On Wednesday evening, April 17, Sage Hill School opened its doors to more than 1000 students and parents from local area elementary schools, El Sol Academy, Edward B. Cole Academy and Wilson Elementary School as we recognized and celebrated the year’s broad-based service learning outreach activities.
Alexis Sandoval wanted to invite Tess Hezlep to his birthday party. Never mind that he’s a third grader at Edward B. Cole Academy and she’s a Sage Hill freshman. “She’s the best buddy I ever had,” Alexis said of Tess at Sage Hill’s 3rd Annual Service Learning Expo: The Two-Way Street Project, Wednesday evening, April 17. Close bonds like the one shared by Tess and Alexis were evident as students and their parents joined for a lively celebration of a year of friendship and partnership.
Ten buses brought students and their families to Sage Hill from El Sol and Edward B. Cole (EBC) academies in Santa Ana and Wilson Elementary in Costa Mesa. As hundreds of visitors filed into the Ueberroth gymnasium, they were greeted by Sage Hill Student Ambassadors and Spanish students wearing buttons saying, “Hableme en Español” (speak to me in Spanish). Hugs and high fives followed as the visiting students were reunited with their Sage Hill buddies on the floor of the Ube.
In opening remarks that were translated by our AP Spanish students, Assistant Head of School Patricia Merz noted that our service learning partnerships have spanned 12 years and honor our founders’ vision of public purpose. Visitors watched an inspirational video about our program in which Director of Community Life and Public Purpose Jason Gregory said, “We nurture a spirit of service and selflessness.”
Student representatives were selected from each partner school to either talk about their memories from the year or share something they had written. Third graders from El Sol and EBC reminisced about their monthly visits to Sage Hill
for cross-curricular activities centered around our garden.
“I learned that high school is harder than it looks,” said an El Sol 3rd grader. “Some of the things I will remember about Sage Hill are looking at leaves and matching them to trees and making mint oil.” He also fondly remembered the field trip to the California Science Center. “I really liked the space shuttle—it was crazy huge!” he said. Recalling the days on our campus, he said, “My favorite part was running on real grass, fake grass, and sand. That’s saying a lot from a student at El Sol…. I will always remember the puffy and stinky chickens and my wonderful and kind buddy Marina.”
Several of the fourth graders, who worked on literacy with our sophomores
this year, shared their essays on “My Hero.” The quality of the writing was impressive. “(Heroes) make a difference in the community and a difference in someone’s life,” a 4th grader read from her essay. “Someone doesn’t have to save lives to be a hero. It can be someone with a big heart,” she said, calling her mother, her father and her sister her own heroes. All of the essays reflected the writing skills the students developed with their buddies this year.
“The change was pretty big because in the beginning they wouldn’t be able to write a three sentence paragraph,” said Zachary Drobenko (’15). “Now they’re writing like ten sentences and two paragraphs.”
Following the presentations, students and their families enjoyed dinner and activities on Wilkins Town Square. Students could decorate tiles for planter boxes, which are being sent to the partner schools so they can have their own organic gardens on campus. There were also seeds to plant in small containers to produce future seedlings for the planter boxes. But the biggest hit was the photo booth where buddies posed together in silly accessories. One Sage Hill student was joined in the photo not only by his buddy, but also his buddy’s mother and sister. It was a touching illustration of the sense of extended family our service learning program fosters.
By welcoming the students and their whole families to our campus, we paved the final stretch of the two-way street along which the younger students grew in their academic abilities, and the older Sage Hill students experienced the gratification that comes from helping others.
“I think they really appreciate what the Sage kids do for them academically,” said English teacher John Paulsen, who coordinates the 10th grade service learning program, “but also the life lessons that they learn out on the playground together, the things that come up, discussions that they have…. They really do create relationships.”
Mr. Paulsen said including parents and siblings in our evening celebration helps perpetuate our service learning traditions. “Their little brothers and sisters are going to grow up, and they’re going to look forward to this night as well,” he said. “Creating that kind of tradition is going to help this school and all of the partner schools.”
EBC principal John Norton said his students and their families benefit from seeing a different approach to education and opening their minds to possibilities. “It lets them know there’s something different out there as far as education,” he said, “and what they can do to reach those goals. Every morning we ask them, ‘Where are you going?’ and they say, ‘To college.’ This has a college feel to it, so it feels like they’re halfway there.”
Several current Sage Hill students in fact attended our partner schools and now visit those schools for service learning. “That’s what volunteering is,” Mr. Norton said. “You give because you received as a child; someone made an impact in your life. For us, it’s just coming full circle. They’re able to give back not only to the school they came from but also to kids who grew up in the same shoes they did, experienced the same thing, so it’s just a fantastic reflection of what this program’s able to do.”