In the fall of 2016, a group of 25 dedicated students initiated an evaluation of service-learning opportunities at Menlo-Atherton High School. The students were inspired by having performed international service in Central America and hoped to make a difference in their local communities.
The student group met voluntarily each week, tackling the issue of expanding service-learning opportunities; they eventually sought out a meeting at the Stanford University d.school (design school).After spending a full day in the Design Center, the students came up with the idea for a Service-Learning Center at M-A, envisioning a physical space where they could nurture service to the community and build new programs.
The students had already tackled major initiatives on campus, including a language exchange for Spanish and English learners (Intercambio), an Environmental Club that sponsors sustainability initiatives and beach clean-ups (Surfriders), and a mural on-campus that espouses service-learning values. The students also participated in the creation of a spacious garden to be tended by students with learning disabilities, and honored those students with well-thought-out mentoring programs (Pride Pals). These powerful students created a strong brand for their service programs.
The students’ next step was to use design thinking to transform the Service-Learning Center from idea to reality. The students implemented a survey and conducted empathy interviews; they clearly outlined the lack of service-learning opportunities on campus.
The next step was ideation, during which students welcomed submission of all ideas. Using divergent thinking (a process that generates more creative ideas), the students explored many possible solutions for expanding service learning at Menlo-Atherton. The students then created a virtual prototype of the Service-Learning Center, which included a central location for several service clubs, a service calendar and weekend service opportunities and immersions.
In fall of 2017, the students were invited for a tour and brainstorming session at the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University led by Dr. Luke Terra. The group learned how a service-learning center could function, and, more importantly, how to generate dialogue and guide students who might be new to service learning. Additionally, the group partnered with a Stanford fellow from the Haas center, David Michael Fischer, who began to document the progress. Fischer researched and wrote a three-year strategic plan for the SLC. The group then formed partnerships with other service organizations in the area, such as the Menlo Park Rotary, the Shinnyo-en Foundation and the Jefferson Awards receiving much needed resources and expertise.
In January 2018, the students created a Service-Learning Day, built a website, designed the physical space and continued to nurture their service initiatives. They added three major service-learning initiatives: a Belle Haven Garden project; a program focused on youth mentorship called Step Up and a service group called Empower for young women.
The Menlo-Atherton Service-Learning Center (SLC) now has a clear mission to provide accessible service opportunities, empowering students of all backgrounds to find purpose by serving the Menlo-Atherton community. We hope to expand our service footprint by nurturing Bear Clubs, Bear Classes and Bear Days.