“Very few places have what our district has in terms of the commitment to service,” Mineola teacher Eileen Burke said when speaking about the district’s student service center at the .
In 2010-11, at least 300 students took part in at least one service program during the school year and during the day with service learning, the district had a total of eight different projects with 25 teachers and 500-600 students in high school were involved in at least one of them. Over one-third of 12th graders also chose a service-related project for their senior project.
“We talk about what makes a great school system, what quality indicators do we look for to say that our school system is great, good or however you want to define it and we always look at test scores,” Superintendent Dr. Michael Nagler said at the ’s November 2 meeting, “but these kind of things we need to hold equally as important as all the learning that takes place.”
Described by the superintendent as one of the largest and “most dynamic” student organizations, the club offers three types of service – direct, indirect (such as working behind the scenes at a soup kitchen) and advocacy (such as writing letters) – and conducts over 14 community service programs in which students can participate.
What makes Mineola’s service-learning program different is that “it’s linked to a course content, preparation is done in class, it promotes the higher art of thinking skills and there is reflection done afterwards,” Burke said, describing it as “organized, curriculum-based experiences that meet actual community needs.”
Currently known as the Falk-Sysak Student Service Center, the organization was started nearly 30 years ago by Diana Falk, a reading teacher and social worker at the high school.
“She really came up with the idea of having an integrated plan for service, not just fundraising – a lot of schools do fundraising projects – but providing opportunities for students to give service,” Burke said.
Falk was joined by Walter B. Sysak, a member of the board of education, who the center was named after for 25 years before Falk’s name was added.
Joining Burke in a presentation entitled “Creating a Culture of Service at Mineola High School” were club co-presidents Jasleen Kaur and Sharon Yeung, Lina Kim, Karen Lee and Wendy Espinosa, who each gave a brief overview of the service projects.
“All of them are really, truly committed service providers,” Burke said of the students.
Among the projects are:
- Senior citizen outreach, such as visits to Sun Harbor Nursing Home where students are fond of one senior who is a member of the Mineola Class of 1933.
- Lunch Bunch – celebrating its 27 year – senior citizens come to the high school and have lunch with students during their free period.
- Computeers – a program where students teach seniors computer skills. The program is held in three seasons – fall, winter and spring – with four classes per season, and takes place every Wednesday at the Mineola High School library. “I’ve been doing this ever since I was a freshman and had a great experience,” Kaur said of the Computeers program. “It’s not only you helping them about computers, but they help you too because I learned to be patient and how to be a good tutor.”
- – where children make gingerbread houses at the over the course of 2 days, with high school volunteers dressing up on the second day. Though a fee is involved, the money helps benefit underprivileged children.
- PTA babysitting – where students babysit for parents who go to PTA meetings.
- Homework help at elementary schools – high school students also volunteer to help middle school students with their homework. Students also go to the Hispanic center to offer homework help.
- In-school projects included the 9/11 day of service where high school students made sandwiches for the Interfaith Nutrition network. Over the course of 20 minutes students had made 1,000 sandwiches. “You can help out, you don’t always have to leave, there’s always activities you can do just within the school,”Kim said.
- Students also participate in the Valentines for Veteran’s project in February, writing Valentine’s letters to troops and service personnel overseas.
- The School Partnership Collaboration (SPARC) multicommunity exchange is where Holy Cross, Carle Place and Lincoln High School partner with Mineola on service projects, such as care packages for the homeless and shipping supplies to Africa.
- Ronald McDonald House – Mineola started the tradition of groups of high school students going in to make dinner for the families staying at that house while their children receive intensive medical care.
- Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) – despite being known as a student advocacy group against the dangers of alcohol consumption, the project also has branched out to spread information about healthy eating and bullying.
“We are very, very invested as a school district in service learning in our curriculum,” Dr. Nagler said, “and that’s what makes this unique. It’s when you’re teaching it in the classes and then taking it out of the classes takes it to another level.”