Community Action Class Inspires Student Impact

In the Upper School Community Action class, students learn to make a difference in the world. Taught by Debbie Aronson, Director of Community Service, the course exposes students to local organizations that serve New York City and beyond. In just a few short weeks, these Calhouners not only discover causes that speak to them, but they make positive change through their own community service projects.

“After we learn about the issues facing various organizations, the students create projects based on an organization’s needs,” says Debbie. Many of the organizations that students learn about are in Calhoun’s Upper West Side neighborhood, such as the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, a supermarket style food pantry, and All Angels Church, which provides food, shelter and social services to New York City’s homeless population through its Pathways program. This past semester, Claire Tavares ‘20 was inspired by the mission of All Angels Church and launched a project to deepen her relationship with the organization. After visiting the church and connecting with participants of the Pathways program, Claire realized that everyone has a story, but these stories are often lost because of limited information and biases. To combat this, she conducted one-on-one interviews with three Pathways program participants, learning more about the lives of those being served by All Angels Church. Then, to help encourage others to learn more, Claire created a website called Gente. The site features Claire’s own images and writing focused on the importance of empathy. By peeling back the layers and sharing the obstacles each interviewee overcame, Claire is challenging her own assumptions and encouraging others to do the same.

Debbie says that each class project is comprised of two parts: direct action and indirect action. The direct action in Claire’s project was conducting in-person interviews with attendees, while the indirect action was her creation of a multimedia website as a teaching tool. “I gave her the parameters,” says Debbie, “[but] she created this whole thing herself.” The freedom students are given allows them to bring their passion and creativity to their projects. The result is a variety of community service work that reaches students’ communities both near and far.

A student teaches in Peru

Calhouners’ time in Community Action inspires them to continue giving back well beyond the end of the class. Senior Jaden Greenfield’s passion for community service continued into the summer and took him all the way to Peru. Jaden’s personal effort focused on supporting Sinfiona Por El Peru, a youth orchestra that aims to improve the lives of at-risk children in the South American nation through music. Jaden organized toy sales at the Calhoun Carnival, and used the proceeds to purchase instruments for the organization. With the support of the Calhoun community, Jaden was able to provide six new violins for students — but his work didn’t stop there. Over the summer, he visited Sinfiona Por El Peru in person, where he had the opportunity to teach music— an experience that left a lasting impression on him. “Volunteering for Sinfonia Por El Peru was truly an eye-opening experience,” says Jaden. “Being able to teach the kids who are very disciplined and hungry to learn inspires me to work hard myself. I will cherish this amazing opportunity.”

With the freedom to explore their passions, Upper Schoolers use their creativity to tackle the issue in their own unique ways both inside and outside of the classroom. They leave this class with the desire to make a difference in the world and the tools to do just that.