“Community service is particularly important to the Middle School. It’s part of the fabric of our program to give back and to become more self-aware and learn how, in some small way, to improve someone’s day” said Beth Repp, middle school teacher and organizer of KO’s community service program.
Walking through the foyer of the Estes Middle School building, you might think you’re in an aisle at your local Shop Rite or Big Y as brown boxes laden with soups, stuffing, green beans, macaroni and cheese line the hall ready to make their scheduled Thanksgiving delivery to Loaves and Fishes, a soup kitchen and food pantry located in the Asylum Hill neighborhood in Hartford, an area with a very low food security issue.
For the past 15 years, KO students have been involved with Loaves and Fishes, volunteering once a month as part of their community service rotation. Loaves and Fishes’ mission is to provide those in Hartford a daily lunch, often the only meal that some people will have on a given day. The organization’s website states that 33% of the people who utilize their soup kitchen are considered the “working poor.”
“The kids have a really good time organizing the boxes and writing letters to the families. There’s a lot of energy around it, and they definitively get competitive in their advisee groups. The kids love to give. It’s wonderful,” said Repp.
Another aspect of KO’s community service at the Middle School is partnering with fourth and fifth-grade students at Fox Elementary School in Hartford tutoring them in math skills and reading every week on a Thursday in the Fox library. “Going into a school that is nothing like KO is eye-opening for our students. Our students are becoming more grateful and understand how fortunate they are for the things they have,” said Repp.
One initiative that brings much joy is the Middle School “Giving Tree. Organized through a local Hartford church, a local child writes a descriptor of an item they would love to receive for the holidays - from the practical (ski pants) to the whimsical (dolls) - that a family may not be able to afford. Thirty candy canes hang on a tree with a descriptor, and a KO student chooses very carefully the proper gift to purchase for the child. The student brings the unwrapped gift to KO, places it under the tree and then the group wraps all of the treats with fanciful paper which are delivered into Hartford.
As part of our ethos of “caring beyond self,” our middle schoolers also play bingo every week with the residents of St. Mary’s and volunteer once a month on Friday at Auerfarm in Bloomfield. Community service isn’t just a “nice to have” component of KO’s curriculum. It’s an integrated, holistic approach to raising principled young people with integrity.