Beyond the Books

In an ideal world, our children are well on their way to becoming active, contributing members of society by learning to be responsible for themselves, others and the environment.

Appleby College and Fern Hill School are two Halton private schools that run fully encompassing programs under the umbrella of service learning. Appleby offers programs including Outdoor Education, Community Service Learning, International Service Learning, Intercultural Learning and a Global Leadership diploma. Fern Hill focuses much of its service learning on helping the Hamilton community and other local needs. All programs are interwoven with experiential and academic learning, inside the classroom and beyond Canada's borders.

Appleby College's Outdoor Education program introduces and immerses students into a total experiential learning environment. Leadership and outdoor education are the backbone of this program that in turn provides enrichment of self-confidence, understanding relationships, personal growth and a responsibility toward local and global communities. Activities range from high-ropes, rock-climbing, canoe tripping, wilderness living and navigation, leadership training, environmental awareness, and winter camping.

“It's a fundamental leadership and skills development program where we run programming out of our northern campus,” explains Robert McGuiness, Assistant Head of School, Global Education and Director, Intercultural and Experiential Programs, who adds that every student that goes through the school is involved in the outdoor education program, beginning in grade seven. “There's a real build over the years in terms of skill development. In grade 11 and 12 we have students act as leaders on those trips (for the younger students) and further develop their own skills and impart their knowledge to the younger students as well.”

There is prime opportunity for leadership development, skill development and for each student to challenge himself and learn about their own capabilities and adaptabilities, all while working in a team and building community. “They're learning how to help each other through the challenges that they'll face,” says McGuiness. Emphasis is placed on collaboration, communication and trust.

Appleby's Community Service Learning program provides outreach and education into the local community. “It's learning through service, it's not about charity,” explains McGuiness. “It's something that all of our students are involved in and it can happen in a few different ways. It could occur during an event that has an entire grade performing a whole day of environmental service work or being involved in the cancer Relay for Life. Individual placements for students also provide experience over a three-month long period immersed in Oakville Community Living, the Lighthouse Foundation, Kerr Street Ministries, Sunrise Residence or local school breakfast programs.”

“At the beginning of each term they'll look at what their goals are and they'll educate themselves about the area they're going to be volunteering in,” says McGuiness. “They work on their own development and understanding of what the need is and work on a reflective activity for the end in terms of what they take away that's of personal value.”

Community outreach often overlaps with the service learning program and student-driven philanthropy. The administrative side of philanthropy is also explored by a team of students who may decide on the disbursement of funds.

 “From our perspective, it's not just about raising money, it's about giving them the exposure to how those funds will benefit others in the community and where there are opportunities of need and how those funds get administered,” states Michael O'Connor, chief marketing and enrolment officer. “It's really trying to give them a holistic perspective on the benefit and needs of others.”

Building further are the International Service Learning and Inter-Cultural Learning programs. “We're global leaders in terms of our work in this area,” explains McGuiness. “We have students heading out on about 10 different international service learning projects each year.” Groups have travelled to Costa Rica, Panama, Ghana, Tanzania, Morocco and Ecuador and a group will travel to Nicaragua during March break.

The focus of these two programs are community-based, but in an internationally-developing region, building upon what the students have learned in the local service learning and outdoor education programs. “They're pushing themselves further to adapt in an international situation, heading into a community that has an identified need and it might be on the social side, such as working in an orphanage or construction-based, building a school or community centre,” explains McGuiness. Conversely, projects involving an environmental focus are also undertaken: sustainable forestry, or trail building and maintenance. “There are a real variety of things. When the students are there, they're working hand-in-hand with that community, not building on the previous programs (at the school) but also developing an understanding of a new culture.”

Both Appleby and Fern Hill are members of Round Square, as are many private schools around the world. Round Square is an organization that shares six common ideals: internationalism, democracy, the environment, adventure, leadership and service. “In terms of being a Round Square school, all of our students are involved and all of the activities we do as a school are centered around that educational philosophy. It builds a network of collaboration across the world,” states McGuiness.

Another element the school takes great pride in is the Duke of Edinburgh Award. “Virtually every student that leaves Appleby will have their bronze Duke of Edinburgh,” explains McGuiness. “It really is a culmination of everything and is a tremendous statement on the commitment of our students. The impact that the exposure the programs we provide them with is really had on their thinking and their commitment.”

Three years ago the school introduced a new diploma program in Global Leadership. “It's a graduate diploma but the key element is the final piece before they graduate: they have to develop a global action plan,” states McGuiness. “Those students who receive this diploma, they've not just had all those (previous) experiences but based upon those, and looking into their future educational or career goals, they're presenting to a panel of what they hope to do in a focused area over the next five years that really shows their global citizenship. It shows their dedication for the future as well.”

O'Connor feels tonnes of pride, both from the perspective of a parental and faculty member. “A lot of what attracted me to Appleby was the emphasis on experiential learning, especially that global component. It's so important as citizens of the world that we understand the different cultures and the different perspectives and are open to those different points of view. That's something I think Appleby does a tremendous job of providing.”

What McGuiness finds impactful is talking with students who've returned from international service experiences. “One student described the experience as having sensitized them to the benefits and the opportunities that they have here,” he explains. “As Canadians we're extremely privileged and there are others that don't have the same opportunities that we have. To find a way that has an impact and to make a difference is one of the most rewarding things out there.”
Social responsibility is very much a part of student life at Fern Hill School. “Most of the students that attend have all of their wants and needs provided for them,” explains Celia Stone, marketing and enrolment manager, “so in order that they leave here with the understanding that it's not the case for most of the people they encounter, we really try to expose them to and get them involved in programs ““ and not just the fundraising ““ we try to get them involved in the delivery so that they can really see the need rather than just hearing about it.”

United Way Week is a big deal at the school. Children buy a $100 “golden ticket” that gets them involved in all of the activities for the week, whether it's the silent auction, bake sales, contests. “The school knows that's our big fundraiser for the year so everyone rallies behind it.” The school also runs toy drives during the holidays for Children's Aid, you might find a large box of teddy bears in the front for Mustard Seed in Jamaica and a warm clothing drive provides comfort for those at the Good Sheppard Centres in Hamilton.

“A lot of our efforts (at the Burlington campus) are for Hamilton because the need there is so prevalent,” notes Stone. “Once the funds or items have been collected, some students will go with items to be delivered so they can meet the organizers and (physically see what's happening) that really drives it home.”

Although the school is a member of the Young Round Square and students do have the opportunity to travel and see where there is need internationally, Stone says that much of the focus is to try and bring the culture to the school. “We celebrate everybody's everything,” she notes. “At Fern Hill we have four core values, and our forth core value is that we believe that by recognizing, respecting, sharing and appreciating our similarities and differences, we grow and flourish.” It's not uncommon to see the lights of Diwali, students dressed up in traditional clothing, a menorah and dreidels being played with all around the same time of year. “We try to carry that out through the year,” says Stone. “If a family has a special tradition to them that they want us to share we are delighted to have the opportunity to include it.” Three grade three students recently sold bracelets and crafts in order to donate a rocking chair to Joseph Brant Hospital's maternity ward.

By grade eight, students are expected to take on responsibility for designing, setting up and carrying out an outreach program that they feel passionate about. Stone's daughter raised more than $500 for the Wind Dancer Pony Rescue.

“What I hope it does is that it makes them feel that it doesn't matter what you're doing in terms of a career, but there is always a need to be aware of and to look beyond your own little world and see who or what's falling through the cracks and what can you do to help,” acknowledges Stone. When the peripheral vision of social responsibility improves, we can only be optimistic that children will become aware that they are not necessarily the norm and if they look around them they will discover opportunities to learn from or others searching for opportunities to be shared with them. “It's more of an awareness and feeling that there is a responsibility to be aware and to reach out to help if you can.”