Community outreach stands as a core value at Germantown Academy, and is thoughtfully and continually demonstrated through the efforts of our school-wide 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 daily. 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. The community collects nearly 1,300 gifts each year.
Student leadership is also crucial to developing a culture of service, as students demonstrate to their peers the benefits of volunteering. For two weeks in November, 342 American flags stand proudly in front of the Korman Family Pavilion to recognize each GA student who served in World War I. School archivist Dr. Mark Rabuck '86 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 to begin, 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.
The Thanksgiving Food Drive, a cooperative effort between CSO and the Parents’ Committee, is a school-wide collection of more than 5,000 pounds of food. The donated food is 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 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 has participated in a Service Day where groups of 7th and 8th Grade students provide 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.
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. The school celebrates its outdoor spaces each year with Preserve Day to highlight its natural habitat.
Each division has a Green Ambassadors group, where students and faculty maintain the grounds with weeding, planting, and cleanup, and act as tour guides during Preserve Day. 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