Community outreach stands as a core value at Germantown Academy, and is thoughtfully and continually demonstrated through the efforts of our Community Service Organization (CSO).Formalized by beloved Upper School teacher Peter McVeigh 1760 in 1986, CSO has taught generations of GA students the importance of opening their eyes to the world and lending a hand to those in need.
Making service efforts tangible is a critical aspect of translating social awareness from an abstract concept to something that is practiced on a daily basis. The more students can see the impact of their service, the more easily they stretch themselves to help others. When students reflected on service, they stated, "(service) should be local, personal, and teach you something about yourself."
CSO has continued to be a pillar of compassion, and grown even stronger through efforts to unify service projects across divisions. One of the most impactful all-school CSO efforts is the Holiday Program, which brings the entire GA community together in late December to raise awareness for local non-profits and celebrate the season with music and readings. Each student is asked to contribute a gift, which are then distributed by CSO members to five charitable organizations that serve children in the Philadelphia region. This year, the community collected nearly 1,300 gifts.
Student leadership is also crucial to developing a culture of service, as students demonstrate to their peers the benefits of volunteering.
"This year, we're using the Upper School House system to introduce community service to Lower School students," said Upper School CSO Advisor Danielle Rock. "Each House is partnered with a grade in Lower School, and we're using one of our assembly periods to work collaboratively on individual service projects. We think this will be a great way to set that example and get kids thinking about service at a young age."
Lower School students also teamed up with the Middle School for a special project in honor of Veterans Day. For two weeks in November, 342 American flags stood proudly in Connor Quad to recognize each GA student who served in World War I. School archivist Dr. Mark Rabuck '88 led the effort when he found a 1919 edition of Ye Primer (the school's yearbook) that listed each of the veterans' names and even what medals and accommodations they earned. This was the perfect project, during the 100th anniversary of the Great War, for students to connect to GA's past and recognize the importance of those who serve today.
This year, the Middle School set the tone for the Thanksgiving Food Drive, leading the school-wide collection of more than 5,000 pounds of food. The food was then distributed to Our Lady of Hope Church in North Philadelphia and the Mattie Dixon Community Cupboard in Ambler, proving that caring starts locally.
"CSO is a great way for students to learn about the world beyond the walls of GA," All-School CSO Coordinator and Middle School CSO Advisor Anthony Commale said. "Our kids are learning a lot about circumstances of other people, including kids their age. I think it helps grow their emotional intelligence, empathy, and potential for leadership."
GA has developed several partnerships to show students the power of volunteering for organizations such as local shelters and at Face to Face Germantown, which is a multi-service organization that offers dining, health and hygiene, and other services. Middle School instituted a Service Day in September where groups of 7th and 8th Grade students provided companionship and assistance at places like Mercy Hospice and Whosoever Gospel Mission. Buddy Day, a partnership with Silver Springs Martin Luther School, which serves students experiencing emotional and behavioral challenges, brings students together on GA's campus.
Rock added, "Last year we expanded the Buddy Day program to include visits around art, science, and other sports, which we will continue this year. The goal is to eventually have one per month."
GA's unique New Community Project, which is in its fourth year in the Upper School, was recently introduced as a club in the Middle School and is quickly gaining steam. New Community Project students select a new non-profit organization each year and they conduct a comprehensive, professional assessment. This includes self-reflection, mindful listening and sharing, literary analysis, community education and engagement, product generation, and product fulfillment in order to provide solutions to the organization's issues. This year the group is pleased to work with the Community Partnership School.
As GA continues to prioritize service to the community, we also emphasize taking care of our environment.
GA's Nature Program, coordinated by Upper School Science teacher Sarah Kesten, stresses respect and care for the natural and man-made green spaces on campus, such as the Wissahickon Creek, The Preserve, and the Green Roof and Apiary. GA even has several vegetable gardens on campus that produce food used in the Dining Hall.
Each division has a Green Ambassadors group, where students and faculty maintain the grounds with weeding, planting, and cleanup, and act as tour guides on the public Preserve Day in the fall. The GA Environmental Awareness group (GAEA) in the Upper School, focuses on earth-conscious initiatives like, reusable water bottles, and composting.
It's no surprise that GA students have such a penchant for offering their time. GA parents and alumni have served as excellent role models when it comes to service. The Parents' Committee has run the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service for more than a decade, and Alumni CSO events like helping at a Habitat House in Philadelphia or assisting at food banks in Washington, DC, Seattle and Chicago continue to draw graduates together for a good cause.
From the youngest student to alumni and everyone in between, taking care of the people and world around us is one of the most important lessons learned.
Learn more about Community Service at Germantown Academy.
Email Anthony Commale
All-School CSO Coordinator
Perhaps the most essential way we instill being 'Compassionate in Spirit' among GA students is through our emphasis on service learning in acts great and small, both on and off campus.
– Head of School Rich Schellhas