Published : Tuesday, April 11, 2017 | 2:01 PM
At Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School, “community service” isn’t just a buzzword or a number of hours for students to begrudgingly complete. It’s an integral part of the academic and spiritual experience, as well as the history and culture of the school itself.
Immaculate Heart High School was founded in 1906 by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an apostolic order of nuns whose mission was to educate young women and serve the community. Thus, from the beginning, school and service have gone hand-in-hand.
Today, the high school and middle school continue this tradition of service with their students. Each year Immaculate Heart Middle School requires that 6th graders complete 12 service hours, 7th graders complete 15 service hours, and 8th graders complete 21 service hours. Immaculate Heart High School requires its students to complete 25 service hours annually. However, students from all grades regularly complete more than the required number of hours.
Though the high school and the middle school are run separately, and have different community service requirements, their guiding principles are the same. Community service is run through the theology department, and built into the lesson plan. Class discussions of morality and spirituality, as well as readings of the Scripture, are ultimately grounded in the student’s everyday life of service.
“Whenever we talk about morality in my class, I always try to bring it back to something familiar to them,” said Monica Schreck. Schrek is a religion teacher for grades seven and eight, as well as middle school campus minister and director of the middle school’s community service program. “I ask them, when you see a homeless person on the street, what do you do? Do you help them, or even just say hello? Or do you ignore them? How can you make a difference to those who need it most?”
Theology teacher and director of the high school’s community service program, Maria Pollia, agrees. “Community service is about truly living by Christ’s teachings, and it’s a natural part of classroom discussion,” she said. “As we go through Scripture, especially with parables like the sheep and the goats, we connect the words that Jesus says—feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick—to things the girls can be doing in their own lives.”
Service continues to be an important touchstone in school life even outside the classroom. The high school’s Campus Ministry Leadership Team, in conjunction with the Culinary Club and other volunteers, recently hosted the Second Annual Lenten Soup Kitchen, called “Soup for the Soul,” and raised over $700 for Catholic Relief Services. At the middle school, all the students are participating in the Lenten “Water Project,” by giving up beverages that aren’t water, and using the money they’ve saved to dig wells in places that do not have access to clean, safe water. Last year, the middle school raised over $2,000!
To encourage students as they take the lessons they’ve learned about community service outside of school, both the high school and the middle school offer very open-ended guidelines on what counts as “service.”
“I want these girls to do things that resonate deeply with them, whatever that may be,” Pollia said. “I want their service to be something that they find rewarding. Something that brings them joy. Because it’s not true service if you’re just putting in hours. It has to come from the heart.”
“As long as they’re engaged in the community in some way, whether it be volunteering at a pet shelter, cleaning the beach, or working with seniors, that’s service,” adds Schreck.
For their service hours, students have tutored children and peers in after school programs, volunteered at hospitals and veterinary offices, done altar service at their local parishes, and even—in one exceptional case—walked a dog for a neighbor in need.
Students then complete a reflection on their service experiences. For the middle school, students submit a reflection after each activity, describing what they did and how they felt about their contribution. High school students submit their reflection at the end of the year, looking back over all their service experiences and exploring what they found most meaningful.
By the end of the year, both Pollia and Schreck have found that students seem to “get it.”
Immaculate Heart High School senior Kelly Mayer, who was recently honored at the 2017 Archdiocesan Christian Service Awards for her exceptional commitment to service, is one student who has certainly “gotten it.” She has completed over 1,000 community service hours over the course of her four years in high school, working with a variety of organizations. She spent the most time working with children at the Monarch Camp at Los Angeles Valley College, which she herself had attended.
“It was amazing to work with Monarch for four summers, because I went there every year as a camper, from the time I was five to when I was thirteen,” Mayer said. “It was so rewarding to be able to then turn around and work with the kids as a counselor myself.”
As for what drives Mayer to give so much of her time and energy to service, Mayer explains, “Ms. Pollia has a saying: service isn’t about changing the world. It’s about changing someone’s world. And that’s really what makes it so meaningful to me—the chance to change someone’s world for the better.”
Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School, 5515 Franklin Ave, Los Angeles, (323) 461-3651 or visit www.immaculateheart.org.