The MLK Teach-In Day takes place in February. STEAM Day kicks off in March. Spring is an exciting semester for rich, all-day experiential learning. So when the Middle School Community Engagement team first met over the summer, we wondered: What mission-aligned experience can we contribute to the fall semester? How can the Middle School simultaneously address all three GDS Corps Essential Questions, together? What does it mean to express gratitude through action? We created the Day of Doing to answer these questions.
On November 26, before we dismissed for Thanksgiving Break, all three Middle School grades traveled off campus to engage in direct service work. Our goal was to prompt richer discussions of the pillar theme of Gratitude—both through hands-on learning and intentional framing. In advisory groups, students prepared and debriefed their work through conversations around our school’s place and space in the world and in DC. Through “in-the-field” service projects, we were able to directly support four long-standing GDS partner organizations and sustain these meaningful relationships.
The 6th grade Green Corps, now three months into cultivating their own greenhouse garden on the Big Toy at the LMS, visited the greenhouse at Barnard Elementary School. Kid Power, a 17-year GDS partner organization, runs the “VeggieTime” project at schools around DC, seeking to educate students about sustainable agriculture and food justice. Before embarking on their trip, 6th graders spent time in advisory learning more about Barnard Elementary and Kid Power, answering questions like: What similarities and differences do you see between our schools? How does Kid Power want to change DC? Kid Power and Barnard have been working towards environmental justice through the VeggieTime program for years—what can we learn from them? While off-campus, students learned best practices from Kid Power’s experienced staff and assisted with gardening and maintenance work alongside Barnard’s second graders. Upon their return to GDS, students debriefed with their advisories over lunch. During their 6th grade Social Justice Seminar in the afternoon, they discussed the relationship between charity and justice. Conversations carried into the evening hours. Parent Nicole Elkon shared, “Our 6th grade son, Oliver Wolin, couldn’t stop talking about the experience.”
After their recent trip to the Chesapeake Bay, the 7th grade Conservation Corps was ready to contribute to the restoration of our local ecosystem, by removing invasive species from Four Mile Run Park in Arlington, Virginia. Guided by staff from Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation, GDS students worked alongside 7th graders from E.L. Haynes Public Charter School to address the essential question, “How can I address environmental justice in Washington, DC?” In order to facilitate this partnership in advance of the Day of Doing, advisory groups compared and contrasted GDS and E.L. Haynes’s mission statements. Students considered: What common goals are we working towards? What values do we share? In what ways are our school communities similar, and how do we seem to differ? Ultimately, the cross-school teams were able to bag a combined 700 gallons of invasive vines. 7th grader Isabel Avidon explained, “I learned that working together with people who you might not necessarily be close with can be just as productive and just as fun.”
8th graders took a break from their Advocacy Corps tracks and came together as a grade to support local organizations combating food insecurity, poverty, and homelessness. One 8th grade group spent the morning volunteering at Capital Area Food Bank, where they compiled dozens of food bags to be distributed to young people experiencing hunger over the Thanksgiving holiday. At A Wider Circle, another group of 8th graders sorted donations for individuals and families transitioning out of homelessness. Eighth grader Alion Glover, who volunteered at A Wider Circle, explained that while “it was kind of nice to help people out who really need it,” he was taken aback by the reality of poverty in our area. “There were a lot of necessities you didn’t think people would usually need, like shampoo, lotion, all these toiletries…There was a whole [section] of baby clothes…When you usually think of poverty, you think of adults or teenagers…but a lot of children and kids are in poverty and it was kind of surprising.” Alex Marchand, who also volunteered at A Wider Circle remarked that it troubled him “how we as a nation/society have just let it happen.”
During the culminating Gratitude Assembly, Sebi Medina-Tayac, a local youth environmental justice activist, provided Alex and the rest of our middle schoolers with a framework to address the issues that our society has “let happen.” Medina-Tayac spoke about the steps young people can take to implement change, and how his identity as a member of the Piscataway Nation inspires and informs his work. He left the Middle School community with a call to action: in the face of injustice, speak up and do something—and when possible, do it together.
The combination of learning and action that comprised our first-ever Middle School Day of Doing underscored, for both students and adults, that when we take the time to understand the issues affecting our communities and act with intention, we can all have a positive impact—within GDS and in the world. As our school song says, “each of us wants to be of service, to right a wrong someday; with knowledge as our guide, we’ll find our way.”