Not for Self, but for Service

Paul Wieman, Upper School Principal

As the world shakes and rumbles, as storms surge and hurricanes roar, and, in a totally different realm, as man-made tragedies dominate the headlines in Las Vegas and elsewhere, now is a good time to point to our school motto and address what we are doing beyond RCDS to make this ever-changing world a better place.
Behind the scenes, and just beginning to surface now, each upper-school grade is aligning itself with one of the four recent natural disasters: Irma, Harvey, Maria, and the earthquake in Mexico City.  Each grade has formed a student-led committee, and the goal for this work goes beyond offering immediate fund-raising dollars to identifying long-term needs and sustaining the support over time. This is ongoing work that has adult and administrative support, but we are hoping to have students identify goals, understand needs, locate local institutions, and move forward in a manner that is educational and achievable. The idea is to develop sustainable partnerships with organizations on the ground, gain a better understanding of the impact of the natural disasters on the community, and engage in relief efforts that thoughtfully address the needs of the community.
Beyond these efforts, clubs are focusing some attention on raising awareness and fund-raising efforts in this direction, and I have had several conversations with individual students who have terrific and creative ideas. The goal is to channel this energy in a manner that is productive and consistent with the work of the grades.
Fall Fair, the portion of Wildcat Weekend that serves as a fund-raiser for many clubs, will donate a percentage of the proceeds earned to disaster relief, and it is inspiring to see this collective effort and to hear this collective message.
Wonderful as this response is, not all of our public-purpose efforts fall into the realm of disaster relief. One long-term goal of the Public Purpose Office is to connect with the upper-school curriculum and co-curriculum and integrate the goal of public purpose with the mission of learning.  This year, many superb examples are surfacing.
Necessity is the mother of invention. With no theater this fall, the Drama Department needed to think outside the box.The students are busily rehearsing Akeelah and the Bee, a drama with a warm community and moral message, so, in partnership with the Public Purpose Office, the Drama Department has created the idea of a traveling show, coordinating a number of off-campus performances with our public-purpose partners, and our students will be performing at local elementary schools and community centers. The challenge of designing and producing a traveling show, the message of the show itself, and the chance to partner with our neighbors add an exciting, new dimension to the lessons learned in a fall drama production.
This excellent idea also included others not involved in the show. A study guide for the show was compiled; some of our community partners expressed a need for a Spanish version of the guide, and the Advanced Topics class stepped up and is creating a translation of the study guide to be available to the audience.
We are beginning to develop courses that are structured around the very idea of public purpose, while focusing on the type of learning that has always happened in the classroom. This year, in the Apps for Good class, senior Trey Miller is creating an app that connects people and institutions that often find themselves with extra perishable food to institutions that can use this food.  What was a long, involved communication process to match those in need with those who could help will now become an app-generated listing of places that have food and places that will be looking for the food, and this seamless link will allow more perishable food to be shared rather than thrown away. Trey has met with the adults involved, listened to their needs and concerns, and is working within his class to develop a user-friendly app that solves this very real logistical problem.
Even the AP program is getting involved.  The College Board is offering example curriculum for how some of these classes may intersect with public purpose, and Ms. O’Shaughnessey, the chair of the Computer Department, is piloting one of these programs; her membership into this gives us access to all the curricula, and it is an area for growth for us over time.  For the AP computer classes, which are already project-based, she and her class must create and complete four projects, one international, and this is well in the works.  The international link here is to WEMA. (For the past several years, RCDS has been partnering with WEMA, a children’s center that provides a home and quality education to orphaned children in Kenya.)
So, as the world shakes, as tragedies mount, as many of us look inward and ask what we can do, here at RCDS, we are approaching this issue with many ideas, many levels, and many layers.  A sincere thanks to Alison Doernberg, director of public purpose, and Nolie Mangan, assistant director of public purpose, who oversee and coordinate these efforts, and to all the upper-school faculty who get involved and support the students engaged in this work.