At Colorado Academy, we believe students gain deeply from experiences where they serve others. One Middle School student described her service-learning program in Peru, saying, “Despite the language barrier, we managed to make connections with the girls. We immediately felt that our perspectives changed on our relationships back home, our educational privileges, and the ways that we could and would eventually change Peru.”
Upper School teacher Stuart Mills, who has long headed our service learning work in Haiti, says that traveling there as a faculty leader has changed the way he sees himself in the world. “Watching our students interact with Haitian students, none of whom spoke any English, showed me how connected we really all are as human beings,” Mills adds. “The power of friendship and common goals is truly transformative and moving.”
CA has been committed to service learning for many years. Increasingly, colleges are now recognizing that service learning is important in the college admission process.
Service and college admission
In 2016, Harvard University published the report “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through the Admission Process.” The report, which has now been endorsed by more than 175 other selective colleges and universities, called for creating better and more authentic ways of gauging student talent. It made recommendations for schools to reduce emphasis on standardized testing, to discourage students from overloading their schedules with AP courses, and to ask college admission officers to focus less on the breadth of student extracurricular commitments and more on the quality and authenticity of that involvement.
Overall, the report asked colleges to honor students who are engaged positively and authentically in their community and made these recommendations about community engagement to students:
- Students should be encouraged to engage in meaningful, sustained community service that is authentically chosen, consistent, well structured, and provides opportunity for reflection both individually and with peers and adults. The college admission process should value this kind of service.
- Students should be encouraged to take collective action that tackles community challenges. The college admission process should value this kind of action.
- Students should be encouraged to have authentic, meaningful experiences with diversity that focus on “doing with” not “doing for.” The college admission process should value these kinds of experiences.
- Students should be encouraged to engage in service that develops gratitude and a sense of responsibility for the future. The college admission process should value this kind of service.
CA Director of College Counseling Sonia Arora notes that authentic service to a valued cause is “absolutely a differentiator” when it comes to college admission. Arora notes that there has been a trend of selective schools honoring students who have engaged in ongoing service.
“Every year, we have students who impress admission officers with how they have committed to the improvement of humanity,” Arora says. “Service to others has a host of benefits, including for the maturity and growth of the individual doing that service. In the context of the admission world, colleges and universities want students committed to making world a better place as they try to build caring student communities.”
CA Service Learning
There is a long tradition at Colorado Academy of service to others. These are just a few of things students can do to enrich our community and the world beyond.
This is a leadership opportunity for Middle and Upper Schoolers. Several years ago, a generous donor started an endowment of $250,000 which produces funds that students can use to support various causes. This program teaches students about how to make informed decisions about nonprofits and provides a more in-depth understanding of how philanthropy works.
In the Middle and Upper school, there are many student-organized clubs that help coordinate and organize volunteer opportunities. The AfricAid Club and Peruvian Hearts support the education of girls in Tanzania and Peru, respectively. Every year students create new clubs because of their interests and are supported by faculty along the way.
Horizons at CA
Horizons is part of Colorado Academy’s outreach to the larger Denver community. For more than twenty years, we have served more than 150 low-income students during the summer and the school year to promote reading and math. There are volunteer opportunities for students, faculty, and parents.
This student-run program, which has been around for more than 25 years, inspires me every year. In December, we bring nearly 2,000 low-income families to campus to receive clothing and items donated by the CA community, optional immunizations and eye testing, and to enjoy all kinds of fun and games. After eating a turkey dinner cooked by our students, young children get to see Santa at CA. It’s a very special event and shows what is possible when we give students the authority and responsibility to make decisions.
On Campus Service
Every year, you will see Upper School students cooking and serving food in the dining hall and cleaning up the Campus Center. This is a way for students to work together to serve the larger community and gain understanding and empathy for those staff members at CA who do so much to support our students.
Lower School Fifth Graders work to support the mission of CA by applying for a variety of different service jobs, including morning safety patrol, Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, and First Grade Mentor and Pre-Kindergarten Specials (dance, library, science) Mentor.
Middle and Upper School Leadership Teams
Select Seniors and Eighth Graders mentor younger students by facilitating small group discussions and serving as role models. These efforts sustain a positive and engaged student culture.
Middle School Service Learning Days
All Middle School students spend three mornings volunteering with their Advisory, often serving a nonprofit organization—everything from working at an animal shelter to preserving habitat along the South Platte River. The goal is to help younger students understand real world issues and see how direct action can make a difference.
International Travel and Service
Over the past few years, service has become more of a central focus for our Global Travel programs. We have volunteered extensively in communities in Senegal, Colombia, Peru, and Haiti. This year, Middle School students will serve in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, and our new Upper School program in Ecuador was developed with the goal of assisting a small rural school on the Pacific coast. CA’s mission of “responding to the needs of an ever-changing world” has extended to all corners of the globe!
Community Impact Projects
All CA Seniors must complete a Community Impact Project before they graduate. This empowers individuals or teams of students to identify a real-world problem and work to solve it. Former projects include:
- Installed activity centers for pediatric patients visiting the Lions Eye Institute at the University of Colorado Hospital.
- Co-piloted through Pilots N Paws, delivering animals from no-kill shelters to new homes.
- Served on the Youth Steering Committee with Habitat for Humanity.
- Served as web photographer for the Denver Dumb Friends League.
- Volunteered with the Deaf Preschool Program at Marion’s Way.
- Organized a Haiti Youth Orchestra.
- Planned a fundraiser with Global Livingston Institute to reunite a daughter with her mom in Uganda.
- Designed a pilot outdoor education program with Colorado Outward Bound for students attending National Jewish Hospital’s Morgridge Academy.
- Coached Special Olympics athletes in alpine ski racing, swim team, unified basketball and volleyball.
- Organized an online science fair for The Synapse Project.
- Assembled and delivered personal care packages to people experiencing homelessness in Denver.
We know these programs can transform lives. As you go into the new year, I hope each student and family will identify a way to make the world a better place and commit to a life of service.