Beyond Charity: Students Forge Connections with City Neighborhoods

Students at San Francisco University High School are constantly challenged to investigate their potential for enacting change, including the school’s Community Engagement Program, which connects student learning, social responsibility, and meaningful service. The Neighborhood Investigation unit helps familiarize ninth graders with a specific neighborhood’s history, community, and needs for the future before volunteer activities even begin.

“We realized,” says Director of Community Engagement Mollie Crittenden, “that most students had very little knowledge of the challenges, concerns, and hopes for the future held by people in these neighborhoods; we wanted them to understand and learn about their city in more extensive ways in the process.”

Each January, student groups now visit and tour a neighborhood they’ve been studying to learn more about its history, culture, and resources; they meet community and organizational leaders, hopefully forging an even stronger connection to their Bay Area home. Students later create and share presentations about their visits with their classmates. The goal is that their future service work will go beyond charity to be useful, authentic, and educational.

Last year’s Castro district group stopped at the Pink Triangle Park and Memorial, commemorating thousands of LGBT individuals who were persecuted and killed during and after the Nazi regime, “It raises awareness,” said one student, “about how persecution harms everyone and how important it is that we fight it.”

This awareness, says Ms. Crittenden, fosters “a greater sense of connection, humility, and presence in our students; they realize they have just as much—if not more—to learn and receive from their community than they can do as volunteers.”

Does your school do something similar?

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