Piedmont High LEAPS into Service

By Courtney Goen, PHS Social Studies Teacher

LEAP logo final jpegThe Piedmont High School service-learning program LEAP (Learn, Engage, Act, Partner) encourages students to collaborate, problem-solve, organize, and hone their leadership and communication skills–tools they will need in the “real world.”  Service-learning curriculum also builds empathy, leading to a more positive climate on campus, which, as research shows, makes people feel good and promotes happier and healthier habits.  In addition, students drive these projects and activities to make it relevant to their lives and reflect their passions.  In her own words, senior Mariah Papy, president of the PHS LEAP club, has been involved with service-learning “because it is incredible to watch others in my grade become inspired to help our community with a project we have worked so hard on.”

Why service learning at PHS? Why now? The 2014 Challenge for Success survey reported that: “45% of the [PHS] students ‘do school;’ they often or always work hard, but they rarely, if ever, find their schoolwork interesting, fun, or valuable.” In the same survey, students reported that what makes their classes interesting is when the topic is relevant to their lives. The PHS service-learning team hopes to specifically target, promote, and address this need on our campus.

Our focus includes working with individual teachers to create service-learning curriculum in their classes, such as a possible reading buddies program with elementary schools, partnering with community organizations like Stop Waste to create a student-and-green-inspired landscape shift on our campus, and by providing meaningful leadership opportunities for all students at all levels.  In addition, this initiative has created a platform for teachers to learn and be inspired from each other by highlighting and sharing individual teachers successes with service learning–such as social studies teacher Janine Sohn connecting her Law and Society curriculum with a field trip to a local charitable organization, or Diana Miller asking her students to analyze hate crime data as part of her math curriculum.

The LEAP team is also finalizing our activities and projects for the Service Learning Morning (SLAM!) on Friday, May 20th. For more specifics about each grade level, see below for more details and testimony from our grade-level liaisons.

Working with individual teachers, creating grade-level projects, and partnering with community members, the LEAP service-learning program aims to engage  students beyond the traditional classroom setting and help them make an impact in the real-world of Piedmont and beyond. To get a better sense of what the LEAP program entails, please join us in a student film festival on Wednesday, March 23 in the Allen Harvey Theatre from 7 to 8 pm. This is a community event and will promote the service-learning program on our campus.

–Courtney Goen, Social Studies Instructor and Service-Learning Coordinator


9th Grade/Teacher Liaison Marna Chamberlain: The freshmen class will be connecting their science curriculum with the real-world discussions of alternative energy by creating, assembling, then donating solar notebook chargers. This innovative project designed by 9th grade science teacher and service-learning liaison, Marna Chamberlain, aims to create an opportunity for students to build machines utilizing a variety of tools and skills that will make access to electricity a little easier. This project will partner with Tor Rahus and the Solar Schoolhouse organization in the same fashion in a previous year with solar ovens. In addition, students will donate these notebooks to local Elizabeth House, which serves women and children in need, and some of the same Native American Reservations that received solar ovens from the class of 2017.


10th Grade/Teacher Liaison Debbi Hill: The sophomore class aims to build on English and social studies curriculum to provide the service of research, advocacy, and awareness.  Students will make arguments, propose solutions, and engage in meaningful conversations with each other about social issues.  20 sophomores have self selected to become service-learning leaders and facilitate discussions about discrimination, privilege, and inspire their classmates to raise awareness and propose solutions to inequity.  In a recent training with last year’s leaders, returning junior leader Victoria Hou stated: “Helping to educate our peers is really important because privilege is something that is not very understood in places that are not very diverse.” The valuable skills gleaned from this experience will not only help prepare sophomores for their junior year, it will help foster empathy and awareness on our campus. In the words of Veronica Wong, “People still need to be aware of their privilege and even though we are not giving direct service, this activity of education is of itself a service.”

11th Grade leaders at a recent training workshop with sophomores

11th Grade leaders at a recent training workshop with sophomores


11th Grade/Teacher Liaison Susan Stutzman: Juniors will focus on the theme of poverty and will continue the work of the original junior student service-learning leaders who formed partnerships with local organizations serving youth in need. This year’s leaders are launching collection drives to gather toiletry items for homeless or runaway teens, gently-used clothing for low-income teens as well as a book drive (new this year) for low-income preschool and elementary school children. Juniors also make sandwiches for an organization serving the homeless in Berkeley. To make their work more relevant, juniors will hear from representatives from the receiving organizations and will also participate in workshops with professionals who will lead students in an exploration of the root causes of poverty and an understanding of how to approach solutions to these complex problems.  


12th Grade/Teacher Liaison Korynne Headley: Senior LEAP students have the unique opportunity to go off campus, fan across our county, and connect face to face with our neighbors. This year we are continuing our relationships with  Alameda County Food Bank, Society of St. Vincent de Paul: Community Center and Dining Room, Med Share , and Rebuilding Together Oakland Warehouse. These excellent organizations provide the opportunity to be connected both locally and globally. In an effort to increase  relationships with neighborhood communities,  LEAP has formed new partnerships with Lake Merritt Institute and Homeless Homes Project to build awareness of what is happening just past our doorsteps and to learn how we can provide localized support. As our seniors prepare to leave their homes  for college and choose careers paths, LEAP hopes to plant seeds that show our future leaders that there are a variety of perspectives and ways to provide solutions to problems.

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