Peer Schools Discuss Service At Exeter-Hosted Conference

Around 60 students and faculty from Andover, Exeter, Deerfield, Northfield Mount Hermon and other peer schools gathered on the Exeter campus for the 2008 Exeter-Andover Service Learning Conference last Sunday to discuss the similarities, differences and various challenges faced by their respective community service programs. Andover was represented at Sunday’s conference by the two current Community Service General Coordinators, Jess Cole ’08 and Mary Doyle ’08, the two incoming General Coordinators, Marianna Jordan ’09 and Tori Wilmarth ’09, two Community Engagement Council members, Radka Dancikova ’09 and Hanna Gully ’09, and Celia Lewis ’10 and Krystle Manuel-Countee ’09. Adrienne Marshall, Assistant Director of Community Service, said that the conference was “a great place for us to evaluate, to step back from the program and ask what things could really be changed, which you don’t necessarily see when you’re in the program day to day.” The conference kicked off with student presentations about the community service program at each school. Marshall said, “We focused on [discussing] what challenges we are facing, how our programs are similar, [and] how we can grow and learn from each other.” Dancikova added, “It was interesting to see how different school dynamics contribute to leadership and the community service program.” The attendees then broke up into roundtable discussion groups to discuss topics such as social context, leadership, the role of reflection, program accessibility and the downside of service. Joe Commanaro, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Providence College, presented a speech on student and faculty incentives for participating in community service. Commanaro stressed that for students, high school is a time of clarification of values. Thus, service is crucial because it leads to exposure to real life situations, larger social context and caring for others. Marshall explained that the overarching theme of the conference was that, “As much as our programs differ, we are facing the same challenges: reflection, leadership, faculty and student outreach, scheduling conflicts…it was reaffirming and gave us a fresh perspective.” She emphasized the importance of this event because, “Normally, we don’t necessarily have the time to look at how we can help others structure their program.” The conference also helped many students reaffirm the value of Andover’s community service program, which is “very established and far more extensive then the programs of our peer schools,” according to Doyle. The representatives from all the schools agreed that they wanted to make the Service Learning Conference an annual event. To continue establishing a sense of community among the schools in the meantime, Exeter set up a community service blog as a space to coordinate and bounce ideas off one another. Doyle said, “[The Service Learning Conference] was a great foundation for future conferences.” “I think [the Conference was] really about just sharing,” Marshall added. “[Andover’s community service program] has gained the ability to collaborate.” Last fall, the Exeter Social Service Organization contacted Andover and proposed to host the Service Learning Conference. Students from Andover’s Community Engagement Council, which is composed of eight community service coordinators, and Exeter students met in October and then again at the Andover-Exeter games in November to discuss and plan the event.