Principles of social justice are core to IDEAL’s mission, which explicitly seeks to foster students who are creative problem solvers and who contribute to the creation of a more just and equitable society. Service learning is an integral part of IDEAL’s program and scaffolds our work to instill a deep respect for and desire to serve others. Wherever possible, service opportunities are sought out as a way to deepen curricular instruction by providing students with a way to turn the issues and topics studied in the classroom into authentic experiences and to practice skills.
Lower School service learning initiatives are centered around an overarching theme of community awareness. Beginning in kindergarten, students visit firehouses, police stations, elder care facilities, and other local service organizations. As students begin to understand their place in the larger community, teachers look for opportunities to turn the focus to outreach. They encourage students to help in the community in ways that are meaningful. Interdisciplinary work allows students to use the skills they are learning in class to strengthen their efforts. Previous projects have included food drives for local food pantries, book drives for children in a local shelter with an accompanying, interactive book review project, and a joint bread-baking and visiting event with an elder care facility.
IDEAL’s Middle School Service Learning Program emphasizes the importance of commitment and mutual understanding when partnering with a service-based organization. Each Middle School grade discusses and chooses one issue impacting individuals in New York City to focus on throughout the year, and students learn how to ask questions, develop their understanding of their selected issue, and be responsive to the needs of the organization they are serving. Through facilitated discussions, guest speakers, and an ongoing partnership with one non-profit organization in their selected area, students cultivate deeper understanding about the issue and those it impacts. Service learning experiences are carefully designed and scaffolded with intentional preparation and reflection, encouraging students to strengthen their understanding of their ability to advocate for themselves and others, to effect change, and to contribute to the creation of a more just and equitable community.
IDEAL’s signature three-year service project is individually designed by each student in partnership with a faculty mentor and equips students with the leadership skills, including confidence, communication, and empathy, to understand their ability to advocate for themselves and others, to effect change, and to contribute the creation of a more just and equitable community.
Year One: Students take a semester-long class focused on the challenges faced by various populations in New York City and select one area for research and exploration through interviews, visits to non-profits, and research.
Year Two: Students complete 20 hours of service within the IDEAL community or in a non-profit organization or in another organization that supports their focus area. Service hours are supervised by a mentor in the organization and a faculty member at IDEAL.
Year Three: Students complete a capstone project that includes further work with their chosen organization, presenting their research to the IDEAL community in assembly, and a culminating conversation with the organization with which they have served.