This year, juniors in Kent Denver School’s English classes are researching, designing, proposing, and executing service projects that require them to think explicitly about their own values and communities — family, places of worship, school, city, state, country, and even the world.
Before school began, they got a flavor for what was to come through activities such as helping out at soup kitchens, caring for rescue animals, and providing company for the elderly — powerful experiences that they later shared with their classmates.
This new component to the course examines American literature using three themes: manifestations of voice; representations of community; and insights into philosophies, theories, practices, and opportunities for service in the larger Denver area. While reading a wide variety of literary genres — poetry, short stories, non-fiction, novels, and plays — and writing personal and analytical essays, short reflections, and creative work, students develop their own voices and engage in critical thinking and literary analysis. They discuss what they’ve read and examine how they came to their own interpretations of the material.
The classroom experience then transfers to the service-learning component, with the entrepreneurial element of putting ideas into action. “It helps students practice empathy and develop a greater understanding of and appreciation for perspectives and positions other than their own,” says Eric Chandler, upper school division head and one of the course’s teachers.
As the school year progresses, students will continue to explore and examine service opportunities, which so far range from preventing suicide and teen eating disorders to maintaining/improving Colorado’s pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. “It’s an educational approach that makes learning relevant,” says Dr. Chandler, “and fulfills Kent Denver’s vision for its students: ‘to build a caring, diverse community of responsible citizens.’”