Service Learning and Community Engagement

Service learning and community engagement are essential aspects of Hawken's commitment to Fair Play. And while authentic engagement can happen organically over time, we believe in intentionally creating opportunities that enable students to engage with the greater community in order to better understand and appreciate it. Hawken offers a wealth of opportunities for students to make a difference, approaching service learning in a variety of ways and according to the grade level and interests of the students.

In the Lower School, service learning is introduced in developmentally appropriate ways. From creating a “kindness box” to designing and building a lost and found to serve the needs of the school community, students engage in ways that are meaningful and relevant.

Middle School students spend between 4 and 6 days each year working at the same agency, participating in pre-and post-service activities that help them make connections and develop a sense of agency and purpose.

At the Upper School, students choose to participate in service learning as part of their academic study, on national and international travel trips, and/or as part of their co-curricular activities. Students are required to participate in two all-school service days each year with their advisory groups. Service Learning – doing things that authentically engage students in the community – has become a focus for teachers when designing curriculum. It’s incorporated whenever possible, and it’s gotten to the point where it organically becomes a part of classes kids take.

To learn more about service learning and character at Hawken, click here.

Service Learning at the Lower School

Service learning projects at the Lower School evolve somewhat organically. Students are introduced to the concept of philanthropy and service learning by being encouraged to think beyond their own needs to those of people in their immediate and extended communities – and to find ways of meeting those needs. Below are several examples.
The Kindness Project
Thinking about meeting the needs of others in their community prompted the first graders to create a “Kindness box.” Here’s how it works, explains one student: “If you are feeling like you need a little kindness, stop by the first grade classroom and take a note out of the box. If you want to give a little kindness, write a note to brighten someone’s day and put it in the box.”

West Side Catholic Center Partnership
After learning about how the West Side Catholic Center helps homeless clients to find homes and provide many of the things they need as they settle into a new home, first graders brainstormed a list of children’s items to collect. They then asked for donations from first grade students and families, decorated tote bags, and filled those tote bags with items for the children. The first graders also make and sell bracelets, bookmarks, and Lego structures to help raise money for the Center.

Designing with Empathy: Lost and Found Project
The second grade took on the task of finding a solution to the question, “How might we help students keep track of their things and find items they have lost?” First, they organized all items found around the Lower School and created a display in a high traffic area where people could claim lost items. In teams, they then designed a receptacle that provides spaces for items that are most frequently and created a prototype of their design in the FabLab. After evaluating the numerous prototypes, they constructed a final prototype as a class for the Lost and Found receptacle they would build. Finally, they built the final product by cutting wood pieces, generating labels for signage, and drilling the final furniture pieces together before adding the finishing touches of paint and labeled plastic bins.

Support for the WE Foundation
After learning about the problem of droughts in Africa, a group of fifth graders decided to do something about it, asking their schoolmates to “Be a part of something BIG!” They hung posters around the school building announcing a bracelet sale to support a great cause: the WE Foundation. Bracelet prices ranged from $.75 to $3.50 and all proceeds went directly to the Foundation.

Service Learning at the Middle School

Service Learning in the Middle School focuses on the environment, health and wellness, arts and education, and hunger and homelessness. Students experience these areas of service throughout their middle school years as they work at agencies with whom Hawken has established partnerships.

Students participate in various activities at the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve including trimming and pulling weeds and invasive species. They also collect wildflower seeds, which they then dry before mixing them with soil and clay to form seed balls. Once dried, the seed balls are distributed at Doan Brook Watershed Park events so that people can scatter seeds in their yards and in parks. The students also gain an appreciation for the watershed by hiking through the park.

Health & Wellness
Students visit Kemper House in Highland Heights, which offers Alzheimer’s and dementia care. While there, they spend time with residents to create arts and crafts projects, play chess, and engage in conversation.

Family Connections
Students spend time collecting, cutting, sorting, and organizing materials that they then put together in packets to be distributed to families at Family Connections of Northeast Ohio to support children’s literacy. They then visit one of the center’s playrooms to spend time playing and working with the children and teachers.

Arts and Education
Students travel to the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank and start with a brief introduction that explains the what and why of the organization. They then learn how to sort books, which includes identifying the type of book (board, easy reader, picture, young chapter, young adult) as well as learning when a book needs to be recycled. Students take a break from sorting to discuss the Little Free Libraries and to select books that will appeal to toddlers, teens, and all ages in between. On their afternoon return trip to Hawken, they make deliveries of the selected books to several Little Free Libraries along the way.

Hunger and Homelessness
Students pack between 1500 and 2000 brown bag lunches at Saint Malachi Food Bank in Cleveland while others cook in the kitchen to prepare another meal. They then spend time serving food to homeless and sorting clothing at a donation center.

Service Learning at the Upper School

As students transition into Upper School, they are empowered with a sufficient degree of independence, maturity, and agency to put their feelings, thoughts, and skills into action in new ways and in new environments. This takes character development to another level because they are frequently called upon to engage outside the classroom in unfamiliar real world situations, to grapple with increasingly complex and ambiguous scenarios, and to apply ethical reasoning to solve challenging dilemmas and problems.

It begins with a mandate, with every student being required to participate in two all-school service days each year. But once students recognize how valuable their service is – not only to others but to themselves – can find countless ways of engaging in the community. Below are some examples.

Mandatory Service Days: Igniting the Spark
Two times each year, student advisory groups go to one of over 40 agencies throughout Cleveland to provide a service. These are one-time group service projects. But even this small amount of exposure compels students to begin to think about what a community is and what their responsibilities are as members of a larger community.

Case in point: One student, after working with his advisory group at the Cosgrove Center for the homeless, initiated clothing and hygiene drives to support the agency. Another turned a one-time service day at Kemper House, a residential facility for Alzheimer patients, into a long-term service project to teach and play chess with residents. Several others, after experiencing a service day at a food bank, decided to continue their efforts by volunteering regularly on Saturdays.

“These students are doing it because it means something to them,” Mesh comments. “It’s much more effective and impactful when it’s not mandated.”

Campus Stewardship: It Starts at Home
Students don’t have to leave campus to learn the basics of responsibility. Hawken’s campus stewardship program, also under the “mandated” umbrella, assigns every Upper School student to ten minutes of stewardship of the White House or Stirn Hall every couple of weeks. While that may not seem like a lot, it adds up – and it sends an important message about character.

“What we are trying to do is preempt any tendency toward an entitlement mindset or attitude,” explains Assistant Director of Student Life Jim Newman. “When kids are held responsible for keeping the space they live and work in clean, they take more ownership and better care of tand our maintenance staff feel better supported and more respected.”

Elective After-School Service: Inspiration and Personal Agency
To help facilitate community engagement opportunities for students, Hawken provides after school transportation four days a week to service agencies in Greater Cleveland for interested volunteers. One student, who tutors underprivileged students at Chagrin Falls Park Community Center, looks forward to her weekly sessions because she gains as much as she gives. “I’ve learned to be patient when working with younger children as they learn how to read or sound words out,” she explains. Another group of students travels to Citizens Leadership Academy to support the Young Scholars Program and to tutor students on the CLA Chess Team. “These are not one-shot deals,” says Mesh. “The timing aligns with sports seasons, so athletes can participate as well – and they are required to show up each week.”

Integrated Service Learning (ISL): Discovering the Connection between Character and Intellect
Integrated Service Learning is a credit-bearing elective that enables students to explore the synergy between academic inquiry and meaningful service, with the ultimate goal of strengthening character by working to make our communities and our world a better place. Director of Experiential Learning Cris Harris observes, “When kids take the initiative to go out into the community, they are growing into independent, resilient, creative problem solvers with a stake in this city and in our world. You can see their confidence and engagement grow with each opportunity.”

Outdoor Leadership: Grit and the Common Good
While not traditionally thought of as “service,” Outdoor Leadership – with its authentic, inclusive, and expansive leadership model and its cultivation of both hard and soft skills – clearly calls students to look to “their better selves.” As the program’s advisor Cris Harris explains, “The students who want to charge forward in a wilderness outing realize they need to direct that energy toward helping others if the goal is for the entire group to succeed.” A perfect example of others before self.

One student highlights how her experience in OL not only helped develop her interpersonal skills and empathy, but broadened and deepened her understanding of what it means to be a leader, a word she now realizes encompasses a variety of roles including trailblazer, teacher, cheerleader, and caregiver. Others point to additional traits fostered through their OL experience: independence, grit, mental and emotional toughness, courage, generosity, compassion, and teamwork. These are lessons students carry with them throughout their lives. As one student put it: “My experience in OL has given me the courage and resilience to adapt to any circumstance that comes my way.”

Alpha Company: Honoring and Thanking Those Who Serve
Alpha Company is just one of several clubs with a service learning component. In the fall, leaders organized a Veterans Day letter writing campaign for students to express their appreciation to active and former military troops. The stamp used to make the card was designed by Hawken students and created in the Fab Lab. Over forty students joined the effort to write to 94 alumni to express gratitude for their service to our country.

Student Senate and the Integrity Council: Accountability, Respect, Justice
Students elected to the Hawken Senate are charged with shaping school policy; those elected to the Hawken Integrity Council work with a group of faculty members to reach consensus on a recommended disciplinary response to a breach in the Hawken Honor code. These adult-sized tasks can impact the student experience in profound ways, and those who lead learn valuable lessons.

The Hawken Senate worked jointly with the Hawken Integrity Council several years ago to create the “Hawken Honor Code.” One senator explained the reasoning behind the effort this way: “If the school intends to advise on issues of integrity, it is only ‘fair play’ for the community to understand and approve of a consistent definition of integrity.”

After numerous iterations and a town hall style meeting to elicit community feedback, the ratified Hawken Honor Code reads, “As a member of the Hawken community, I am a person of integrity striving to be my better self. My words and actions reflect my belief in justice, compassion and fair play. I respect the rights, work, ideas and dignity of all.”

Athletics as Crucible for Character: Perseverance, Discipline, Teamwork, and Humility
Former Hawken Athletic Director Tom Bryan once referred to athletics as “a crucible for character” – and current Athletic Director Jim Doyle, while acknowledging his bias, couldn’t agree more. “We like to be competitive and win games,” Doyle admits. “But mostly athletics is about teaching kids to be team players, to be empathetic, to be competitive, to know the rules of the game and play by them, to carry themselves with grace in victory or defeat, to persevere through tough times, and to improve through a disciplined work ethic. Participation in athletics is among the best ways to teach those life skills.”

That’s a key reason why athletics has become a strategic priority for a school like Hawken that prioritizes the development of character. And apparently students get it. “Sportsmanship is a huge emphasis,” one senior notes. “Fair Play is ingrained in us.”
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