Students Volunteer to Learn

Students Volunteer to Learn

Flint Hill School, which held graduation Saturday, won award in April for its volunteer program.

The Flint Hill School in Oakton operates on the belief that only part of a student's education comes from textbooks, while the rest is to be learned on the streets. This is why Flint Hill students can be found working at charities like Martha's Table in D.C. and Food for Others in Fairfax, as well as at stream cleanups, animal shelters, churches and anywhere else that help may be needed.

It is part of the school's mission statement that students be encouraged to "think globally, analytically and responsibly about complex world issues" and "respond locally through service to others." To support this mission, the school stages annual service days and requires 10 hours of community service from eighth-graders and 15 hours annually from ninth- through 12th-graders.

"There's a decent amount of people who do more than that," said Julia Korzeniewski, a recent graduate and the head of the Flint Hill Upper School's Service Club for the last two years, noting that 30 people at the school — including one teacher — received presidential service awards for logging over 100 hours of volunteer work. That's out of 431 students in the Upper School.

"The students have really put an emphasis on community service as part of what we do at the school," said Suzanne Pidgeon, Flint Hill's community service coordinator. While Pidgeon helps to make volunteer efforts happen, students in the Service Club often come up with the ideas for service projects, as well as helping other students meet their service requirements.

She noted that volunteer hours are spent working for parks and recreation departments and veterinary clinics as well as the more traditional food banks. "It's a very well-rounded and accomplished program," she said.

THE SCHOOL was nominated by Reston Interfaith, a nonprofit organization that works with the area's needy poor and with which Flint Hill students have collaborated on myriad projects.

Korzeniewski said members of the Service Club have come to find fulfillment in community service and try to pass that enjoyment on to other students by connecting them with programs that suit their interests.

"I think everyone in the Service Club has found organizations where it's gotten to the point that it doesn't really feel like service anymore," she said. Although some may initially view the service requirements as a task, said Korzeniewski, "most people, once they do it, they seem to really enjoy it."

She said some of her own service hours have been spent helping her father host a golf tournament to benefit the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and she has taught Sunday school for preschoolers at her church for the last three years because she enjoys it. "You're supposed to get something from doing your service, too," she said.

One student who has taken to his volunteer work is rising senior John Mooney, who received one of the two Youth Volunteer awards bestowed this year by Volunteer Fairfax for his having logged some 640 volunteer hours riding with a medic unit for the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department. Now, after just over a year at the fire department, those hours have climbed upwards of 1,000, said Mooney from the fire station, where he was working a 24-hour shift Monday.

"At this point, I think it's something I want to do as a career," he said. "I like the work, and there's good camaraderie. The work is a lot of fun most of the time."

Mooney, who is trained in CPR, carries and hooks up equipment for his medic unit and takes care of details like putting patients on oxygen and setting up IV bags.

During the school year, he said, he usually works a 12-hour shift on Fridays and the occasional 24-hour shift on holidays. Now that school is out, he will be putting in many more hours.

Mooney said he plans to get his paramedic's associate's degree and then work full time for a fire department, possibly Fairfax County Fire and Rescue.

Because of Flint Hill's experiential approach to education, said Pidgeon, who has children attending the school, "I know my children are not prepared just to go to college. They're being prepared to be good citizens and great adults."