The Benefits of a Robust Community Service Program at Windward
The community service program is an important component of The Windward School’s education of the whole child, as it teaches valuable leadership skills and positive character traits, while fostering a spirit of camaraderie within the community. Through carefully planned monthly community service projects for each division, The Windward School hopes to instill in its students a lifelong belief in the service to others.
Students in both the lower schools and the middle schools have opportunities to be leaders in the community service program. At Manhattan Lower School and Westchester Lower School, each fourth-grade class rotates in leading the month’s project. At the middle-school level, student council members at Manhattan Middle School and Westchester Middle School spearhead the community service efforts.
Ms. Manaster at Manhattan Lower School and Ms. Kaminsky at Westchester Lower School act as their respective division’s student council advisor. Each month, they give an overview of the selected community service project to the responsible fourth-grade class so they are informed about the organization that Windward is supporting. The students learn about the cause of the organization that was chosen, why the mission is meaningful, how the service project will benefit the organization, and who will benefit from the support of the students. To highlight the virtues of the selected organization and to rally participation from their fellow lower schoolers, the sponsoring fourth-grade class creates educational posters to display in the hallways.
“We vary the projects that we do each month and each year, with a mix of service activities,” said Ms. Kaminsky. "However, we do try to keep the organizations we support local so we can encourage the children to offer their help to our neighbors. With each project, my hope is the students recognize the benefits of helping their community and how we can help others in so many different ways.”
Whether the project is a bookmark sale for United Through Reading (a program that promotes literacy and connection for military families facing physical separation), a dress-down day fundraiser for the American Heart Association, or a water conservation initiative, the fourth-grade leaders of the month assist Ms. Manaster and Ms. Kaminsky during every step of the process. As projects come to a close, the fourth graders particularly relish in documenting the results of their division’s efforts, which may take the form of sorting items, counting donations, or contributing to a letter summarizing the final outcome to the receiving organization. The Windward School community is actively generous, so the fourth-grade students regularly feel a sense of pride in reporting their class’s project success.
For Windward’s middle schoolers, the student council leaders similarly take great pride in coordinating the monthly service project, but they manage even more leadership duties. Manhattan Middle School and Westchester Middle School members of student council participate in brainstorming sessions where they pitch ideas of what causes they would like to support and conduct research on viable organizations that align with those causes. Once they vote and come to a consensus on a lineup of service projects to sponsor, student council members will meet with the division heads to receive final approval to move ahead. Following approval, the student leaders promote the service project of the month by delivering presentations to each middle school homeroom, speaking at the divisional community meetings, and designing flyers.
“The mission of student council is to unite the Windward community through service, spirit, and leadership, and the members work hard to do just that,” said Ms. Bellizzi, a co-advisor to the Manhattan Middle School Student Council. "Service is a norm for Windward, and this work gives our middle schoolers a sense of determination to help others, and it helps our students become informed citizens of their communities and the world.”
Ms. LaFemina also serves as co-advisor to the Manhattan Middle School Student Council. At Westchester Middle School, Ms. Barletta and Ms. Di Capua act as co-advisors to the seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-grade student council members, while Ms. Amazan focuses on guiding the fifth- and sixth-grade members.
Another privilege that students earn when they advance to middle school is student council members often have the chance to visit the selected organization that the service project supported. For example, every year the Westchester Middle School Student Council looks forward to stocking the shelves at The Carver Center, which provides a wide range of services to Port Chester residents, including children, teens, adults, and senior citizens, with the canned goods collected from their campus’s Thanksgiving food drive.
For the cohort of Westchester Middle School’s ninth-grade students, they have community service built into their grade-level curriculum, with a 20-hour requirement of service. As the eldest Windward students, they serve as their campus’s role models, especially to the youngest fifth-grade students, and they lead by example in giving back to the community. Ms. Gay (who is featured in this issue’s Faculty Profile on page XX) is the coordinator for community service for the ninth grade.
With expanded responsibility and agency in leading the service project of the month, Windward’s student leaders carry more ownership of the project. When they have the chance to spearhead the service work, at an elementary level at the lower schools and at a more advanced level in the middle schools, the students gain a deeper understanding of the project’s purpose, and they see how they can make a difference, even at a young age.
The Windward School values the community service program, and ensures it is a recurring feature of the curriculum, because it teaches the critical character skills of compassion, kindness, and thoughtfulness. When Windward sets the expectation for students to help others, the School is helping to establish a routine habit that cultivates an attitude of service and empathy within the children. And through learning about the missions of the organizations that the School supports, the students gain awareness, often for the first time, about the needs of those who are less fortunate. For example, Manhattan Lower School students made more than 200 sandwiches for New York Common Pantry, whose aim is to reduce hunger across New York City.
“New York Common Pantry is less than 15 blocks away from Windward’s Manhattan campus, so this activity was particularly meaningful and interactive because the students were able to do something tangible to help those in our immediate community,” said Ms. Manaster. “Our community service projects teach valuable character traits, and we reinforce the idea that students can take action to give back.”
At Westchester Middle School, students were studying Sudan in social studies class, and they learned about an organization, Water for South Sudan, that provides access to clean, safe drinking water to improve hygiene and sanitation for many remote villages. The story of the organization’s founder, who returned to Sudan from New York after being a refugee of the Sudanese civil war, touched many of the students, and they excitedly proposed that the Westchester Middle School Student Council should collect funds to donate to Water for South Sudan.
“After the students learned about Water for South Sudan, they immediately thought about how they could get involved. The Westchester Middle School student council sponsored a fundraiser, and we were able to help fund a well! It was wonderful that the students saw a need within the rural population in Sudan, and they saw that their actions contributed to a village getting a well for clean water. And for the middle schoolers who had not known about this need in Sudan, it was a perfect opportunity for them to learn about a global issue that their classmates were passionate about,” said Ms. Barletta.
Educating the students about the cause that is being supported is a critical piece of the community service program because Windward wants its students to fully understand what issues are being faced in their immediate community and around the world. When they learn how the selected organizations help others, they have a deeper appreciation for how participating in the service project can make an impact. Exposing students to the missions of the various organizations and how they can help those in need allows for them to become informed citizens of the world and develop a well-rounded perspective.
The overarching goal of the community service program is to instill the message of helping others, whether that be those in need or even peers within the Windward community. Each division bands together each month to work towards a collective goal to help a cause, and the purposeful work has a uniting effect of fostering camaraderie among students.
At the middle schools, a structured big buddy program trains eighth- and ninth-grade students in how to be an effective mentor to the fifth graders. With supervision from Windward faculty, the eighth and ninth graders visit the fifth-grade homerooms each month to lead activities in character building. The younger students also have Q&A sessions where they can seek advice on how to study for tests in middle school, what classes are like, and how to conquer common challenges. The purpose of the big buddy program is to encourage friendships that surpass grade level and to help immerse the fifth graders into the middle school community.
A favorite activity that is unique to just the Westchester Middle School ninth-grade students is visiting the first-grade students at Westchester Lower School for a read aloud. The ninth graders look forward to reconnecting with their former teachers as well as demonstrating to the lower schoolers that, through dedication and hard work, they too can push past their language-based learning disabilities to learn to read.
“The ninth graders spend a lot of time at lunch and recess to prepare for their read aloud, and they practice narrating the story,” said Ms. Gay. “The little ones see the ninth-grade students as superstars, and they feel inspired that these older kids were just like them before.”
The Windward’s School community service program represents a pillar of one of the school’s values—being kind to others—but simultaneously nurtures leadership development, positive character traits, and school spirit. At each division, students can acquire leadership skills by applying their knowledge of how to be an advocate for themselves and their language-based learning disability towards using their voice to advocate for others. The community service program also builds character as practicing acts of service increases compassion and thoughtfulness within the students. As they learn more about the world around them, they become more aware of the privileges that they may have that others do not.
A community is built among members who come together due to some common ground. Every member of The Windward School community is working first and foremost towards providing the students with the best education program to remediate language-based learning disabilities, but the School’s goal is to foster a school community where children are not only receiving the best instruction from the best teachers, but also establishing lifelong relationships. The community service program is one of the special features of The Windward School’s curriculum that stretches across grade levels and divisions and brings everyone together to work together in doing well and doing good.