Through its newly created Summer Service Learning Course, St. Joseph's Prep offers the opportunity for our students to analyze the complexities of the challenges facing the City of Philadelphia and advocate for change, even to those in power at City Hall.
The course combines high-level academic work with tailored service experiences and other immersive activities. In June 2018, the Prep offered its first Summer Service Learning Course. Seminar in Urban Studies, under the direction of History Teacher Bethany Weed, examined food insecurity, a fact of life for thousands of men, women and children in Philadelphia, including many who live just a few blocks from St. Joseph’s Prep.
This course engaged students through an intensive combination of service or field-based study and academic instruction and research. On the final day, the students presented their findings at City Hall, earning praise from City Council members Bobby Henon (P ’20), Helen Gym and David Oh, who were in attendance along with the legislative aids of several other members as well as top aides of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney ’76.
The students developed the following policy proposals:
- Institute mandatory composting throughout the city.
- Provide a way to transport excess produce to local corner stores.
- Provide further support for nutrition, education and advocacy.
Read reflections on the service learning course from participating students:
"Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the Seminar in Urban Studies was our volunteer work at the Spring Gardens, a local urban farming community. There, we were able to work together with the local community to help maintain, grow, and sustain a unifying staple in North Philadelphia. Specifically, our work included forming healthy relationships with the surrounding community, aiding local farmers with essential upkeep, and understanding the current hunger crisis that plagues our city. Our work there, reminded us of the very importance of human dignity as a physical, mental, and spiritual right.
This seminar reminded me of the principles that I have been pursuing for nearly four years: the Grad at Grad. The Prep has offered many opportunities and advantages to their students, but in my experience, the most influential and empowering Grad at Grad principle is being religious. St. Joseph’s taught us that we have an obligation when we wear the identity of being “Catholic.” This title does not simply extend to an hour service on a Sunday morning, or a donation to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, but rather, it is a continuous challenge to live out our lives according to Jesus’s message. The Seminar in Urban Studies has taught us many things. Above all, it has introduced within us a stronger sense of community. While Jesus’s message may not always be at the motivation for all of our actions, let us recall that we are never walking alone, and remember our calling towards cura urbani."
"Throughout the whole course, great experiences bridged together communal and educational aspects. We learned many facts and statistics, but most importantly we all learned that just because we are in high school doesn't mean that we don't have a voice in our city’s government. Personally, this changed me as a person. It changed my thinking to make me understand that a change does start with one single person. Over all, I am very glad I took the course because it created another connection, besides the Prep, to the city of Philadelphia and North Philly especially."
"By far, my favorite part of this course was the policy proposal to City Council at City Hall. I really felt then how we could make a huge difference to brighten the future of this city. I am very glad I took this course as it opened my eyes to see the people who are really struggling and I got a great opportunity to try and fix it and make people’s lives better. As a person I changed because I saw how lucky I really am when I saw the low income families of Philadelphia suffering so much. As a student I learned more about writing, taking notes, public speaking, and collaborative working. I got to advocate for these people who are in desperate need of help and I learned a tremendous amount as a result of this course."
"I have to say that my favorite part of this course was definitely the community garden visits. For me, living outside of the city and never having been given the opportunity to see an urban farm, it was incredible not only to visit these places but to meet the people who ran them and talk to them about their experiences as urban farmers.The social aspect of this was definitely one of the best parts. It’s hard to imagine that I would have ever had the opportunity to talk to any of the people around or within the community gardens, and after this experience, I am glad I did. That is one of the reasons why I am so grateful that I took this course. There were so many new and exciting experiences that I would have never had if I had not taken this course. One way that I have changed as a result of this course is that I now feel more motivated to work for change. So often we forget that we have the power to make a difference and to better our communities; this course has shown me that despite my age, the power to make a difference is within me. I think this is something that we have all learned from this class. It takes hard work and dedication to make a difference, but it is not impossible to do so --- everyone has the potential."
"The most intriguing and enjoyable parts of this course were the two days that we spent volunteering at the SHARE food distribution program’s warehouse where we, as a group, were able to fulfill different tasks in order to help the organization’s workers and operators, as well as obtain information and knowledge about problems regarding food waste and insecurity in the city of Philadelphia. Although SHARE stood out as the most efficient and organized institution that we visited over past the two weeks, each trip we took was taken with a purpose, which was to immerse our group, mostly comprised of suburban commuters to the Prep, with the many individuals and organizations involved in the complex and ever-changing food system of the Prep’s surrounding Philadelphia community and to spark a passion for promoting change and a commitment to doing justice in the community, the country, and the world. We were given the opportunity to envision solutions to various problems regarding the production, consumption, and waste of food in Philadelphia and then took our solutions to City Hall and proposed them.
This course corresponded with so many of the Ignatian teachings that the Prep holds dear and has done a magnificent job of combining different aspects of academics, service, and spirituality into one all-encompassing educational experience. I feel that, as a student, it has taught me the importance of not only learning through research, but also learning through experience. As a resident of the Philadelphia metropolitan area, this course has given me the opportunities to connect and familiarize with the city I love and in ways that I may not otherwise have had. Finally, this course has transformed myself and the entire group into proponents for change in a world of biased and unfair systems and for justice for those who cannot advocate for themselves."
"I really value the opportunity to speak in front of members of the City Council and various other city leaders; I was surprised that so many of them showed up, that made it all the more exciting. I was happy to put my public speaking skills to good use and to share everything we learned.
Although it wasn’t anything like I was expecting, I was still glad that I could learn how to make a difference in city government and help so many people on the way. Everywhere we went, the staff was so impressed with our work and very thankful that we came, which was awesome. I was glad to see that a group of kids could do so much work in a community. This class made me aware of the voice I have in the world. It made me aware that I can advocate for anything I really want to, which has changed my perspective of the government just being a pile of red tape."
"My favorite part of the course was being able to speak in City Hall. Not only did a sense of power come with being able to speak in front of members of City Council, but a sense of pride and accomplishment, knowing that we used all of our experiences to bring together such a substantial policy proposal that could have the potential of affecting hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians. What we did made on an impression on people with immense power in our city, and we are only teenagers.
In the end, I am very glad that I took this course, because of everything that I was able to have the opportunity to explore. If it wasn’t for this, I really wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work in a community garden, an urban farm, a food distribution warehouse, and to visit City Hall. My horizons into an issue that I previously knew close to nothing about have been expanded immensely, and I am extremely thankful that I was simply given the opportunity to do so.
Because of this course, I have learned how easy it is to make a statement in attempt to make a difference in the world based on a strong conviction that I might have. I have always had very strong convictions in certain areas, but I always had the impression that it was close to impossible to make an imprint on society of what you want to be done. Because of that, I thought that well-known advocates in society had really overcome the impossible in order for their voices to be heard by so many people and for that voice to actually make a difference. But after this course, I learned that it is so much easier than that, and that there is a lot less effort needed in making the world a better place in someone’s vision than I originally thought. Because of this, I am now more inspired to be more active with my opinions, and instead of just talking about them with myself, friends, or family, I should go bigger than that and try to have my voice heard by people with power, whether more so politically or socially. I know now that I have the easy ability to do so, so I am inspired to make a different in my community, or state, or country, or even world more than ever before. Going and setting the world on fire is something well within my reach."