By Alex Zinnes, Middle School World Studies Teacher
I have noticed that community service projects are often undertaken from a place of inequity, inequity of resources and of power. The organization serving often comes from the stance of “I have something YOU need. Allow me to give it to you.”
Since the Friends School of Atlanta’s (FSA) first encounter with Our House, which provides child care and support for families who experience homelessness, I have wanted our relationship to be one based in mutuality, a partnership, recognizing that both groups benefit from the experience of working together to support the Our House preK.
Sure, preK kids at Our House benefit academically as well as socially and emotionally with one-on-one contact with our 7th and 8th grade volunteers who come twice a week. (Our House is located about one tenth of a mile from FSA.)And, Our House benefits when we are able to bring donated supplies or to connect the program with our parent community and other resources to enrich the programming.
But I want to reinforce that FSA benefits from the partnership with Our House, too. I ask my students if they have ever considered becoming a teacher, camp counselor, babysitter, sports coach, or lifeguard. Many of them say that they are considering those paths. And they immediately recognize that Our House is giving them valuable life experience working with children or even a window into what being a parent might be like.
Our students transition to other schools for high school, and students know that our partnership at Our House offers them a unique experience that communicates to their new schools that they are caring people. They speak of learning about the importance of being patient, kind, and supportive to their little buddies and how that makes them feel good, too. Students often talk about Our House as a formative life experience in their high school admissions process.
I have 7th and 8th grade students with their own learning differences. For a student with a reading struggle, the ability to read a book with confidence to the Our House preK kids is a happy moment of relief. My students who experience social and emotional struggles of their own with their peers feel the pressure ease up at Our House: they get to feel like the cool kids, secure and self-possessed. Over and over again, I witness how family, academic, and social stress just melts away for FSA students at Our House. That is an invaluable offering.
Middle school can be a confusing and turbulent time as students figure out who they are becoming. FSA’s partnership with Our House provides our students with both practical life skills and a pleasant refuge where they can learn, grow, and feel a sense of their own goodness. On behalf of my students and the FSA community, thank you for this vital and sustaining partnership.