Just down the road: Students embrace service opportunity

In a new opportunity for community service, CESJDS students gathered to assist students at Sargent Shriver Elementary School in their studies, located two miles away from the JDS Upper School campus.

Shriver Elementary School is a Title 1 institution, meaning it receives supplemental funding from the government to educate students from low-income families, who need to make up at least 40 percent of the student body. Shriver’s mission, according to the school’s website, is to provide inspiring lessons that promote “student-driven discover[ies]” for all students. 

The partnership began after Stephany Sulbaran, Shriver’s Community Service Coordinator, reached out to Dean of Students Roslyn Landy at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year. Landy had no prior knowledge that the institution existed or that it was so close to JDS’ Upper School campus, yet agreed to the partnership after talking to student council. To Landy, the program seemed like an important opportunity to allow JDS students to work with students from different backgrounds. 

Landy and Sulbaran discussed potential dates in the fall, focusing on days when JDS students would not miss their own classes. Landy wrote about the service opportunity in the weekly announcements email, which sparked student interest. On Nov. 5, the professional day, a group of 13 students went to Shriver to meet the children, help teachers and read books to students. The group returned on Dec. 13 and 14, during parent-teacher conferences. Sexter was among the 13 who went. 

“I really like helping people; I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping other people, making their day better. I just saw this great opportunity to go help people who are more under privilege than us,” Sexter said.  “I also saw it as a chance to see how big of a difference between our school and other schools in the area.”

On each of the three JDS trips to Shriver, Sexter assisted first-graders in their studies, reading them books and participating in a lesson plan with students. It was on that trip when Sexter met a first-grade student, one of the only Jewish students at Shriver, according to the teacher.

“He didn’t know many other Jewish people, so he felt left out,” Sexter said. “I talked to him about Judaism, since it was right after Hannukah, and he said something that made me feel good. After I said ‘I celebrate the same holiday as you do,’ he said we are like cousins. That’s when I knew I was doing something impactful.” 

From the start of the 2018-2019 school year, one of Sulbaran’s primary goals was to provide all of the 822 students at Shriver with a toy for Christmas. According to Sulbaran, most families at Shriver have Latin American origins, and therefore observe Christmas, but do not have the financial stability to give gifts. In order to mitigate stress from parents and provide a surprise for students, Sulbaran reached out to local institutions, asking for toy donations for students. 

“It is difficult for their parents to make ends meet and some of them come to school with ripped shoes that are taped together.” Landy said. “We know how privileged our students [at JDS] are, so we decided to try to help out and were successful in collecting close to 1,000 toys.”

The drive instantly became a “passion” for Landy and the delegation of students when they heard about the opportunity, which ultimately inspired them to reach out to the larger JDS community in search of toys to give to students in kindergarten through fifth grade at Shriver.

“See, here were 822 kids who never get a Christmas present. I mean their parents can barely buy shoes. Their shoes are taped together when they are ripped,” Landy said. “We know how much the kids in the school have, so we started collecting, and collected way over 500 toys.”

As an incentive to bring toys, the delegation of students created a raffle, in which anyone who donated a new toy received five tickets and all who donated a gently used toy received three tickets. The winners of the raffle were drawn at Kabbalat Shabbat on Jan. 18  and received prizes such as airpods, parking spots and homework passes. 

Once the drive was over and toys were collected, the delegation returned to help sort the toys. Along with other churches and community centers, JDS was successful in collecting a large number of toys. 

“I feel very proud of our community that we came together to help others,” Landy said.

Given that JDS is Shriver’s only school partnership, the Shriver community is appreciative of the work JDS students have done to support them. According to Sulbaran, teachers are particularly grateful for the support, as it allows them to focus on other assignments, or spend time with other students who need extra help. Similarly, Shriver students are appreciative of JDS’ presence and “happy to make a new friend,” Sulbaran said. 

“The teachers and the kids do not take it for granted and I feel very honored to be helping them,” Sexter said. “That is sort of what I like most about it, knowing that I do something that most people don’t usually get to do, and other people appreciate it a lot.” 

This story was featured in the Volume 36, Issue 4 edition of The Lion’s Tale, published on January 25, 2019.