The Volunteer Experience
Phillips Academy volunteers come to our program from a variety of backgrounds and with varying interests in community service. Some students bring their passion for working with a specific population, such as working with children, animals, or the elderly, while others are looking for a fun extra-curricular activity or something new to try. Still, others are looking for meaningful engagement in dialogue and action related to international development or for a way to meet new people and experience a new community.
Regardless of a student's background, level of experience or area of interest, there is a community service project for him or her. Each year students from all four classes who participate in our programs meet new people, become engaged in the world outside of Phillips Academy, and provide much needed and appreciated assistance to over 30 nonprofit community partners.
Involvement in Phillips Academy's Community Service Program has only one requirement: commitment. Once a volunteer signs up to participate in a project, he or she is expected to fulfill this commitment like any other obligation on campus. Each project involves community partners that depend on volunteers, whether tutoring a child, preparing a meal, supervising a field trip or constructing part of a house. Our volunteers are needed to make their operations run smoothly; in fact, some projects rely solely on Phillips Academy volunteers to function at all.
The Experiential Learning Cycle: Orientation/Training, Experience & Reflection
The Community Service Program welcomes all new volunteers to our ongoing volunteer projects with project-specific orientation sessions at the beginning of each term. All new volunteers are required to attend. In many cases, students participate in on-site orientation sessions run by the volunteer supervisor at their site. Student Program Coordinators lead many of our programs and serve as an additional guide and resource for new volunteers.
The volunteer experience varies drastically from student to student based simply on the variety of programs that they can choose to participate in. Though the day-to-day experiences of a student who is tutoring at an after-school program will differ from those of a student who is paired with an elderly person for weekly visits, our program strives to maintain a consistently high standard across all of our programs.
As with any endeavor, consistent and steady work provides the best learning opportunities for the participant, the most productive worker for the community partner, and the optimal environment to foster the development of meaningful relationships. These are the goals of Phillips Academy's Community Service Program, and we expect our volunteers to commit to them.
Through our faculty and student leaders, we are able to engage volunteers in reflective interaction surrounding their experiences as a volunteer. This component of the Community Service Program provides a forum for participants to share questions, challenges, and successes experienced while working in the community. It is an essential element of the service-learning experience. Through discussion and written reflection, students are afforded the opportunities to gain personal insight as well as a better understanding of the context in which their community work takes place.
Program Coordinators of specific projects invite volunteers to join them in a wide array of reflection activities. These include, but are not limited to, regular intensive discussion groups led by the student leaders and/or faculty members, facilitated reflection discussions at service sites with community partner staff and community members, and more informal gatherings sponsored by the Community Service Program involving some combination of food, discussion, guest speakers, or a movie.
Supervision and Evaluation
Our students receive supervision from Phillips Academy faculty members and on-site volunteer supervisors. Most of our off-campus volunteers work directly with an organization's volunteer coordinator. On-campus volunteer endeavors are supervised by Phillips Academy faculty volunteers.
Continual evaluation of our program and our student volunteers helps us maintain a our high standard of programming. At the end of each term, community partners are invited to evaluate our program and our students. At this time, we also invite volunteers to evaluate their community service experience so we are able to constantly improve our program.
Most student evaluation is informal, coming throughout the term from community partner supervisors, faculty coordinators and peers. Depending on the project, students may be asked to complete periodic evaluations of their service experience. All participants are encouraged to share their experience with other students and adults on campus for additional feedback, encouragement and perspective.
Student leadership is one of the basic foundations of the Community Service Program. Each year approximately 30 student Program Coordinators take on the responsibility of leading our volunteer programs. These students coordinate after school tutoring sessions, youth science clubs, elderly buddy programs, adult citizenship tutoring, special needs buddy pairings, and youth literacy initiatives. A list of all of our programs can be found here.
Program Coordinators' leadership development program includes regular meetings with a faculty mentor, a series of workshops and meetings at the beginning of the school year, and ongoing group training sessions throughout the year.
The Community Service Board is made up of three students who are charged with bringing a greater awareness of social issues and program-wide initiatives and events to the PA student community at large. These students meet regularly with each other and with Community Service Faculty to tackle this challenge creatively and innovatively. Past events and initiatives have included: the screening of documentary films, a panel on immigration, speakers who have experienced homelessness, and campus-wide "Spread the Thanks" and "Spread the Love" Weeks.