Last night, the Center held its annual service-learning recognition ceremony. We’ll be writing more about the event soon. Meanwhile, I want to recognize our community partners, who all too often are the unsung heroes of service-learning. They are people like Pamela Price, principal of MS/PS 161, Pedro Albizu Campos School on West 133rd Street, on the south border of the City College campus.
Principal Price spoke at the podium for a few moments of the importance of partnerships to her public school students, and of the ways these partnerships have broadened their horizons.
She spoke of what it meant to the children to have the arts education organization Silk Road Connect bring working artists, including Yo-Yo Ma, to the arts-starved West Harlem school. (It wasn’t unusual, Price said, for her students to casually greet the world renowned cellist in the hallways, "Hey Yo-Yo!”)
Harlem to Haiti At the other end of the spectrum, Principal Price’s resourcefulness brought her students into close contact with children of Haiti, Afghanistan, and rural Appalachia, via Skype. Leveraging the partnerships that made these virtual visits a possibility opened everyone’s eyes to other cultures and lives in a way that static words on a page just cannot convey.
That’s why, when Vanessa Valdéz, an assistant professor in the CCNY Foreign Languages Department, approached Principal Price about developing a service-learning partnership with the school, Price said it was a “no brainer.” For the PS 161 students and for Valdéz’s freshmen service-learning students, the experience was truly enriching. In a visit to the classroom I, myself, saw the enthusiasm and pride the young students showed as the CCNY freshmen taught them about Afro Latina/Latino artists, musicians, and writers.
Beyond this, Principal Price described the way that this service-learning experience helped to resolve an issue that had been worrying her. Several middle school students from Yemen, who wore traditional dress, felt socially isolated. Two Muslim CCNY service-learning students offered to mentor these girls and launch a Muslim club to build cultural awareness at the school. They meet regularly now, and this has made a world of difference for the P.S. 161 students.
Developing, cultivating, and supporting sustainable partnerships take true dedication. Yet it’s what many principals and teachers (and other nonprofit professionals) do on a regular basis. Principal Price noted that public school are often maligned, but stressed that she sees great things happening in public schools, which need to be supported. Partnering with a public school is one way to do this she said, sending out a broad invitation: “Join us in supporting our schools.” –Maura Christopher
Maura Christopher is director of publications at the Center. Read more about her and our other contributors here.