AP Literature Service Learning 2020/21

Thinking about meaningful service: how to cultivate student focus

by Anita F, Angie S, Gordon L and Rinka K,

AP Lit students

Exposed to the fallacies of foreign aid through Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, four AP Literature students - Anita F, Angie S, Gordon L, and Rinka K - were inspired to examine parallels of futile attempts at service in the Concordia community.

Foreign aid is defined as money, food, or other resources given or lent by one country to another. In The Poisonwood Bible, the Christian beliefs that the Price family hoped to introduce to the Congolese are symbolic of the foreign aid that many developed countries, China included, give or lend to underdeveloped ones. Unfortunately, the economic and humanitarian implications of foreign aid are more convoluted than what meets the eye. 

Interviewed by Gordon, Professor Joel Samoff of Stanford’s Center for African Studies proposed this analogy on foreign aid: "Imagine going to the bank to borrow money to buy a car, and the bank agrees to loan you the money, but only if you purchased models A, B, C, D, or E. You might decide that this is a reasonable tradeoff, even though you would like to purchase model F."

With more interviews, we became increasingly appalled at the reality of foreign aid today - how, both in a formal capacity and through non-governmental organizations, it can continue to perpetrate a cycle of exploitation. 

This irony got us thinking. Given Concordia's clear emphasis on stewardship and global citizenship, how many service initiatives, like foreign aid packages, are truly efficacious and sustainable?

For a service initiative to be sustainable, Mrs. LeeAnne Lavender, Concordia’s Service Learning Coach, implores students to ask themselves a few questions: “With the direction I am going in with this particular decision, plan, or program, what’s it going to look like in one year? How can I make sure I put the steps in place to support that, long-term?”

As seniors with three years of high school under our belts, we understand the struggles of service in high school and how a main extrinsic motivator can be the length of one’s resume. This, unfortunately, can lead to extracurricular clubs and service initiatives with little sense of direction and a lack of true engagement. 

To further emphasize “quality over quantity” in regards to service and extracurriculars, and to combat the misconception that universities are solely interested in lengthy resumes, we laid out a tripartite action plan and quickly got to work. 

  1. Freshman Seminars – To positively orient mindsets for the rest of high school.
  2. Eighth Grade Workshop – To increase awareness of extracurricular activities that exist in high school.
  3. New CCA Policy – To systematically address the problem of overcommitting to activities.

1. Freshman Seminars

Working with the high school counselors, Gordon and Anita hosted two freshman seminars that consisted of a brief presentation by Gordon and an upperclassmen panel led by Anita. In Gordon’s presentation, he addressed the misconception surrounding college admissions and extra-curricular activities, and introduced a quote by William Fitzsimmons, the Dean of Harvard University. 

Afterwards, the freshmen listened in on an upperclassmen panel of students chosen for their extraordinary commitment to an extracurricular activity or service initiative. To these students, Anita asked questions such as, "How did you push through times of low motivation or adversity in your extracurriculars?" and "What would you say to your freshman self about high school activities?" This inspired the freshmen to begin thinking about the passions they may want to pursue in the upcoming years, and how to cultivate a real focus to engage in service with a eye to engagement and sustainability. 

2. Eighth Grade Workshop

In the same week, Rinka hosted a workshop for Mrs. Raatz’s eighth grade humanities class. She was inspired by the decision fatigue many incoming freshmen experience in regards to selecting which CCAs to commit to. Concordia offers a diverse selection of clubs – from academic, to service, to art, to sports – and that excites students; however, it is common for students to lose interest after a few weeks and quickly become inactive members of some groups. 

In her presentation, Rinka shared tips regarding club membership and leadership in high school, encouraged the eighth graders to approach high school with “quality over quantity” in mind. She reassured the students that their unique skill sets and passions could be used to make a difference.

Lastly, she reminded the students that, at Concordia, there are unlimited resources to support each student’s ideas and help them further their passions to impact the community, as long as they are willing to take initiative. 

3. New CCA Policy 

To systematically reform the culture surrounding CCA overcommitment at Concordia, we proposed a three-part policy that is currently still being developed. Our goal is to foster a culture where students can find genuine passion and fulfillment in the clubs they participate in at school. Some principles of the policy that we're developing include the following ideas:

1. Limiting the number of CCAs students can join: we hope to encourage students to be more intentional with their CCA selections and view CCAs as opportunities for personal growth and service. We propose setting different limits for different grades, giving freshmen more room to explore, and seniors the chance to select a few CCAs they are particularly passionate about. 

2. Implement a 2-week "Shopping Period"

Every year during the CCA fair, students are encouraged to sign up for any club that catches their eye; however, students sometimes randomly sign up for too many things or are unclear about some of the clubs they are agreeing to join. Therefore, we propose a 2-week “Shopping Period” for students to attend any introductory club meeting after the CCA fair to help them decide which ones they want to join for that year. Club leaders will be required to host at least two meetings during this period, during which they will introduce the club, their yearly plan, requirements for the members, and any additional information they wish to include. We hope this would provide students time to think critically about the clubs they hope to devote their time to. Upon joining, every student who formally commits to an activity must meet all of the member requirements.

3. Club leaders must propose a two-year plan every two years 

Lastly, the policy will require all student leaders to outline a two-year plan for their CCA in collaboration with teacher supervisors. The plan would detail the club's purpose, goals, partner organizations and contacts, commitment requirements, and more. A two-year element ensures that underclassmen voices are heard when laying out the logistics, keeping the clubs sustainable after senior leaders graduate. 

Moving forward, we hope to continue fostering a more holistic and genuine approach to extra-curricular activity and service within the high school community, as well as encourage the rising generation of Concordia leaders to identify their passions. As we prepare to graduate in the spring, we are excited to see young, passionate students excite change within and outside of campus gates.