Park School promotes service learning

Students invited to national leadership conference

March 28, 2007|By Josh Dombroskie | Josh Dombroskie,sun reporter

For the past seven years, the students at the Park School in Baltimore County have been raising money and hammering nails, refurbishing one home per year for Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity.

Today, about a half-dozen students from the school are to share what they have learned at a national conference on community service.

At the National Youth Leadership Council's annual Service-Learning Conference in Albuquerque, N.M., the Park students will discuss the value of helping others. They will also show that bake sales are not the only way students can raise money. They will talk about grant writing and corporate presentations.

Project workers at Park, a prekindergarten through 12th-grade day school, have refurbished six houses with Habitat and are in the process of building their seventh. In 2000, Park committed with Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity to rebuild 10 dilapidated houses in 10 years in Baltimore.

"So now that we're a little bit more familiar with the process of building and fundraising, we're hoping to get other schools inspired to start their own service projects," said Allie Stein, a senior project leader who was scheduled to go on the trip.

Students from each grade work on the project, but the Upper School students lead the charge, said Julie Rogers, a faculty member who works with students on Habitat. Those leaders are involved with all aspects of the project including fundraising, grant writing and working on the house.

"The kids put in a lot of work," Rogers said. "But students aren't the only ones who can do this. We're pretty open to anyone helping."

Students at Park became interested in what they could do to help their community after a spring break trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1999 where they worked on a Habitat for Humanity service project. They talked with Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity and developed a plan to help in their own community.

Park School has been involved in the program so long that the students are able to work independently, said Marisa Canino, deputy director at Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity.

"I can't emphasize that commitment enough," she said. "We don't even have corporate partners that have been with us that long." Canino said the houses are gutted, and the students essentially build a new home within the shell of the dilapidated one. The school tries to work on the house twice a month on weekends, and usually eight to 10 students volunteer.

Rogers said the Park students began working on a rowhouse near Patterson Park in Baltimore in January and are to finish construction by early June.

"It's really cool knowing that you're making a difference, and ... at the end of the day you can see that you've built an entire staircase," Frannie McGill, a junior Habitat project leader at Park, said. "But just indirectly, it's great knowing you're making a difference in the community you live in."

Rogers said the students' peers encourage them to participate in Habitat projects.

A student leader "was giving a presentation one day, and I always ask the kids to throw in an anecdote whenever it feels right," Rogers said. "And her anecdote was that she always felt that if she didn't do her homework, she might get a worse grade than she had hoped, but if she doesn't do her Habitat work, somebody wouldn't get a home."

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