EPS Service Redesign

By Paul Hagen, Dean of Students

The forecast had promised partly sunny skies and not a drop of precipitation, but occasionally forecasts are wrong…

When the bus full of sixth graders arrived at Sammamish State Park, and just as the 54 students piled off, the sky, much darker now than it had been when we left EPS twenty minutes earlier, opened in a torrential downpour. Students huddled together as the torrent continued. In moments puddles began to form and by the time I’d unloaded the work gloves, the field had become something approximating a muddy pond. Having neglected my own advice to “wear layers and bring a raincoat,” I was thoroughly drenched, and feeling less than optimistic about the prospects of the hours of service ahead. A river, or what felt like a river, had formed somewhere on my head and was now flowing quite rapidly down my neck and back. It was cold, we were wet, and I, for one, wanted to call the whole thing off.

We are in the process of redesigning how we do service at EPS. We have always believed that students should have the opportunity to serve, and to that end we have incorporated all-school service days as part of our program. This year, however, we have begun to think about how to ensure that service is more impactful, both on the community as well as on students. We have decided to tie service more closely to the EPS Vision, so now the service program’s mission is to “Inspire students to create a better world through service.” We have also worked to ensure that students have the chance to explore service in different ways – and that they can link service to the EPS Mission Points. So, our 5th and 6th graders look at service as a form of Responsible Action, while our 7th and 8th graders Think Critically about service and the needs facing our community. In the Upper School 9th and 10th grade students examine creative solutions to problems as they investigate Wise Innovation in service. And the juniors and seniors Lead Compassionately as they adopt their own service projects and share insight with younger students. All students think about and discuss service in advisory and class meetings, and all students spend time off campus doing hands on service projects.

Unyielding the rain kept falling, dampening my spirits. Strangely, as I looked around the group of students as they listened to the park’s service coordinator describe the work we would be doing and explain the importance of it, it became obvious that the students’ spirits weren’t dampened at all. So, with shovels in hand, we marched through the mud and into the woods to reclaim habitat and to save the world one tree at a time (as it turned out, the 6th grade students planted 148 trees in just two hours that day).

Service, it just so happens, is sometimes a bit messy. To participate in genuine service we must first acknowledge the problems facing our community and world, and then we must be willing to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty – and that is exactly what we are trying to do with the service program redesign.