OCS Key Club members clean up the sand dunes near Mission Bay
OCS Key Club members clean up the sand dunes near Mission Bay.

By Sarah Beauchemin

Volunteerism is a crucial part of any middle or high school experience. The opportunity to serve one’s community by helping those in need builds a strong character and work ethic in young learners.

The O’Farrell Charter School – a leading TK through 12 AVID charter school in San Diego – makes sure its students gain this important community awareness early on.

It begins in middle school, where one of the ways sixth through eighth graders can complete their required hours of community service is through Community Clean Ups. At the high school, ninth through 12th graders may continue their community service involvement by enrolling in Key Club – an international student-led volunteer organization.

Both the Community Clean Ups and Key Club allow students to realize their place in a global society and to also appreciate the value of helping their community grow and improve in many different ways.

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For information about enrolling your child at OCS, please visit ofarrellschool.org.

Taking Pride In Their Surroundings

OCS middle school students learn to serve their community by completing 12 hours of required community service per school year split among three categories: home, school and in the community at large. The voluntary Community Clean Ups satisfy the “community” service category.

OCS middle schoolers tidy up the neighborhood during a Community Clean Up
OCS middle schoolers tidy up the neighborhood during a Community Clean Up event.

“During the Community Clean Ups, we go into the school’s surrounding neighborhood and pick up trash,” said Duryea Jones, OCS Math Department Chair and Community Clean Ups co-advisor. “By doing this, students connect with the community and see the importance of keeping their own environment clean.”

The positive response students get from the community while they’re outside hard at work further highlights the importance of their roles as community stewards.

“While we’re out cleaning up, people come out of their houses to thank us, or those driving by honk and give us the thumbs up,” said Jones. “The kids love it and feel very proud.”

But Community Clean Ups also teach students a valuable lesson in environmental conservation.

“As they’re cleaning up, students constantly comment on the amount of trash we collect and the types of items we’re picking up,” said Jones. “They’re completely shocked by what, and how much, people are throwing into the streets.”

This gives them perspective on how their own individual actions have a lasting impact on their community and on our global environment.

“Our underserved students don’t have the ability to donate money or possessions to their community,” said Eddie Jones, OCS Dean of Students and Community Clean Ups co-advisor. “But Community Clean Ups teach them that giving doesn’t have to be about donating material things – it can just be about doing a good service for others. This also gives them confidence that they can accomplish many things in life simply with patience and perseverance.”

Building Character And Leadership Skills

By the time OCS middle schoolers reach high school, they’re prepared to take the next step with Key Club, whose members around the world learn how to lead and stand for what’s right through service and volunteerism.

“At OCS, Key Club members perform community service activities like cleaning up parks, collecting clothing, and organizing food and blood drives on campus,” said Jessica Nguyen, OCS high school instructor and Key Club advisor.

OCS Key Club members help out at the 2018 San Diego Half Marathon
OCS Key Club members help out at the 2018 San Diego Half Marathon.

Since Key Club students have the responsibility of directly organizing and overseeing these, they gain essential leadership and management skills at the same time.

During the 2017-18 school year, the OCS Key Club completed over 750 hours of service in San Diego. Some notable projects were Race for Autism, Liver Walk, 80s Marathon and the SD Half Marathon – all of which meant showing up at 5 a.m. to volunteer.

Students also worked on environmental cleanup assignments at Chollas Creek and the sand dunes at Mission Bay and assisted at Kitchens for Good, learning how to prepare and cook meals for those in need.

“I strongly believe that by getting out into other San Diego communities and helping people, Key Club students grow and develop their empathy, compassion and leadership abilities,” said Nguyen.

“Students start to realize that the world is much larger than just what is currently happening around each of them,” she said. “It lets them understand how other people might live.”

Key Club also helps students build meaningful connections with the different businesses and organizations with whom they volunteer. They learn how to be professional, assertive and poised.

“Learning these interactions is especially important for OCS students, most of whom come from underserved communities, because they might not have these same networking opportunities otherwise,” said Nguyen. “It also helps them tell a more holistic, intriguing story of who they are when they apply to college.”

No matter what professional path OCS students choose to take in their post-high school career, they’ll undoubtedly be equipped with all the skills they need for lifelong success.

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