From the Fellows: Isabella Dartnell '20

Reflections from Community Engagement Fellows

The Edward E. Ford Foundation Community Engagement Fellowship Program at Rye Country Day School enables RCDS Upper School students to partner with a community organization to develop and implement innovative, sustainable projects that address the needs of the organization. Learn more about the program and meet current and past fellows here.

In this Q&A series entitled "From the Fellows," 2019 E. E. Ford Fellows share their reflections on their community engagement experience.

Isabella Dartnell '20 and Caroline Antonacci '20 partnered with The Port Chester Carver Center to organize and lead a STEAM camp. During her time at the Carver Center, we asked Isabella four questions about her experience as an E. E. Ford Community Engagement Fellow.

What is your Community Engagement Project?

Caroline Antonacci and I are running a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) camp at the Carver Center for our fellowship project. The Carver Center is a community center located in Port Chester, N.Y. that provides services such as after school programs, citizenship classes, and a food pantry. This summer, the center is offering a day camp for children from underserved communities. This organization helps countless children and families with financial aid, so many do not have to pay to go to camp. Volunteers and staff members help the camp run smoothly and efficiently. We do STEAM experiments with the students in order to build their confidence in learning. The goal is for them to do their best and feel happy about their work in the classroom.

What has been your favorite part of this experience so far?

The most rewarding part of this experience is working with such grateful and inquisitive children. As an experiment, we put different types of beans in a bag to see which would grow best. One camper, who was particularly excited about the beans, asked, "Can I have another bean please? Or maybe a few? I want one for my mom, my dad, my grandma, my grandpa, and my brother." I gave her the beans without hesitation and watched as her smile grew wide. Her generosity and elation touched me.

What advice do you have for peers who are interested in community engagement and public purpose?

My advice would be to keep it simple and make it fun. Everyone who is interested in community engagement and public purpose most likely wants to change the world and help everyone, but that is impossible when only dedicating 4 or 8 weeks of time. Instead, come up with a project that is meaningful to you and can help a specific group of people. This way, you will never feel overwhelmed, and you will be able to see progress in the community you are aiding.

Do you have any additional comments or anecdotes you'd like to share?

Caroline's and my class is organized so that 10-15 minutes at the end are set aside for introspection. On aluminum boat day, however, none of the children wanted to sit and draw about what they had learned because they were too riled up by the tub of water we had sitting in the middle of the room. So, Caroline and I decided we could play Simon Says for a few minutes and then all answer the question: What was your favorite part of the experiment? After a rowdy game of jumping, crawling, and sitting on command, we formed a circle. I was expecting the children to say they liked the pennies or aluminum, but every single child said, "I liked playing with the water." Capturing children's attention and imaginations is demanding. We learned to observe what captivated our students, and we will always remember to create a fun program for the children. For example, the children constantly sang songs from the Disney movie Coco, so we began playing the music during class. They went wild!

Also, during our slime experiment, I was moved by one child. He never particularly enjoyed participating in activities before this class because he was more interested in his shark toy. However, moments after making his own slime, he decided to create a shark out of the slime. He laid thin strips of the stretchy substance out on the table and spent nearly an hour creating his masterpiece. Each tooth, gill, and fin was placed so meticulously—I wouldn't have had the patience to create the shark myself! When I asked him about it, he showered me with shark statistics and facts about his favorite: the Megladon. The fact that this seven-year-old student had such a strong passion struck me.