Imagine walking the streets of a hurricane-stricken neighborhood nearly eight years after Katrina demolished dozens of homes, shovel in hand. Now, try to picture a group of high school students traversing the land, and planting new trees in an effort to rejuvenate the barren landscape that was once home to thousands of people. Harry Hull, a junior at the Episcopal School of Dallas, spent one week of his summer doing just that, bringing new life to an otherwise desolate neighborhood in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
“We also installed energy-efficient light bulbs in peoples’ houses for free and saved them money on their energy bill,” Hull said. “When we told them how much they would save over the year, their faces lit up with happiness. It was great to see.”
Hull’s efforts, as well as those of his classmates, were organized by a group called Students Shoulder-to-Shoulder, an international organization founded on the premise of service learning and engaging students in responsible and global citizenship. Over the years, more than 20 ESD students have traveled to New Orleans and South Dakota, as well as Bolivia, Kenya, Nepal, Peru, and Tibet.
“At ESD, we are all taught to engage ourselves in the community and to help make a difference,” Hull explained. “With Students Shoulder-to-Shoulder, we are able to do this on a national or global scale.”
The opportunities to help others both domestically and abroad go hand-in-hand with one of ESD’s Founding Tenets: Service to Others. Not only does the School strive to prepare “young men and women for lives of intellectual discovery, integrity, and purpose,” it also encourages students to actively engage and observe different cultures as a participant, rather than just a bystander.
“The entire program is ethics-based,” Eleanor Arnold, ESD’s Director of Global Education said. “When the students return to Dallas they get to share what they have learned and experienced with members of the ESD community.”
Founded in Vail, Colorado, Students Shoulder-to-Shoulder is an independent, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that challenges students to become responsible, active, and engaged citizens, and to recognize and address the fundamental issues related to endemic poverty.
Each summer course begins with an online curriculum that preps students and instructors on the area they will be visiting. The variety of online activities allow students to compare their own surroundings to that of another area based on culture, economics, ethics, geography, and politics. Once on-site, students work shoulder-to-shoulder with local members and NGO’s (non-governmental agencies) of the community on sustainable projects geared towards the needs and desires of local citizens.
This summer, ESD, now a member of the Global Schools Coalition, has sent more than 20 students and teachers all over the world. In all, ESD sent 20 students to New Orleans, South Dakota, Bolivia, Kenya, Peru, and Tibet. Participants included: Matt Baum ’16, Danielle Berg ’14, Ford Berry ’16, Donny Carty ’17, Ann Dockery ’17, Matthew Dross ’16, Jackson Fitzgerald ’16, Daniel Hull ’13, Harry Hull ’15, Grant Krumholz ’16, Evan Marshall ’16, Dillon Montgomery ’17, Jack Neuhoff’17, McKenna Pressley ’16, Matthew Redish ’14, Kathryn Robinson ’16, Megan Rooney ’14, Logan Smith ’17, William Watson ’17, and Catlin Young ’14. As a member of the Global Schools Coalition, ESD has immediate access to new programs and the ability to shape programs to cater specifically to students’ learning goals.
“Our membership in Students Shoulder-to-Shoulder’s Global Schools Coalition means that we can help shape the program as it grows to ensure that it is always congruent with ESD’s own values and mission,” Arnold explained.
Allison Hogan, the Primer teacher at ESD, spent two weeks in Kenya on her first experience with the organization. During her stay, Hogan, and McKenna Pressley ’16 helped with work around the Kithoka Amani Community Home, a residency for children.
“It was mesmerizing to go on the tour the first day and see the previous projects that Students Shoulder-to-Shoulder has collaborated on with International Peace Initiatives (IPI) to help them towards this goal,” Hogan said. “Past projects include a greenhouse, drip irrigation system, goat pen and fence. This year we built an eco-cottage to help IPI gain revenue to be self-sustaining.”
Meg Fahrenbrook, an ESD history and English teacher and alumna, has participated in the program as a course instructor for two years and co-led the Nepal trip both times.
“The programs give our students the chance to be part of finding real solutions to real problems,” Fahrenbrook said. “Through the homestays and relationships the students built with the locals we worked with side-by-side, the students became a part of the culture and were not tourists. The problem the community faced became personal to the students.”
Over the years, Robert Bandoni, the executive director of Students Shoulder-to-Shoulder, has coordinated several of the trips with ESD students and teachers.
“The people we work with at ESD are collaborative, bright, invested, and positive about our work together with their school,” Bandoni said. “It’s our honor to share them as colleagues.”
To read the course journals from this summer’s trips, please click here.