Dear Flint Hill School Families,
The concept of service to others is critically important in today’s world. We know that when we do something for other people, that wonderful gesture is a benefit to someone else and makes us feel better about ourselves and about the world we live in. It helps foster a habit of supporting others that will stay with us forever. Teaching service and finding ways to ingrain this trait in all of our great Huskies is an exciting challenge that we tackle on a daily basis. As children grow and develop as individuals, I am always reminded of a quote by one of my favorite philosophers and leaders, Mahatma Gandhi. He once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” It is a powerful sentiment, and I see it played out at School at all three Divisions.
In the Upper School, many of our students go well beyond the 15 hour annual requirement for service. Many of them perform more than 100 hours each year and qualify for the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Many have made the concept of service a part of their identities. They volunteer on a regular basis at assisted living facilities, homeless shelters and animal shelters, work with young people with various developmental disabilities, and regularly find ways to make a difference in the broader community. Just last weekend, Science Department Chair Cyndi Hoffman helped lead our annual Relay for Life team to a very successful conclusion. Sponsored by the American Cancer Society, this event is a life-changing experience that gives everyone in communities across the world a chance to celebrate the lives of people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and fight back against the disease. On an unseasonably cold Saturday, 73 participants made it through the night to help raise an enormous amount of money for that organization. A huge group of teachers and parents helped make the night possible, but it was our students, who walked and camped out around the track, who made a difference in a very visible way to support that great cause. You see examples of this kind of compassion and sense of responsibility throughout all of our student activities.
Our eighth-graders also have an annual program focused on service. Each year, it takes place in early May with what we used to call the Service Fair. After performing 10 hours of service through various activities, our eighth-graders used to gather in the gym with posters demonstrating their service projects. Students, parents, and others had the opportunity to walk through the venue to get a glimpse of what our eighth-graders had done. This year, under the exceptional leadership of Middle School Math Teacher Erin McKavitt and a host of Middle School faculty, adjustments were made to the program, and it was renamed, the “Service Share.” Students were set up in various rooms — by their advisories — and seventh-graders, parents, faculty and staff visited the rooms to hear each student make a presentation about their service projects. The efforts ranged from working at churches, homeless shelters, and assisted living facilities to hospitals, animal rescue shelters, and local parks. Not only was it exciting to hear our students’ passion as they recounted their experiences, but it was amazing to see their poise and confidence as they stood in front of a packed room to articulate what they had done. The service project gave them a healthy taste of the impact of their efforts, and the process of sharing that information was an outstanding leadership opportunity for them.
In the Lower School last weekend, our fourth-graders, led by Lower School Diversity Coordinator Michelle Plaut and Fourth Grade teachers Rachel Hinnant and Rob Taylor, held the Family Service Fun Fair. The entire focus for the event was on hunger and how to stop it. Students had worked all year long to create games that would teach 25 ways that students can address local and global hunger. As families arrived on Saturday, they were given a passport. They used that passport to go from activity to activity to enjoy the games the students had created and to learn about hunger. The focus of the passport was to talk about making a difference. They even created a simple and direct Husky Hero Pledge.
Our Lower School students truly took this to heart. Students proudly wore shirts to show their support to fight hunger. Fourth-graders also designed the cover image for the passport, which showed people in the United States holding hands as their arms reached across the ocean to hold hands with people from other continents.They are beginning to understand that they can make a difference in the lives of others. It was even reported to me that as the event wound down after several hours, students were helping clean up the piles of canned goods and other items that were donated. When one father finally said, “Isn’t it time for us to go?” His daughter politely, but firmly, reminded him of his own battle with hunger when he traveled to the U.S. from Vietnam. “We will finish soon, Dad. Don’t you remember when you were on that boat leaving Vietnam, how hungry you must have been? We are doing this to help others not feel that hunger!” There is no greater testament for why children need to engage in these activities that ultimately make a difference. As an outgrowth of this program, our fourth-graders will soon work alongside their parents and teachers, as they assemble more than 10,000 meals for the Stop Hunger Now Program.
How do you teach service? Where does this come from? Between home and school efforts, we need to instill within our students that commitment to others. Service is a virtue. It is a sacrifice. It is a gift that we share with others. Our Vision Statement states clearly: Take meaningful risks. Be yourself. Make a difference. The concept of stepping into service activities is a risk for many of our students, particularly our young ones, but as they grow in confidence and poise, it becomes who they are, and we know that, without a question, they truly do make a difference!
Please continue to think about ways that all of our families can provide service to others. I look forward to seeing you in these fast paced, but critically important, final days of the school year.
Best wishes to you!
John M. Thomas