At Providence Day, fifth graders are connected to refugees from Iraq and Syria. Sixth graders launch their own fundraisers and eighth graders have third-grade buddies at a school across town. Upper Schoolers help coach Special Olympians.
It’s all part of a commitment to social responsibility that’s woven through the curriculum from TK through 12th grade. The idea is to cultivate a sense of connection to the community - and the world - in order to improve the lives of others.
Each of the school’s three divisions has a slightly different focus, guided by the outline of the PD Passport: developing empathy and gratitude in Lower School; a more participatory approach in Middle School; and problem-solving and innovation in Upper School and beyond.
Earlier this year, students from each division shared their experiences and described how the social responsibility lessons they learn at school are hitting home.
LOWER SCHOOLERS READING FOR REFUGEES
Several years ago, fifth-grade teacher and team leader Laura Martin traveled to Amman, Jordan as part of a Global Educator Certificate trip to learn about revolution and civil war around the world, and the residual effects on refugees. On this trip, she discovered an organization called Collateral Repair Project that supports refugees and victims of war and conflict from Iraq, Syria, and many other countries through their community center with open doors to all who need aid.
Upon her return to PD, Martin connected the Collateral Repair Project to the fifth-grade curriculum through a readathon called “Reading for Refugees” in which fifth-graders seek out sponsors for every book read during the pledge period. Students learn more about the project through videos, Skype calls with the community center, and classroom lessons about the sacrifices refugees make.
Students tally up the number of books read and collect money from their sponsors which gets sent directly to the nonprofit. “Small organizations like (Collateral Repair Project) don’t receive federal funding, so supporting them makes a big impact,” says Martin. “We started working with Reading for Refugees in 2015 and raised over $40,000 or over $10,000 each year from around 130 participating students. We provided the biggest single donation ever which fully funded their school drive for backpacks and uniforms.” “I remember I enjoyed reading these books a lot more because you had the feeling that you were helping people while you read,” recalls Elizabeth Cicoletti ’26. “I read the series Divergent - I enjoyed those - and some biographies.” This project was taught in the context of doing your part in the community and helping others. Cicoletti recalls: “If you can read, why not help others? That message stuck with me and it gave me motivation.”
This experience was especially meaningful for Bissum Singh ’26, whose grandfather was a refugee. “He grew up in a refugee camp and lived there for five years. He left when India and Pakistan split. I thought I should try hard to help other people so I called all of my family members to be sponsors.” Singh read 60 books and raised $530, which his parents matched. The project was especially fun for him, he says: “I love reading. My favorite books are probably Harry Potter.”
Reading for Refugees is an inspirational project for students. “There are a lot of people who need help,” says Singh. “People who are innocent but have been impacted by other people. Taking part in Reading for Refugees and the Collateral Repair Project can help. It’s not their fault what happened to them, like my grandpa. He had to leave everything that he had so they had no money. I love knowing that I was helping these people.”
Other organizations to which Lower School students offer community service include Levine Children’s Hospital; Crisis Assistance Ministries; Ronald McDonald House; and The Lunch Project. Teachers emphasize the themes of exploration, reflection, and gratitude with students, and develop curriculum from the PD Passport traits of empathy, respect for self and others, confidence, perseverance, and courage.
Bissum Singh '26 and Elizabeth Cicoletti '26
MIDDLE SCHOOLERS FIND REAL-LIFE SOLUTIONS
Starting in sixth grade and building in seventh and eighth grades, Middle School students work together to build empathetic listening skills. Through grade-level partnerships with designated Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, students are encouraged to work collaboratively to design real-life solutions to challenges. Sixth-graders meet with Movement School kindergarten buddies, seventh-graders meet with Winterfield Elementary first-grade buddies, and eighth-graders form Wilson STEM School and community partnerships. All Middle School students experience facilitated reflection time to consider how they can make a difference.
“Current eighth-graders are part of a pilot program that visited with kindergarten students at Movement School during their sixth-grade year,” says Kelly Lawler, Middle School Community Engagement Coordinator for Social Responsibility. “Now, in eighth grade, these students are part of another pilot program. The goal in eighth grade is exposure beyond working in schools so that our students can find their passion and we can work with them to pursue it.” The grade forms two groups, with one group going to the Movement school to work with third-graders and the other half visiting various non-profit organizations of their choosing in the Charlotte area. At the semester break, they rotate.
Mary Linda Dascal ’24 fully embraces her ability to make an impact through social responsibility. “I love the service-learning and one of my favorite things is going to help the children at Movement School and Winterfield. I just love interacting with them. I also really like how at Beds for Kids (a nonprofit that provides essential furniture) you see videos of deliveries they’ve made and what an impact it was on the children and their families.”
Dascal built on her own talents to start a nonprofit called Beads for Needs the summer before she began sixth grade through an Instagram account @beads_for_needs. “I’ve always loved beads and bracelets,
I love art, and I like to do crafts,” she says. “I really wanted to help children’s charities in the Charlotte community and help children who are less fortunate so I decided to make bracelets, necklaces, and earrings out of glass beads. I sell them by taking pictures, posting them on Instagram, and then people direct message me to say if they want them or not. It’s been very successful.”
All of the money she earns goes to local charities including Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center, A Child’s Place, Alexander Youth Network, and Beds for Kids, which she selected after visiting as part of a Providence Day service project.
In order to increase awareness and engage the Providence Day community, Dascal created a Beads for Needs Club when she was in seventh grade and had a big turnout from her friends. As a lacrosse player, she combined passions by hosting a sale at a lacrosse tournament on the Providence Day campus which raised around $200; other fundraisers have occurred at football and basketball games.
The money Dascal raised at the on-campus sales allowed her to purchase 20 Razor scooters that were donated to families in need at Christmas. “My mom and I will keep a watch out for deals, so during a Black Friday sale we got them for super cheap and bought as many as possible for the children. We thought of Razor scooters because my brother and I love them and we thought it would be perfect for all ages.”
Her generosity continues: “I ‘adopted’ six children for Christmas and purchased them boxes of toys
– there were five girls and one boy. I also donated eight blow-up air mattresses to A Child’s Place for children in transition.”
Dascal has learned about the impact of taking action. “It always makes me sad to see homeless people; I really want to help them. We always keep care packages in our car to give to them. I really wanted to focus on children, poverty, abuse, and also I wanted to do something different than bake sales to help them. I do that with my jewelry business and hope to expand it more by having my bracelets in stores.”
Mary Linda Dascal '24
UPPER SCHOOLERS PUT STUDIES INTO ACTION
The Upper School social responsibility curriculum focuses on classroom and campus initiatives that investigate the economic, cultural, social, political, educational, and environmental obstacles that impede community development. The focus then emphasizes implementing innovative solutions to community challenges. In college and beyond, the hope is that Providence Day graduates will build upon their community engagement experiences and contribute to problem-solving.
Beginning in ninth grade with the Charger Impact Challenge, students learn about the impediments to upward mobility and social justice for thousands of their neighbors throughout Mecklenburg County. Classroom and service learning activities include promoting civic engagement, examining sustainable development practices, and providing support to organizations that serve vulnerable communities. A student-led Foundation Board uses funds earned by a student-led Investment Board to support student-centered social responsibility initiatives.
Additionally, 35 student-centered service clubs work with area organizations to support community needs. One of the Students of Service (SOS) clubs is the Special Olympics Club, started over a decade ago, which assists special needs community members in sports leagues and meets weekly to coach these athletes.
“Since 2017, the Special Olympics Club leadership group of three sophomores was determined to leverage PD as a site for a Winter Basketball Tournament with 75 athletes competing in 3-on-3 basketball,” says Dr. Jennifer Bratyanski, Upper School Community Engagement Coordinator for Social Responsibility. “This club handles every aspect of the tournament including volunteer coordination and referee management. We have 200+ people on campus for this event.”
They also host two tennis tournaments and are assisted by faculty sponsors Patricia Whelan and Cat Jordan. The basketball tournament requires more than 30 volunteers for 75 athletes, in addition to coaches, while there are at least 100 people on the court.
Seniors Kevin Kasper, Alex Hobby, and Dillon Sawyer lead the club with Alex Cook ’21 ready to take the reins in the 2020-21 school year. On Saturdays, 10 to 15 club members were spending their morning playing sports with enthusiastic athletes who are grateful for their time. “We typically work with a group called the ‘skills group’ and we get to know certain kids who are there every week,” says Kasper, who started participating his freshman year. “I took over the club as a sophomore. I played Middle School tennis and in seventh grade PD hosted a Special Olympics doubles tournament where athletes from Special Olympics play tennis alongside students from PD.”
“When Kevin became the leader it spurred me on to join him,” says Hobby, who was interested in having more direct community involvement. “I felt like Special Olympics was a good way to reach out, and like Kevin, I also played Middle School tennis. Being able to share my sports skills really appealed to me.” The time spent with participants is a lot of fun for the club leaders. “Special Olympics has coaches responsible for teaching and running the clinics, so we are sort of like friends to the people who are there, supporters, and we play along with them. We might shoot a couple of shots every once in a while, but some of them are better than me!”
Sawyer enjoys interacting with different people and incorporating a physical aspect. “You get moving and are helping in the community. We teach everyone who wants to come out and have some fun, laugh, and work on progressing through different skill levels on Saturday mornings.”
Cook thinks it is great that everyone can enjoy the experience without having to be an expert. “I hadn’t played tennis since I was around seven years old but we go out there and help the kids. Special Olympics Club always stood out because we are doing something positive in the community. Every time at tennis when they hit a great shot and you congratulate them on it, their smiles are so amazing and you remember it.”
Each of the club leaders truly enjoy participating with the athletes. “I always love it when we come out to the court and certain athletes will run out and smile at us and give us a big hug. When you see them every week you create a special bond - it’s as simple as playing basketball, but you really get to know them,” says Sawyer. “You don’t have to have any previous experience, just come out and hang out with us, just talk. A lot of times athletes don’t want to play and we will just talk to them.”
“Being able to see them celebrate their accomplishments when they have them, the smiles on their faces that you are able to see – it’s really special,” says Hobby. One of the athletes named Katie struggled with shooting at every practice, but “last year she made this shot and everyone went crazy. It was so great to see that all of the hard work we put in and the coaches put in pays off because she was really happy that she finally made a basket,” recalls Kaspar.
Each of these student leaders gained wisdom through their club experience. “I think sometimes kids with special needs need the positive energy and positive reinforcement just so that they have the encouragement and the will to play a sport,” says Kaspar. “There are some kids who get really discouraged if they don’t make a shot or the ball doesn’t go in, but the positive energy that we all try to have during the event helps them to stay focused and positive when they are playing.”
Kevin Kaspar '20, Dillon Sawyer '20, Alex Cook '21, and Alex Hobby '20
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- Providence Day Magazine
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