Forging Community Connections With Our Service Learning Program

From its inception, Sage Hill has instilled in students the value of engaging with others to contribute to the greater good. In this month’s blog post, President Gordon McNeill describes some of the remarkable connections our students have made through service learning, not only with members of the community, but also with each other.

Service, community, and compassion are three of Sage Hill’s core values, reflected in our Service Learning program. We intentionally built Service Learning into the curriculum, giving students the time and space to really focus on how they can use their strengths and interests, not only to benefit themselves but toward a higher calling of serving others. It’s incredible to see how successful our Service Learning program has been in forging connections between our students and the community, here in Orange County and beyond.

Beginning in ninth grade and continuing in 10th, students participate in a structured program with elementary students from one of our partner schools, such as El Sol Academy in Santa Ana. Our students connect with their younger buddies and help develop their STEM skills in 9th grade and language skills in 10th. Through the younger students’ excitement on service learning days, their pride at using science skills to build kites or writing skills to complete a story, and their disappointment when the year comes to an end, our students begin to see how meaningful service can be. They develop confidence in their ability to have a positive impact.

What happens during their junior and senior years can be nothing short of mind-boggling. Many of our students design impactful service projects that test their skills, from communications and collaboration to creativity and cross cultural competency. One look at our upcoming slate of events shows just how successfully they meet the challenge:

Our fourth annual TEDx Sage Hill School on Friday, February 15 will feature seven motivational speakers on the theme 180°, focusing on changing directions in life. The 15 students in the TEDx service learning group have handled all aspects of the event including choosing the theme, connecting with and booking speakers, arranging facilities, designing the website, and promoting the event. This year, the group added a new opportunity for connections by partnering with Susi Q Senior Center in Laguna Beach, participating in the center’s own monthly TED Talk meetings. The students and seniors have watched TED Talks together, debated the topics, and given their own talks.

The second annual GEMfest on Saturday, March 2 will bring middle school girls to campus for a festive day of conversation and empowerment. Conceived and organized by the Girls’ Empowerment Movement service learning group, GEMfest connects the sixth through eighth graders with our high school girls, to inspirational keynote speakers, and to informative panelists on topics such as social media, healthy habits and leadership. Attendees will have the chance to learn more about public speaking, coding, creative expression, and yoga. This exceptional event showcases the power of collaboration and creative thinking in serving the greater good.

Our annual Math Field Day on Saturday, April 20 also draws middle school students to our campus, this time for competitions in math. Teams of four students from local schools have fun while testing their skills in several different areas. The students in the Math Field Day service learning group plan the entire day, recruit sponsorship, publicize the event, and more. And, as with GEMfest, they seize the opportunity to offer mentorship by connecting with the younger students who attend.

The common thread in all three of these upcoming events is connections—students connecting with each other and with members of our community. Students take ownership of these projects, and under their own leadership they are inspired to create, to organize, and to execute something that has a positive impact.

Service Learning has fostered other special connections that I hadn’t originally anticipated. For example, alumni parent Kylie Schuyler founded Global Girls Leading our World (G.L.O.W.), a nonprofit that mentors and advocates for some 6,000 girls in 27 countries around the world. Kylie spoke at TEDx Sage Hill last year. Head of School Patricia Merz now sits on the board of our partner school El Sol Academy, and more than 250 Sage Hill students connect with El Sol students each year. Many graduates from El Sol and our other partner schools attend, or have attended, Sage Hill. One of the best parts of that is when things come full circle, and the alumni return as mentors to their former schoolmates through our Service Learning program.

Service learning helps our students develop creativity, courage, and compassion. By learning to use their skills to make positive connections with people, whether similar to or diverse from themselves, our students use their Sage Hill education to better our world.

About this year’s blog series:
Throughout this school year, my blog will focus on Sage Hill connections. From Day One at Sage Hill School, we’ve been committed to building connections, not just between students, but amongst all members of our community. The intricate web of connections each of us weaves here can profoundly impact our lives. Connections open up opportunities for our students for internships, college, and careers. They enrich the experience of parents who engage with one another and with our faculty and staff. Connections create a two-way street between students and the people and organizations they serve in the broader community. They allow our administrators to stay abreast of the latest trends in education and to participate in conferences and other arenas that enhance Sage Hill’s national reputation. Most importantly, connections are what make Sage Hill ours—all of ours—for now and always.
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    • <strong>Welcome to my blog!</strong> It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business of the school -- this blog is an opportunity to share my perspective on Sage Hill School.  I invite you share your thoughts and suggestions for future posts. Feel free to email me at <a href=""></a>.
      Mr. McNeill's Blog

      Welcome to my blog! It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business of the school -- this blog is an opportunity to share my perspective on Sage Hill School. I invite you share your thoughts and suggestions for future posts. Feel free to email me at

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