At CA, we boldly strive to create the next generation of local and global changemakers. We hope that our students leave our campus armed with the agency, self-awareness, skills, knowledge, and passion to leave their stamp on our world–to forge impactful change and make meaningful contributions to our society. It is a lofty goal, for sure, but one that—time and again—we have the privilege of seeing unfold in real time, as our students venture out in the world.
Grounded in social justice and equity, and with natural ties with experiential learning and entrepreneurship, our service-learning program–one of the four pillars of the Center for Community Engagement—is integral to this goal and to the CA experience.
The mission and intent of the service-learning program are to engage students in service that is impactful and transformative. Through service initiatives, students:
- Learn about social issues and community needs
- Seek out partnerships with community experts and organizations
- Engage in direct service, indirect service, and advocacy
- Actively reflect on service experiences, social issues, and privilege in order to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, our community, and our social responsibility
- Treat all individuals with dignity and respect.
When we understand service to be an act of justice, we strive to make our community a more equitable place—one where all members of our local, national, and global communities can survive and, ultimately, flourish. This holds true whether students are writing cards for food-insecure elders connected with Meals on Wheels; creating advocacy posters to educate peers about the challenges faced by immigrants; cooking and serving meals for guests at Oak City Cares; packing PPE kits for neighbors in Durham; or sorting clothing at Note in the Pocket to be distributed to their peers in Wake County Public Schools.
The goals of the service learning program are strongly tied to Cary Academy’s strategic plan and goals to foster authentic engagement opportunities and strong community connections—those that foster the intellectual and cultural elasticity needed to thrive in the world, and which broaden student perspectives and world views. With service, students are encouraged to seek out partnerships with community organizations and intentionally nurture those relationships. Developing mutually beneficial collaborative partnerships is critical to creating meaningful service-learning experiences.
Whether through the Upper School’s Delta Service Club, the Migration Collaboration project, an individual capstone project, or Backpack Buddies—just to name a few opportunities— students are challenged to listen and learn from their fellow community members and consider new perspectives, all while examining their own.
7th graders engaged in Migration Collaboration have the opportunity to go on “excursions” to visit (virtually, this year) local organizations that serve newcomers. They learn from professionals and from experts—refugees and immigrants themselves—about community needs, strengths, and ways they can serve others. Later on, they put their research and learning to work doing direct service projects like gleaning sweet potatoes or designing informational brochures that spotlight the local Burmese farmers who will be growing the food in our new CA Asian vegetable CSA in partnership with Transplanting Traditions.
Understanding the social justice roots of CA’s service learning program allows our students to be a part of making our community a place where EVERYONE has the resources needed to pursue discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence—values we hold dear at Cary Academy.
Effective service learning challenges students to think about the community around them and aspects of their own identities that carry privilege. Our hope is that Cary Academy students engaged in service will be reflective and moved to examine their place in the world. The self-awareness that develops from these practices will serve our students for years to come.
Experiential learning through service teaches empathy for others, a deeply important life skill. One student reflected on his experience gleaning turnips earlier this year, sharing that he was humbled upon learning that, despite picking over 400 turnips, there would be an immediate need for more due to the pandemic’s exacerbation of local food insecurity. This experience revealed to him “how badly people need basic necessities, even food.” Another student explained how the simple act of donating tampons to a drive hosted by the Women’s Health and Wellbeing Committee of Delta helped her realize that “access to hygiene products is a privilege but should not be; it should be a right.”
The service learning program at Cary Academy provides numerous opportunities for both Upper School and Middle School students to own their learning and embrace leadership opportunities through Flex Day activities, Delta, Student Leadership Club, and more. In collaboration with community partners, service grounded in an understanding of equity can provide students with leadership opportunities that are truly transformative.
This year, senior Chloe Griffin built upon a partnership with Curamericas Global that she originally initiated and became involved with due to her personal interest. Curamericas is a Raleigh-based organization that works to ensure women and children across the globe have access to the healthcare and resources they need to thrive.
Chloe, along with senior Vibhav Nandagiri, spearheaded an initiative for Cary Academy students to pack 1,000 PPE kits this spring to benefit the members and friends of La Semilla, a Latinx faith community in Durham. Chloe and Vibhav saw the project through from its inception. This opportunity not only provided them with the chance to reflect upon the inequities that exist regarding access to PPE and other necessities during the pandemic but allowed them to practice their networking, community partnership building, and communication skills while doing direct service.
Cary Academy students engaged in the process of service learning—which incorporates stages of preparation, action, reflection, and demonstration—through various service initiatives in both divisions experience authentic engagement with the community at large, their neighbors, and each other. Service learning provides students with opportunities to participate in dynamic learning experiences that can be transformative in the way they view themselves, their school, and the broader community.
Admittedly, this may feel risky at times, and in many ways that is the point—where some of the most exciting growth and learning happens. Service requires that students develop greater self-awareness as they consider issues of equity, privilege, and opportunity through engagement in the community. We know that our students are up for the challenge and we support and applaud them as they lean into that discomfort to learn, to grow, and ultimately, together, hopefully help make our world a better place.