This year, the Spotlight on Student Learning includes occasional profiles of teachers or staff who serve a unique role in supporting students. This month, as the Spotlight focuses on service learning initiatives at the high schools, we decided to profile MHS counselor Stefanie Manalo-LeClair. We sat down with Ms. Manalo-LeClair in her office on a recent afternoon and talked with her about the impact of service on student development.
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Stefanie Manalo-LeClair has been working with students at MHS for three years. A graduate of Loyola Marymount College, she has a Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Washington in Seattle and a credential in school psychology from St. Mary’s College. Prior to joining the faculty at MHS, Ms. Manalo-LeClair worked as a paraeducator and a special education paraeducator at Beach Elementary School. In addition, she coordinated private support services for children whose parents were going through a divorce, and taught art programs for kids through both the City of Oakland and private art studios.
What is your role at MHS?
We have a small faculty and we’re all dedicated to understanding the needs of each student. As the school counselor, I meet with each student individually at least a few times each year, and some students meet with me more often, some on a regular basis. This gives me the opportunity to get to know their needs and interests, and their challenges. I meet with groups of sophomores every month to talk about goals — how to set goals, how to develop short- and long-term plans to meet the goals, how to ensure that their actions will lead them toward achieving their goals. I talk with juniors individually about college planning, and I talk with seniors individually about their college applications. I work with the teachers here to help make sure each student has whatever support is needed. And I’m always available to meet with families. The strong connections we have with families helps us understand the whole student.
How is service learning incorporated into the curriculum at MHS?
Service is part of the culture of the school. There are many opportunities for students to learn outside of the traditional classroom and engage with the school and broader community.
One example is that every other school year starts with an all-school service retreat. Last year we went to Joaquin Miller Park where we talked about economic disparity in the Bay Area, and the reality that many students in nearby Bay Area communities lack basic school supplies. This lack of supplies makes it more difficult for those students to succeed academically. MHS Students and teachers then packed 350 new backpacks with school supplies for students at a bilingual elementary school in Oakland. This year we went to Camp Augusta for students to have the opportunity to get to know one another through small group activities.
Another example is that la group from both MHS and PHS attended Camp Everytown, which organizes community-building retreats for students. We spent time exploring stereotypes and real or perceived barriers among groups. We talked about how we need to be sensitive and respectful in the way we talk with each other. Students came back from Camp Everytown really supportive of each other, with a strong sense of belonging in the school community, and looking beyond themselves.
How do students benefit from these kinds of service programs?
When students serve and support each other, and serve the larger community, it helps them see how much they have to offer. Sometimes it catches them by surprise — some students are surprised to discover that they can make a difference for someone else. It can be empowering to realize that you can do something to create change — you have skills and you have compassion.
Service lessens the focus on themselves, and they recognize that. Service helps students to see that not everyone lives as they do, not everyone is as fortunate as they are. Everyone can benefit from help and compassion.
Also, there is something powerful about working together to help others. Students bond with each other through service projects. MHS is a small community and students develop alot of loyalty to each other based on their shared experience. They have a big say in what we do here and they know their voice is heard.
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Millennium High School is located at 760 Magnolia Avenue in Piedmont. With 69 students and 7 teachers, MHS is a community of self-paced, independent learners based on values of respect for others and oneself.