Brearley’s long-standing commitment to community service complements and supports academic education, in that it requires understanding, compassion, hard work and perseverance. In this way, students come to see community service not as a task to complete but as a responsibility connected to the society around them. Their ongoing, engaged participation in their various communities helps them develop and refine their emergent sense of self.
Service begins in the Lower School, with a sequence of projects and trips that give students a sense of their potential, even at a young age, to contribute in the world. In addition to joining activities at the nearby All Souls Friday Lunch Program, students also work within their own school community and post reminders of standards, such as holding doors for others, around the building. Girls in Class III become reading buddies with girls in Class I, and girls in Class II with Kindergarteners.
The Middle School Service Committee is an active group whose wide range of projects appeals to diverse interests. With support from the Office of Equity and Community Engagement, girls select a variety of activities for the year and advocate for them: these may range from delivering wrapped gifts to hospitalized children to volunteering at an after-school Head Start program. One constant is the annual Class VIII Carnival, which raises funds for a nonprofit organization chosen by the class. In proposing specific projects and arguing their relative merits, students see the impact of their collective efforts and realize their power to effect positive change.
The program in the Upper School is founded on the premise that community service is a personal habit and that it works best when students are guided in their exploration of possible commitments. In Class IX, students participate as a group in a Saturday soup kitchen program and also research and engage in volunteer opportunities. In Classes X and XI, students are required to make a long-standing commitment to a specific cause, activity or organization. Upper Schoolers may also work through school groups like the Brearley Service Committee, assist in Lower School classrooms or tutor children elsewhere. In the spring of senior year, students may choose to devote themselves nearly full time to a project of their choice.
The Upper School also participates in a service day with the Collegiate School. Classes are suspended so that each grade can work together on a project in the community, ranging from planting trees on Randall’s Island to volunteering at the New York Public Library. In recent years, students have focused on youth homelessness, educational inequity and leadership development for girls at a partner charter school. Increasingly, in the Middle and Upper Schools, students are making a connection between identity, diversity, justice and action. By understanding the differences that exist between themselves and others, and the challenges that ensue, they learn to be advocates for themselves and for others through their personal and collective commitment to service.