Building on the grade-level service projects in our Middle School, the Upper School service experience is focused on giving students an opportunity to commit to a nonprofit organization for an extended period of time through the grade service project, with an emphasis on using service work as a tool for social justice. It is during these four years of development that we hope students gain a deeper understanding of some of our most complex and enduring understandings about service: that social inequities were started and are perpetuated by individuals and institutions with power, that race impacts experience, and that service work can be social justice work.
Throughout Grade 9, our students work in their advisories to explore issues in NYC that they believe are unjust. After researching some of these issues and the nonprofits that exist to combat the issues, the grade chooses one nonprofit organization with which to partner over the remainder of their high school career. In Grades 10-12, our students hear from guest speakers, read articles, and engage in other activities that allow them to better understand the issue at hand, its history in NYC, and whom it directly affects. As a grade, they volunteer with the nonprofit organization and are challenged to find how they can not only be of day-to-day service to those directly affected by the issue but also be an activist to end the issue in NYC.
Students who have an individual passion to fight a social injustice can build a Step Up Step Out program that not only educates the Upper School students about the issue but also provides ways for peers to volunteer and become activists.
Through our four-year grade projects and Step Up Step Out programs, we are educating students who choose to be a force of change in their communities and to be activists for social justice through how they serve.

Grade Projects

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  • Class of 2018 – Partner Nonprofit: Midnight Run

    Midnight Run seeks to create a bond between the housed and the homeless. By partnering with Midnight Run, our students have the opportunity to learn about the history of homelessness and policies that address homelessness in NYC, to volunteer to go on runs to provide daily necessities such as food and clothing for those who are homeless, and to use their voices to be activists for fair treatment and the right to housing.
  • Class of 2019 – Partner Nonprofit: Celebrate U

    Celebrate U provides birthday parties for young children who are currently living in shelters or who are disabled or infirmed. By partnering with Celebrate U, our students have the opportunity to learn about how the shelter system affects children, to volunteer at parties that bring joy to children, and to use their voices to be not only activists for but also friends to young people.

Step Up Step Out Student-Led Projects

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  • Concerts in Motion

    United through music, Spence Scores is a group of students who travel together to hospitals and nursing homes to perform for the bedridden or elderly. They model their work after the organization Concerts in Motion, a group that provides musical concerts to those in need, such as the elderly or infirm. 
  • Harlem Academy

    The Upper School has connected with Harlem Academy, an independent, nonprofit school, to create a shared channel of leadership, guidance and learning. Spence students mentor Harlem Academy students in Grades 1-8 to help them excel academically and socially.  
  • Hospital Outreach Club

    This Step Up Step Out project was started by Grace M ’16 with a desire to express care for pediatric patients. Partnering with Lincoln Hospital in The Bronx, the members of the Hospital Outreach Club visit pediatric patients every month, collect books and toys for the hospital, organize art projects for the patients, and hold a dress drive for the Memorial Sloane Kettering pediatric prom.
  • Month of Service

    The Month of Service is an annual event hosted by the Community Service Organization to raise awareness of four different nonprofits in NYC over four weeks. Each week is dedicated to a different organization, such as Joyful Heart, New York Common Pantry, Robin Hood, and the Gabriela Legaspi Foundation. These organizations are selected based on the interests and volunteer work of the student members. During each week of the Month of Service, the students host events such as Coin Wars and food drives that benefit the nonprofit of the week.
  • Stanley Isaacs Center Dance Program

    This Step Up Step Out project was started by Mary C ’17 with a desire to bring her love of dance to children who did not have access to dance classes. She teaches an afternoon dance class for children ages 6 to 10, and the program is slated to continue even after her graduation.
  • Susan G. Komen Walk

    Spence students annually organize a student team for this walk that raises money for cancer research. 
  • Upper School Peer Tutoring

    Fully run by students, this organization pairs Upper School students with Middle School students to provide extra academic assistance based on referrals from Spence teachers.
  • Young Sages

    What began as one student’s effort to connect to her local elderly community has grown into a Spence communitywide effort. Spence Sages emerged to partner with DOROT, a nonprofit that provides a range of services for the elderly. Teams of Middle and Upper School Spence students visit the local elderly providing company, leading activities, and raising money for programming. The founder of Young Sages, Spence student Morgan S., organized a photo exhibit at the DOROT headquarters profiling the living histories of the elderly community she has come to know. As she said, “[the local elderly] want to learn about what’s going on” and “[the Spence Sages] want to learn from them.”