Community Engagement Kicks Off for the Fall Term

This week, many of Andover’s community engagement programs will officially begin their outreach to local communities. Aligning with Andover’s fundamental Non Sibi values, community engagement has been a part of the Andover experience for over 40 years and continues to encourage students to interact with individuals outside the Andover community. According to the Office of Community Engagement, Andover has opened nearly 30 programs to student volunteers that stretch across a spectrum of subjects.

Monique Cueto-Potts, Director of Community Engagement, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “[Students] facilitate creative writing sessions in second grade classrooms, volunteer in after school enrichment programs, spend time with adults with disabilities, work with adults who are preparing for their citizenship tests, and even care for furry and feathered friends at a local animal shelter.” 

Through these programs, Cueto-Potts hopes that students will not only gain an increased understanding of themselves and a broader worldview but also a deeper appreciation for the relationships they build with their community partners. She emphasized that this relationship is one of the most important aspects of community engagement. 

“It’s really a mutually beneficial relationship that our students develop with community partners. It’s at the forefront of what we do and why we do it. We think it’s very important for students to build those relationships so that they can develop habits of mind and habits of heart that help them work in and with communities in the future in a way that’s respectful, humble, and positive,” said Cueto-Potts.

Lydia Mechegia ’24, one of the coordinators of ARC, agrees on the mutually beneficial nature of the relationship between community partners and students. In ARC, students partner up with an adult who has disabilities to engage in a myriad of activities, including arts and crafts, games, puzzles, and a dance circle.

“I think an important thing I want to say is that the [benefit is mutual]. It’s not like you’re helping them, it’s more like you are both benefiting each other. You both give to each other. [The program] honestly makes my week; it’s a lot of fun,” said Mechegia.

Cueto-Potts emphasized the trust she places in student volunteers to form a genuine bond with their various community partners. She describes the thoughtfully forged connections Andover students have with their engagement communities. 

“I [hope] that our students impact [the communities] in a positive way where our partners feel respected, where they feel trusted, where they feel as though they are equal partners in the relationship. But I don’t want to assume what other people’s feelings are; that’s one of the worst things you can do in community engagement,” Cueto-Potts said.

According to Cueto-Potts, starting new community engagement programs requires extremely careful, long-term planning. Students with ideas for potential programs have the chance to realize them through the Youth Development Organization [YDO], which seeks new offerings to replace other programs. Every year, students have the option of submitting a proposal with an idea for a new YDO program.

“We don’t start up new community engagement programs unless there’s a community partner who wants it [and] there’s a plan in place and resources available for that program to continue for many, many years. We’re dealing with community partners and can’t just think about the Andover student experience of getting to start something. We have to be extremely mindful with how we’re treating our community partners in the process and make sure we can sustain a program after a student graduates,” said Cueto-Potts.

According to Alice Fan ’23, coordinator of YDO Climate Change, participating in community engagement has been a highly valuable experience, enabling her to develop her leadership skills while connecting with people from different backgrounds. An advocate for climate education, community engagement offered Fan an opportunity to spread climate awareness by teaching elementary school students from Lawrence about climate change.

“I feel like it’s so important for elementary and middle schoolers to get introduced to these concepts early. Community engagement was a great avenue to do that. [Through community engagement], you get to experience life outside of Andover. It’s really great to get outside of the bubble. We’re getting a wonderful education at Andover and I would love to share that knowledge and energy with other people who may not have the same privileges as [us],” said Fan.

To many students, community engagement serves as a source of enjoyment and a break from grades, schoolwork, and other facets of campus life. In return, Fan strives for the program to provide a fun, engaging way to foster an interest in learning.

Fan continued, “I hope that [the kids] have fun, first of all. I hope that we can connect in a meaningful way, that they can see themselves in us, and that they can see us as role models. I hope that they learn more about climate change, sure, but I also hope they learn about teamwork, collaboration and how [having] fun and learning can be combined.”