Community Service Launches New Afternoon Basics Program

The Office of Community Service is piloting an alternative program to combine service projects, team building and reflection while fulfilling Phillips Academy’s athletic requirement. The program, called Praxis, began earlier this week. Students involved with the program will spend two days at community service sites, which include youth organizations in Lawrence such as Community Day Care Latchkey, Community Day Care Preschool, the Lawrence Boys and Girls Club, and Si Se Puede. Community Service Director Chad Green described the importance of the sessions, “The reflection is based on the idea that Community Service isn’t just about getting on the bus, going to the site, and feeling good. We need to look deeper into the historical, political, and social context of the problems. We hope that Praxis will strengthen the reflective aspect of the extracurricular program.” On the remaining two days, students will meet the athletic requirement by participating in a variety of physical activities, including team-building exercises similar to those used in the Search and Rescue program. Time will also be dedicated towards reflection sessions, as well as discussions, occasional guest speakers, readings and films. Assistant Director of Community Service Courtney Stubbs noted, “Praxis will allow a more open forum where we can learn from each other and share a similar experience.” She continued, “My greatest hope for the program is that the participants walk away each day with a new perspective on the issues we will be focusing on and an increased commitment to making positive change in the world around us.” Mr. Green, who initiated Praxis as a replacement for Community Service Basics, anticipates that the structure of Praxis and the increased emphasis on reflection will make it an improvement over Basics. Ms. Stubbs said, “I think that the program will be a success because it addresses an aspect of the Community Service program that was for the most part missing–connecting meaning and significance to the service beyond the act of performing it.” Students participating in Praxis expressed a similar enthusiasm. Laurie Ignacio ’04, Student coordinator for the Center for Global Justice, said, “I look forward to having more discussion on the issues…that’s important and often there isn’t enough of it in community service projects.” Nonetheless, Mr. Green acknowledges that revisions to Praxis could prove necessary during this first year of the pilot program as participants discover weaknesses. “I expect that students will help to create the program,” he said. “Their input will be a major force.” Looking toward the future, plans have already been made to add to the program’s offerings. In the spring, Praxis may include a combined community service and athletic project with Habitat for Humanity. In the long term, Mr. Green is currently evaluating ideas that allow the program to maintain the same general structure while varying slightly from year to year. If this is accomplished, returning students will be able to participate in the program more than once and still benefit from the experience. Throughout any future changes or additions, however, the Office of Community Service will strive to ensure that the program holds true to its mission, which can be summarized by its unusual name–Praxis. Mr. Green first ran across the term while studying theology and felt that it perfectly described his vision for the new program. Theologian David Tracy writes that Praxis can be “understood as the critical relationship between theory and practice, whereby each is dialectically transformed by the other.” By combining service with reflection, Mr. Green hopes that the new Praxis program will fully embody the meaning of its name. General Coordinator Jenny Wong ’04 agreed, “Praxis emphasizes the service learning aspect of the program, and there’s more of an equal balance between hands-on service and reflection.”