PDS Service Learning: Middle School Students in the Community Throughout each school year, our middle school students head out into the community to volunteer as part of our service learning program. In sixth grade, the students begin working together on projects and activities that benefit a specific site. In seventh and eighth grade, our students participate in three Service Days with their advisory groups at six different sites across the East Bay. We ask our students to literally roll up their sleeves and put themselves in the service of others. These service learning experiences encourage our students to stretch beyond their comfort zones. Sometimes this means students will get messy. Sometimes they might feel a bit uncomfortable. Sometimes they will work in places in the community they have never seen before. Throughout each experience, our students work together to help make their site a bit better than it was before they started, and learn more about themselves in the process. One of the goals of our middle school service learning program is to build strong connections with our service sites and their supporting organizations. This year, we launched a new stewardship project with Frog Park, a neighborhood park located in the Rockridge greenbelt. Our sixth graders partnered with volunteers from the organization Friends of Frog Park to help with ongoing care of this popular playground. Did you know that Frog Park was founded and created by neighborhood and community activists? Our students were able to meet and work with some of these founders as part of their service learning experience this year. Before each volunteer session, a guest speaker came to speak to the class about different aspects of Frog Park history. We learned a lot, including the fact that the park is largely maintained by volunteers, not the by the City of Oakland. Our seventh and eighth grade students work with their advisory groups and volunteer at the same site three times over the course of the school year. Each advisor creates the framing for each service learning session, and provides opportunities for both individual and group reflection. Our Service Day sites and organizations include St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda, Cleveland Cascade, Merrill Gardens, Lake Merritt Institute, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve and Piedmont Avenue Elementary School. Our students lend a hand wherever help is needed: prepping food for the soup kitchen at SVDP, playing board games with seniors in the Memory Care unit, scooping up trash and debris from Lake Merritt with giant nets, sweeping walkways and stairways at Cleveland Cascade, removing invasive species at Sibley and assisting first graders with their classwork at Piedmont Avenue Elementary School. We want our students to have the opportunity to meet every day people doing extraordinary things for their community. Many of these people are doing their work, both paid and unpaid, without any fanfare. They provide inspiration and motivation to help make the world a better place. We have big dreams for our students. Through their volunteerism and service, through their conversations with their site coordinators and their interactions with the people at these sites, we believe the seeds of empathy, compassion, and activism will take root and grow. Park Day students really can make a difference!