We set the foundation for service during the Lower School years. From learning to serve within the doors of Spence, to completing service projects connected to our curriculum, to volunteering at our neighborhood food pantry, our youngest students learn how to use empathy to serve their school and others. Students in every grade level learn about New York Common Pantry and volunteer to bag food for New Yorkers who need food assistance. Through this experience, our students learn what nonprofit organizations do and the rewarding careers available in the nonprofit industry. Building on our identity curriculum, our students learn to connect their identity to the larger community and begin to see how they can be on either end of the helping spectrum—from being helped to being a helper.

Community Action

New York Common Pantry: Every year, Spence takes its Lower School students to the New York Common Pantry. Their activities range from restocking the shelves with food to providing supplies and meals. Students in Kindergarten through Grade 4 visit several times throughout the year. Spence’s collaboration with the Pantry provides a space for students to better understand the local support systems and infrastructures of their community in combating hunger while also teaching them how they can play a role in doing so.

Service Learning by Grade

List of 5 items.

  • Kindergarten

    Our “All About Me” curriculum helps students examine their identities and strengthen their empathy by getting to know and understand each other. Through this work, they begin to connect their individual identity to their identity in the community, including their role in helping the community thrive. They develop their first notion of citizenship within Spence by working on school-based service projects such as helping to clean up the terrace, the lunchroom, etc. 

    The goal of going to NYCP in Kindergarten is to introduce that there are helping groups such as pantries in our neighborhood that assist hungry people, both housed and homeless. Kindergartners learn that food pantries are one way that individuals or a family can acquire food.
  • Grade 1

    In Grade 1, students continue their study of who they are and begin to work on how empathy is connected to identity. Students begin to question what is “fair” and “unfair” in terms of systems that benefit some and oppress others. This introduction to the Civil Rights Movement is also their first look at institutionalized oppression. It is their first glimpse that service to others can be a form of trying to break down and correct oppression.

    The goal of going to NYCP in Grade 1 is to further their understanding of the effects that hunger can have on a person physically and emotionally and to use their study of empathy to comprehend these effects. Additionally, Grade 1 students develop the skills to express their response to volunteering through illustrations, writing and discussions. 
  • Grade 2

    In Grades 2 and 3, students begin to focus their service work more directly on the relationship they are building with New York Common Pantry, as they also learn how nutrition and hygiene affect their bodies and others. The goal of going to NYCP in Grade 2 is the emphasis on NYCP’s Project Dignity. Grade 2 students learn the meaning of the word “dignity” and learn the importance of hygiene alongside nutrition. They then run a toiletry drive for the Lower School to collect items to donate to Project Dignity, including towels, diapers and other bath products. In Grade 3, their work at NYCP is focused on achieving deeper understanding of the importance of nutrition and why healthy members of a community make healthier communities.

    Grade 3 students also visit another neighborhood partner, the Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center, to perform their choral concert for the seniors. Prior to the trip, students discuss why companionships is important for healthy living and why seniors specifically are in need of community and companionship. 
  • Grade 3

    In Grades 2 and 3, students begin to focus their service work more directly on the relationship they are building with New York Common Pantry, as they also learn how nutrition and hygiene affect their bodies and others. The goal of going to NYCP in Grade 2 is the emphasis on NYCP’s Project Dignity. Grade 2 students learn the meaning of the word “dignity” and learn the importance of hygiene alongside nutrition. They then run a toiletry drive for the Lower School to collect items to donate to Project Dignity, including towels, diapers and other bath products. In Grade 3, their work at NYCP is focused on achieving deeper understanding of the importance of nutrition and why healthy members of a community make healthier communities.

    Grade 3 students also visit another neighborhood partner, the Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center, to perform their choral concert for the seniors. Prior to the trip, students discuss why companionships is important for healthy living and why seniors specifically are in need of community and companionship. 
  • Grade 4

    Oyster Project: Working with the Riverkeepers of New York City, an NGO striving to sustain and improve the ecosystem of the Hudson River, the fourth grade focuses on oysters in their classroom service learning project. Students visit the 79th Street Boat Basin three times throughout the year, not only to learn about our local marine life but also participate in data collection and analysis. From there, they take their findings back to Spence to understand how external factors, such as seasonal change, affected wildlife and how organizations like Riverkeepers are finding ways to spread knowledge and support for our local ecosystems. Recently, Spence fourth-grade students independently organized a fundraiser of custom-made T-shirts, which raised more than $3,000 for Riverkeepers.

    The goal of going to NYCP in Grade 4 is to make a connection to two units of study on Identity and change-makers. Grade 4 students think about how people who work in a pantry have chosen a career of change-making and NYCP as a change-making institution. Grade 4 students also reflect on the social structures of our city and the identity of those whom the pantry serves. This work in Grade 4 sets the stage for students to take a deeper look at institutionalized oppression in our city as they make their way into Middle School.