Broadening Students’ Horizons

“U-nique,” said teacher Anne Cyr to the eight children sitting in the reading lesson in a Country Day classroom in early July. “U-nique,” she repeated, and hands shot up to take a stab at spelling it. Cyr couldn’t have chosen a more apt word for the program enabling this summer phonics lesson.

Fourteen rising first graders from Martin Elementary School in the School District of Lancaster got a head start on the future, or at least a chance to catch up with the present, at Country Day’s six-week Horizons program, led by fifth grade teacher Meg Reed. Horizons is a national organization that partners with independent schools and colleges to help low-income students realize their academic potential.

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The participants’ parents applied for spots in March. The group comprised 14 students eligible for free or reduced lunch, two-thirds of whom tested at grade level while one-third tested below. Horizons’ chief aim is to help at-risk children avoid the “summer slide” of falling behind — or even further behind — their peers over summer vacation.

A recent LNP article about Horizons explained, “Education research has shown that children from low-income households lose more reading knowledge over the summer than their peers, according to the Education Writers Association.”

With a staff including Cyr, an elementary school teacher from Hempfield, Columbia Borough reading specialist Jen Horn, and a devoted group of Upper School volunteers, Horizons’ inaugural year was a resounding success, providing a solid foundation for the program’s growth in the coming years.

Horizons’ funding comes from grants and individual donations and is entirely separate from Country Day’s budget. The program is free for students.

Those students, who are just learning to read, and some at more advanced levels than others, averaged an 8-point increase in both of the language areas Horizons tested. Several students doubled their scores over the course of the six weeks. “It was really fantastic to see,” said Reed. “These kids grew, which was great, but had they not been here, they most likely would have gone backwards, so the difference is really pretty profound.” Research

Exercise was an integral part of the Horizons curriculum, and each day included a trip to the Franklin & Marshall pool, where the teaching very much continued: None of the children knew how to swim.

“Swimming was my favorite part,” Reed said. “All of the kids acquired some basic swim skills. Some were more eager than others, but none of them had any swim skills on the first day and by the last day, everybody had something. One little boy was even swimming freestyle. It was fantastic and it looked like there might be Olympic swimming in his future.

“They made a lot of progress in the pool but the best thing about it was that it carried over into the classroom, so they would come back from swimming lessons all fired up and feeling really good about what they’d achieved.”

Reed surveyed parents after the program ended. 100 percent said they were “very certain” that Horizons will contribute to the likelihood that their children will attend college and 100 percent said they planned to send their kids back next summer. “That’s where the real impact will take place, as these students come back to us every year through eighth grade, with a new group of rising first-graders adding to the program rolls until we’re full-grown, with about 135 kids. We’re starting small, but we’re getting there,” Reed said.

A broken leg kept Reed much more on the sidelines than she had planned. “Since I wasn’t on two legs for most of this, I needed a little more help,” she said. “A lot of people really came through.”

She saved particular praise for her Upper School volunteers.

“Upper School teachers, I’m jealous, because you have such great kids to work with,” Reed said. “They are so awesome and they did such a great job. They had to commit two weeks at minimum, being here from 8-3 every day, being in the pool with the kids every day, going on field trips, cleaning up spills and taking kids to the bathroom. … They did it all and they were extraordinary. I have to give them so much credit.”

Between now and next summer, Reed’s work with Horizons will continue. On September 19, she will host the first of 4-5 Saturday reunions for the recent grads, filled with fun educational activities for the kids plus a workshop for parents and a meal.

Pediatrician Dr. Vinitha Amanullah will present to parents about health and wellness, and there are also plans for a special holiday party in December, which volunteers will help with. In addition, Reed will visit the Horizons class of ’15 at their school periodically throughout the year.

Click here for more information about Horizons at LCDS.

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A Public Service Advancement

Nicki A. ’15 has seen, and become part of, a recent and profound change in the Upper School. “The whole concept of service has definitely evolved. It didn’t really enter my head when I was a freshman, but it became real for me as I became closer with Mr. Simpson. He’s Mr. Service,” Nicki said. She and 18 other students will spend two weeks this summer helping two schools in Nepal on a mission led by Mr. Service. (Upper School English teacher Mike Simpson also enjoys a slightly less pithy title, director of service learning.)

In a December 2012 assembly, Simpson issued a call and a challenge to the Upper School: Make a “sustained, meaningful and personal connection to a cause” as part of a broader effort to weave acts of service into both the curriculum as well as students’ lives.

A year and a half later, Simpson said that while, “We can always do better, students have become very good at looking for ways to extend their passions and extend their education, as opposed to feeling like they need to drive in X-number of nails over the course of a Saturday in order to ‘have done community service.’”

He continued, “The best part about Country Day is that the Upper School deeply believes in its own culture. Whatever they perceive as part of their culture, they will grip very tightly and throw themselves after it.

“Because the seniors last year did so much service, because they chose to make that such a huge part of their identity, the classes beneath them feel like that’s a value and something they want to honor.

“I think they just see it as part of their life at Country Day, and an extension of their intellectual lives,” he said.

Juniors Caroline G., Carter M. and Athalie R. are also heading to Nepal in June, and they’ve extended their intellectual lives by participating in the Save to Share program, which provides school necessities such as notebooks and pencils for local refugees. Many come from Nepal and attend Reynolds Middle School, which made the trip a natural way to implement the LCDS Upper School philosophy of acting both locally and globally, always looking closely for opportunities to help our own community.

“The result we get it what we put into it,” said Caroline. “That’s what makes it rewarding.” The girls are about $2,000 away from their Save to Share fundraising goal, having already raised more than $5,000 through Girls On The Run, a bake sale and individual donations. (Anyone interested in donating should email Caroline or Carter.)

Whether it involves travelling to Nepal, or the LCDS Mini-THON in March, in which more than 60 students kept moving for 12 hours (no sitting allowed) to raise more than $11,000 for the Four Diamonds Fund for pediatric cancer research, or any of the other myriad service opportunities at LCDS, Simpson sees a fundamental change in “the perception of what it means to be a student at Country Day.”

“There is an expectation and a desire for engagement in a number of different avenues in their intellectual lives and part of it is connecting and working closely with an organization outside of school for the sake of making the world a better place and making yourself a better student.”

Some of this year’s service work included:

Bangla-Dash: A fundraiser and race benefitting The Carter Academy in Bangladesh, and conceived and implemented entirely by the freshman class.

Canstruction: The annual can-sculpture building contest supports Project Share and the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. Country Day has participated since 2005.

— Cougar Car Wash: In May, the boys lacrosse car wash raised $1,020 for Schreiber Pediatric of Lancaster.

Cougars For A Cure: This annual fundraiser benefits OneRunTogether and its effort to cure cancer. Sponsored by the athletics boosters’ Cougar Club, this year’s proceeds from the varsity boys soccer game between LCDS and Conestoga Christian raised more than $1,000.

— Empty Bowls: Before the day of the dinner, volunteers could make bowls at four workshops sponsored by Project Arts. Then, on the day of the event, area restaurants donated soups and participants donate money to sample them and use one of the homemade bowls. All proceeds went to the Lancaster Power Packs Project.

Fam Fun Fest at Ware Center: During the Fam Fun Fest series on Saturdays at the Ware Center, students volunteered their time at craft tables for the children attending the events. Project Arts sponsored the activity.

Habitat For Humanity: Country Day’s work with Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity began in 2001 and continues to grow as a point of pride and mutual respect, with the school winning Habitat’s 2013 Humanitarian of The Year Award, presented in a celebration dinner on World Habitat Day.

In addition to student volunteering, the school has also consistently raised both funds and awareness for the organization. Said Habitat for Humanity, “Through service learning projects, the annual Race for Home, the Ice Festival and starting its own Upper School Habitat For Humanity Club, the school’s commitment to service and community is exemplary.”

Mennonite Home: Eight students completed their training to volunteer at the retirement community.

Middle School Class Service Projects: Sixth grade works with Mrs. Bromley, tending the learning gardens around the school, weeding, planting, and harvesting when that season comes. Seventh grade works with the JK students as their Big Buddies once a week during advisory time; a few of the seventh-grade advisory groups help the JK’ers with both academics and creative play time. Eighth-grade students chose to clean the Dining Commons each day after break time, so that the space is neat and ready for the next group.

— Senior Service Day: Upper Schoolers spent a day volunteering at Schreiber Pediatric Center, Berks Women In Crisis or here at school, cleaning up the grounds.

‘Help Shouldn’t Stop Until Everyone Has What They Need’

By Kat D. ’18

Imagine a bitter cold night in the middle of winter. You have just worked all day, and now as you wrap your coats and blankets tighter around you, you begin your trek slogging through the miles back to your house. Except you do not have a warm house, and you spend most nights walking along the streets even when it is freezing cold out. This is where the homeless shelter comes in to help, pledging to give women and children a safe, comforting place to stay.

The homeless shelter I volunteered at was housed at the YWCA of Lancaster. The program started the week after Thanksgiving, runs until March and each week different organizations took turns hosting those in need. The homeless shelter was strictly for women and children, providing a safe place as well as a warm place for its visitors. Volunteers welcome the women in at 7:30 p.m. and everyone leaves by 7 a.m. When the women arrived, volunteers checked their vouchers, their clothing and their bags. The women had to go to the police station to get their vouchers beforehand, which stated that they were eligible for the shelter and that they posed no harm to themselves or others. They each get their own envelope upon registration, which holds any necessary medications and documents. After they registered, they were escorted to the basement. The basement holds a gym where they sleep, a locker room with showers and a small lobby. When volunteers came to help set up, they placed thin mattresses out along the gym floor where the women slept. Volunteers also put out food and drinks in the lobby, along with towels and clothing, if needed. At 10 p.m., the women were ushered to the gym, and everything had begun to settle down. If they returned for more than one night, a corner of the gym was set aside for their bags and personal items. Many of these items included toiletries, a change of clothes and a book or phone. The shelter was very organized, and the women and children appeared to appreciate what was done for them.

My role in this carefully orchestrated system was to lead the ladies to the basement using the elevator. I had been hesitant at first, because I wasn’t sure how cautious I needed to be with these strangers. But it turned out to be a very simple job, and it helped that most of the women had been there before, so they knew what they were supposed to do. This gave me the chance to interact and meet all of the people who were staying the night.

My first interesting encounter was in the elevator with an older woman. To break the silence I complimented her scarf, which had a slightly tattered look to it. I realized my mistake too late, because she then returned the compliment to my new scarf and her eyes held a look of nostalgia and sadness. I had felt guilty afterwards, but it made me realize that this imbalance was reality and someone was always going to have more or less than somebody else. The women’s consistent kindness surprised me, for I expected to be frightened by some of their manners or appearances. They casually chatted with me and almost everyone thanked me and wished me a good night. There had been one lady that I was wary of, for she had two carts of her things and wouldn’t look at or speak to anyone. Yet the woman who came in after her explained that the other lady was scared of people touching her things and that she had been homeless for so long that she didn’t trust anybody. I couldn’t help but wonder what choices and what events led them to staying in a shelter.

I had been happy to see that there were three sets of mothers and daughters together. Despite their current troubles, they had still managed to stick together, which was intriguing considering they might have lost everything else except for each other. One of the mother-daughter pairs had a daughter who was pregnant with her fourth child. Optimism and pride radiated off of her and her attitude about her current life held no aura of grief. Whatever position her other three children were in, it seemed like she knew of a future ahead of her and her unborn child — and that was my biggest recognition of the night. That even though these women might be alone, without a stable place right now, they believed in a brighter future.

I was also happy to see some of the women interacting with each other, because in their time of need they still managed to have friends and care for others. The night changed my perspective immensely, because there were at least 24 women without a home right around where I lived. I wish I could have assured them that maybe next year they wouldn’t need a shelter, and that they would have help to get back on their feet. But the best I could do was offer my aid for one night, hoping and praying that my efforts joined with those of others would be enough to turn their lives back around.

In the coming years, I plan on volunteering again, because I really enjoyed helping others in my community. My youth was helpful because I could stay up later and have a more flexible schedule. I had found that the elderly women appreciated being around a younger generation, possibly because they saw opportunity in us, or hope. I felt as though when they looked at me, they saw pieces of themselves from a happier time. I wanted to reach out to them, and listen to their stories, but it wasn’t the right time. For these women that might not have many chances to share things with others, I hope that soon there will be a person willing to listen and pass their stories along. Since maybe the only thing that they can give to others is words.

My experience volunteering there has given me a number of goals. I plan on volunteering more frequently in December 2014, and knowing that this year socks and pajamas ran out, I plan on informing others on what the homeless shelter does so that more supplies can be distributed. I think that education is the first step in helping others, because people need to be aware of what is happening around them. I believe that there is always a hope for the future and that the only way for this dream to become a reality is to get others to understand the situations these women live through, and want to help. Help should be delivered to anybody, and shouldn’t stop until everyone has what they need.

Finding New Meaning in the Service Industry

Video created by Hallie K. ’13 for the Literature of Service Class

“What we didn’t have before,” Mike Simpson explained, “was a comprehensive way to find, to measure, to assess the kind of service students were doing.

“We do now, and in the one year that we have, we’ve been incredibly successful. Incredibly.” The Upper School English teacher and head of service learning himself entered an 18-year service arrangement with his wife and their newborn twins just last week, but before he did, Simpson took some time to extol the selfless performance of not just the upperclassmen, but the freshmen and sophomores as well.

“I asked all the class presidents for a pledge of 200 service hours per grade,” Simpson said. “And they all delivered.” From helping children at Schreiber Pediatric Center to lending a hand to our neighbors at Reynolds Middle School, the students heeded Simpson’s call for broader, deeper and sustained action.

One measure provides a striking example of how much service learning has flourished in the 2012-13 school year. Students who give more than 50 hours of service per year receive the Outstanding Service Designation. Last year, Simpson gave the award to four students; this year, that figure climbed to 35.

But Simpson stressed that, while all of these accomplishments deserve recognition and commendation, they’re parts of a much larger whole. “The important thing is that this becomes part of the Country Day culture. Service isn’t just something we do because I’m asking them to do it; it’s just what we do. It’s who we are.”

One group that committed to raising the service bar before Simpson had even set one for their peers is the juniors and seniors in his Literature of Service elective. All of them spent at least 40 hours this year on their own service project, and half spent more than 50. The class emphasized the importance of continual commitment, as opposed to well-intentioned spurts of philanthropy. For this to happen, students (or anyone, for that matter) had to choose an organization or cause that truly mattered to them.

“They have to care about it, and they have to care about it whether they’re getting credit for it or not. That’s the only way it can work,” Simpson said bluntly. For their final project, Simpson asked his LoS students to reflect on the work they’d done in the recent past. They could express these feelings in video form, as above and here, or in informal essays.

The work sometimes reveals sober realizations that diverge from the rose-tinted ideas students had about how the nuts and bolts of service would work. But the work also reveals that, for Simpson’s students, their experiences might not have matched their expectations, but their dedication remains unwavering.

Maddy P. volunteered at Planned Parenthood’s Lancaster Medical Center and noticed a stark divide between the abstract idealism of the exclusively white administration and the pragmatic, almost detached manner of the exclusively black nurses at work making the abstract concrete.

“I am not really sure that the… Lancaster clinic is doing as much good as I had hoped at the beginning of my service project,” Maddy wrote. “I truly believe the heart of the program is in the right place,” she continued, adding that, “Perhaps, after all the initial kinks are worked out,” the organization will get closer to its goal to “better provide healthcare to all Pennsylvanians.”

Alyx K. spent about an hour a day volunteering with Liz Peters’ first-graders, and a few of Carrie Haggarty’s students as well, mostly helping them through one-on-one reading sessions. Like Maddy, her accomplishments differed from her expectations, but, also like Maddy, this only reaffirmed her commitment.

“My overall goal was to spark excitement from the kids I volunteered with… . But I don’t believe the kind of work I did lent itself to that goal,” Alyx said. She described one vivid instance of persuading a less-than-eager student to finish reading an entire book, and cited such “tiny victories” as clear evidence that her “work did have value to it,” just a different value than she thought it would.

One Week, 18 Years in the Making

Between weeding the gardens, lunching with kindergarteners and alumni and doing some volunteer work in the community, the seniors had a full dance card last week. It’s a testament to their tireless determination (or just a cosmic scheduling fluke) that they also made time Saturday to graduate from high school.

Though the commencement ceremony hardly wanted for sincere and thoughtful expression, Maddy P. and Gabby D. elucidated what made them the class of 2013 while Ethan J. and Mike Simpson delivered an oratorical one-two punch with their uniquely rousing and poignant speeches addressed to the class of 2013.

Simpson, the consummate service partisan, made special mention of the seniors’ commitment to volunteerism. Last week alone saw them aiding the elderly at Conestoga View, helping the decidedly non-elderly at Schreiber Pediatric Center, lending a hand at Milagro House and tending to the school’s own gardens by pulling weeds.

If all the hurly-burly helped build up some appetites, they were well sated at lunches with the Alumni Panel one day and Alumni Council the next.

In addition to the awards given at commencement, prizes were also presented at Thursday’s Awards assembly.

The assembly winners were:

Elizabeth Ross Award — Thessaly A.
LCDS Community Service Award — Navia F.
Helen Powlison Memorial Prize — Madalyn S.
Danny Eshleman ’97 Memorial Award — Daniel W.
Jay B. Niesley Award — Natalie M.
Jarvis Scholar Award — Arnav S.
Jarvis Citizen Award — Madison M.

The commencement winners were:

The Trustee Prize (Awarded to the senior with the highest grade point average.) — Madison K.

Ruth S. Hostetter Award (This award honors the memory of a Shippen School graduate from the class of 1931. Recognizes a senior who, over an extended period of time, has worked selflessly and enthusiastically to enhance the school community.) — John S.

Ann Musselman Award (Given in honor of Anne Musselman, an LCDS English and history teacher who enriched the lives students and colleagues for 30 years, this award is given to the student who best exemplifies personal qualities Anne cherished and modeled for others: enthusiastic curiosity; the courage to take intellectual risks; joy in a lifetime of learning; and a desire to pack the most living possible into each one of life’s “precious minutes.”) — Auvray A.

Faculty Award (Given to recognize a senior with special qualities worthy of acknowledgement) — Katherine W.

Head of School Award (Presented annually by the Head of School, recognizing the senior who is most deserving of special recognition for characterizing the qualities most valued at LCDS.) — Jillian M. and Wesley D.

For more on the commencement ceremony, see Lancaster Newspapers’ coverage in the May 19 Sunday News.