School’s community projects solve problems at home and afar

This year’s Friday Harbor High School’s Community Service-Learning Class went as far as Papua New Guinea and Romania, and as close as the high school itself.

The 27 student-generated projects focused on addressing problems in a community service-oriented way, both at home and abroad.

“It’s a required course, but it’s so important because it brings all their skills that they’ve learned throughout school high and puts them to good use,” said Jenny Wilson, who has taught the class at the high school for the last four years.

Wilson said that a long part of the process is actually choosing the project itself, which takes about three weeks, to find an issue that the students feel passionate about. The students work singly or in pairs, and are accompanied by a mentor.

The first step in choosing their project looks at whether they want to help people, animals or the environment, and make a list of problems that need to be addressed in the world and locally. Then, they make a set of goals and dive in to try and make a difference in just one semester. According to Wilson, the class is fairly student-run, with a nominated president and vice-president, so that the students take ownership of their projects.

This year’s president was Jillian Brandli, who did a project with Yasmin Sarah on a local arts program. The vice president was Griffin Cuomo, who based his project on access to school supplies in Papua New Guinea.

Brandli and Sarah’s project looked at the STAR Program at Friday Harbor Middle School, a supervised after-school program hosted by Island Rec.

“We were very interested in working with children and working with them, we had both taken art classes at the high school,” Brandli said.

Together with mentor Jennifer Armstrong of the Family Resource Center, the pair set up a twice weekly, one hour long class that they taught throughout November of varying art projects such as origami.

Overall, Brandli said, the two learned to work with multiple nonprofit organizations like 4H, Family Resource Center and Island Rec, as well as networking, deadlines, teaching and grant proposal writing.

Juniors Iella Parker and Haileigh Allen also took the approach of teaching in their project for the class, though they focused on the local middle school and teaching environmental lessons. Working with mentor Binney Haenel at the middle school, they found that recycling wasn’t as widespread or available as it could be. The two used posters, trivia and lesson plans to spread awareness.

“For our first class, we went in really prepared, but it turned out that a couple days of research only filled 15 minutes,” Allen said.

It was a tough lesson to learn, but helped them to be more prepared with future classes.

Although the two hadn’t considered pursuing a job in teaching after high school, they both said that the experience broadened their horizons in terms of a future in teaching. It also empowered them to know that they could create lesson plans and successfully work with kids.

Parker said she became more knowledgeable about recycling, but learned even more about teaching skills like communication and keeping a timeline.

Brandli, Parker, Allen and 24 other students spent 30 minutes Wednesday, Jan. 13 showcasing what their goals were, what they learned, and what aspects of the project were difficult to their friends and family.

“That’s the touching part, really,” Wilson said. “I love that evening because the parents are just amazed at how poised their child is at giving their presentation because the project came from their heart so they’re able to be very genuine about it and very proud. It’s lovely to watch.”