC.
- New toys for kids
- New gifts for adults
- New or slightly used yoga mats and blocks for yoga class for San Quentin inmates
- Unused gift cards for organizational sponsors
- Cooking, art, and physical activity supplies
- Office supplies
- Garden pots, potted flowers, seeds, and soil for residents
- Full and travel-sized toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioner, soap, and deodorant