Engaging in service learning is a core element of our school’s goal of developing empathic, caring and thoughtful graduates. Our annual Day of Service is a day when our community comes together and lives this value to the fullest. That is why on Monday, November 21, 2016 every student and staff member took action in gemilut chasadim, acts of loving kindness, to serve a variety of different agencies and organizations in Chicago and around the world. The Bernard Zell Day of Service was created in 2014 in memory of former Head of School Dr. Alyson Horwitz's late husband, Judd Horwitz as a tribute to the many acts of loving kindness he performed throughout his lifetime.
Leading up to the day, teachers spoke with students about the importance of their classroom projects and how they connected to the Jewish values of tikkun olam and tzedakah. In order for the students to make sense of what they were doing, both teachers and representatives from various organizations around Chicago met with the students to help them fully understand the impact their efforts would have on members of the community.
The Day of Service kicked off with alumni Griffen Saul ‘14 and Elizabeth Goldblatt ‘14, sharing stories of how they started their own non-profit organizations to help others and how their experience at Bernard Zell helped shape them to become agents of change. Griffen and Elizabeth were joined by former Head of School Dr. Alyson Horwitz and Khiry Johnson from the WE organization to inspire our students before their day of giving back and sharing with the community. Students then returned to their classrooms or boarded buses to outside organizations and were ready to get to work.
Every student was engaged in a meaningful activity to serve others, from our youngest students in Nursery to our 8th graders. Eighth graders assisted in classrooms and on service projects to support the younger students in their efforts. In the afternoon, the 8th graders participated in their own service projects throughout the community. Senior Kindergarten students collected toiletry items and organized more than 90 children’s hygiene kits for Share Our Spare. Nursery and Junior Kindergarten students decorated and planted flower pots which 5th graders then delivered to seniors at the SelfHelp Home. Nursery Teacher Jenny Levine reflected, “The students responded positively--they really enjoyed working with their 8th-grade buddies and making something for people in need. They especially liked knowing they were doing something to put a smile on someone else's face.”
Thirteen different community organizations and agencies were touched by the efforts of our students during the Day of Service. First graders sorted books at Open Books, 2nd graders shopped at local markets using tzedakah money collected since last year to purchase food items for the Lakeview Pantry. Our 3rd graders took on responsibility for our school’s Lost and Found, which they intend to continue throughout the school year. Connecting to their social studies theme of immigration, 4th graders designed and created “stained glass” windows for the Uptown Cafe to serve as screens to protect the privacy of the Cafe’s clients. The 5th-grade service learning theme was והדרת פני זקן v’hadarta pney zakeyn -- caring for the elderly, which the students enacted by visiting the SelfHelp Home and preparing gifts for Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly. In preparation for the Day of Service, 6th-grade students studied the text and themes of birkat hamazon and how it connected to their service learning theme of food injustice. During the day, they continued their learning while preparing sandwiches and no-bake cookies to share with those in need. Khiry Johnson, the motivational speaker from WE organization, facilitated a workshop with the 7th grade to plan how they can be agents of change after they spent the morning out in the community assisting four different community organizations.
No matter the size of a particular project or the needs of its recipients, through this experience, our students walked away feeling that their engagement was meaningful and purposeful. We want them to feel good that they have helped others and to empathize with the struggles of those in need.