An annual event each February, this year’s theme was A Strong Community Invests in its People and focused on three groups: youth, people with disabilities and the aging.
After preparing for the week on Monday, the 9th Graders spent Tuesday through Thursday at 13 partner organizations that work with members of these populations, including Lakewood Manor, The Hermitage, Faison School, Ridge Elementary School, St. James Children’s Center and the Children’s Museum of Richmond. The students interacted with residents and students and performed various duties depending on the organization’s needs.
At Ridge Elementary School, for example, Collegiate students spent time with children in all grades reading, practicing vocabulary, playing at recess, socializing and answering questions about transitioning into Middle School.
“Collegiate students experienced the challenges of learning English as a second language, the diversity of the Ridge student body and acknowledged that teaching must be as fulfilling as it is exhausting,” said Collegiate’s Director Economic and Entrepreneurship Education Trina Clemans, who accompanied students to the school.
On Friday, the class reflected on their week’s work and heard from Rev. Ben Campbell, an Episcopal priest and author of Richmond’s Unhealed History, who spoke on poverty and race in the Richmond region. He explained how wealth gives freedom and opportunity while poverty gives struggle and meaning, and people’s lives are a mixture of both in different proportions.
“This week has been a voyage of discovery you have just begun,” said Rev. Campbell. “You have to find your place in the human context so that you can make a difference.”
The students then participated in four different “advocacy workshops” related to public speaking, letter writing, social media and community relationships to learn skills and opportunities for impacting local issues.
After this week of hands-on experience, the students gained knowledge about the community around them and perhaps became familiar with an organization or population that sparked an interest in them, says Suzanne Fleming, Collegiate's Director of Civic Engagement and Service Learning.
“We want them to have a deeper understanding of the issues and provide them with the tools to go out into the community and have their voices heard,” she said.