Learn & Serve: Community School
The importance of serving the community is something all children should learn. Community School understands that giving back is not only an opportunity to address societal needs; it also offers a unique platform for learning and personal growth. At the independent elementary school in Ladue, service learning is an integral part of the curriculum, providing students with leadership opportunities and a strong foundation in character development. “Our more student-driven approach offers opportunities for collaboration and helps students develop important life skills,” second grade teacher Jessica Hendricks says.
Even the youngest students at Community School are included in service learning initiatives. Last year, nursery students collected towels and newspapers for the Animal Protective Association, and older students created projects to benefit organizations like SouthSide Early Childhood Center, St. Louis Area Foodbank and The Little Bit Foundation. Starting in senior kindergarten, students can participate in the Service Learning Student Council (SLSC), which is facilitated by Hendricks. “We meet to discuss what is happening in each class, and we organize bigger initiatives,” she says. “Students have the opportunity to investigate issues, plan ways they can help and develop important problem-solving skills.”
Last year, the SLSC had to figure out how to create projects that would benefit the school community while keeping everyone safe. It was decided that the focus would be on expanding the school’s community garden. Representatives polled their classmates about what they would like to plant, and each homeroom had a mini lesson on gardening with second grade teacher and sustainability committee co-chair Jered Gruszka. “Service learning allows students to notice, initiate and help the world around them—in our case, a garden,” Gruszka says. “It’s amazing how much you can take away from observation, people and service when you learn and listen. Service learning gives so much to all those involved.”
The benefit of service learning opportunities for students is clear. Vivien, a sixth grader who has served as an SLSC representative twice, says she initially joined to share her creative ideas to better the school community. Through her involvement with the council’s projects, she was encouraged to grow personally. One activity that stands out to her is a play the SLSC presented during her second year as a representative. “I played a flower to encourage people to think about the importance of bees in our community, and it pushed me out of my comfort zone,” she explains. “We presented in front of the whole school and taught them about leadership and the SLSC.”
Head of school Bob Cooke says that service learning is a key component of what sets a Community School education apart and allows its students to find success in and out of the classroom. “We are known for preparing our students with the life skills they need to succeed as leaders, whether it is in secondary schools, college or beyond,” he notes. “We know that every child has it in them to be a leader, and we also know that a great service learning program helps them understand how to use those leadership skills to improve the lives of others.”
Community School is an independent elementary school and preschool for ages 3 through grade six. It believes in fostering the intellectual, emotional and creative growth of students to encourage their development as leaders of the next generation. Pictured on the cover: Students work in the school community garden with second grade teacher Jered Gruszka. For more information, call 314.991.0005 or visit communityschool.com.
Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography
Pictured at top: 2021-2022 SLSC representatives with Second Grade Teacher Jessica Hendricks
Photo: Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography