by Smarty Guest Blogger, Jennifer Moore, Assistant Director of Admission and former Trinity Episcopal School Kindergarten Teacher
Growing Kind Students with Servant Hearts in Charlotte’s Center City
Last week, Shiloh visited Trinity’s 3rd graders to tell his story. Shiloh is a teacher, and Shiloh has a love for children. Shiloh is also a homeless man who spends his days at the Urban Ministry Center and his nights sleeping on the streets of Charlotte. His story is not unique and is one we so often hear through our longstanding service learning partnership with The Urban Ministry Center. What is inspirational about this particular story is what happened after Shiloh visited Trinity. The following week as the 3rd graders made their weekly trek to the Center, the first person the students saw was Shiloh, and they all ran to him and gave him hugs. This deep human connection with Trinity’s students moved Shiloh to send an email to the Education Coordinator at Urban Ministries on behalf of his fellow homeless neighbors saying, “we extend our gratitude to you, Urban Ministries and especially Trinity for granting us the liberty to speak to them (the children) in regards to homelessness. Now, I believe that I am an ambassador and advocate for this endeavor.”
How do we define service learning?
Service is an integral part of our learning process at Trinity, on an academic level and more importantly, as a spiritual experience with human relationship and intentional connectedness of the mind, body and spirit at the heart. Trinity defines Service Learning as regular ongoing and meaningful service in our local community that is intended to open children’s eyes to the broader world, developing service as a habit of the heart and intentionally challenging students to step out of their comfort zones. Each grade-level is partnered with a community organization whose mission and services are related to their curriculum so that students can address real community needs in ways that are connected to and informed by their classroom learning. Year-long partnerships creates relationship formation that transforms charity into mutual service among neighbors. Trinity students, from kindergarten to 8th grade, are becoming good citizens of the world as they answer the call to love their neighbors.
Who is our neighbor?
When Trinity Episcopal School was founded in 2000, the decision to place the school in First Ward in heart of Uptown Charlotte was intentional. The founders wanted “a school for Charlotte” that would be accessible to all neighborhoods in Charlotte. We often say we have the longest hallways in Charlotte as our children traverse all over the city on a weekly basis to serve our different neighbors such as Friendship Trays, Loaves & Fishes, Urban Ministry Center, CMS Metro School and more. We do school with an emphasis on living and learning in community with one another, but also with our neighbors in the larger community around us.
How does God call us to respond to our neighbor?
It is important for the development of children to understand the concept of social justice from an early age. Even as early as 5 years old, our kindergartners deliver food to our elderly and handicapped neighbors at McCreesh Place and Charlottetown Terrace each week. The extraordinary part of their service is the process. Our kindergartners begin by planting vegetables from seeds in a light cart in Science and once they sprout, they transfer them to our 8th Street Community Garden. When ready for harvesting, kindergartners and their 6th grade buddies work together to pull the vegetables out of the ground & off the vines. The produce is then washed, weighed and donated to their service learning partner Friendship Trays, who then cooks the vegetables into the meals. These are the meals that then will be delivered by our students each week. It is a full circle, an integrative cycle of service for our students to experience from seed to table to delivery.
In middle school, the social advocacy of our service learning partnerships is even more in-depth. Our 7th graders partner with Title One CMS schools and the Charlotte Bilingual Preschool. Spanish students support teachers and work with students while they practice their Spanish, and the others help in Kindergarten, 3rd, and 4th grade classrooms and with art and gym classes. The goal is to support teachers in these communities and to learn about school integration challenges and social mobility in CMS. And Trinity’s oldest students, our 8th graders, become social justice advocates locally & nationally for our neighbors at Hope Haven, Lily Pad Haven and Crisis Assistance Ministry. After they study all sides of an issue, in the spring our 8th grade students hone their leadership skills as they meet with legislators on Capitol Hill to lobby on behalf of their partners.
Trinity’s 8th graders hear from a former resident turned advocate at Hope Haven in Charlotte. Hope Haven provides residence and social services for those struggling with addiction and homelessness in Charlotte.
We believe as Trinity students become the hands and feet of Christ within the larger Charlotte community, their eyes are opened to people and experiences different from their own. Meaningful connections are made when people are in relationship with one another, and serving in this way impresses upon the hearts of children that we are all children of God no matter our circumstances or where we come from. It is only then, from a place of compassion and empathy that we can truly and judiciously advocate for others. As we look ahead to November, it is with gratitude and thankfulness that we reflect on these stories and the many more that have a profound impact, thus inspiring and developing this next generation to become socially-conscious and civically-engaged ambassadors of grace, honor and respect in our city and in the world.
To learn more about how we are developing service as a habit of the heart, please visit www.TEScharlotte.org, or even better, come visit our campus and see our students in action in Uptown Charlotte at 750 E. 9th Street.