Senior service learning program provides ‘impactful’ opportunities


Photo credit: Nyah Fernandez

Senior Maddie Fenster talked to students about why access to education is important for homeless children in society today and she also gave insight on her organization “School on Wheels” to junior Madis Kennedy.

Empowering. Passionate. Impactful. These are some of the words service learning coordinator and history teacher Margaret Shirk used to describe Archer’s service learning program. From 9th through twelfth grade, students at Archer have the opportunity to participate in service learning projects with the goal of making a positive impact on contemporary issues.

Shirk said the program was implemented in 2014 in order for students to work with “different communities” and “gain overall life experience.” Successful students can earn bronze, silver or gold awards for their work depending on grade level.

Maddie Fenster: School On Wheels

This year, senior Maddie Fenster has been spreading awareness of her service learning project to other grades in the Archer community. She is focusing on access to education by working with an organization called School On Wheels. According to the organization’s website, School On Wheels volunteers provide free tutoring to children living in shelters, motels, vehicles, group foster homes and on the streets in Southern California.

“I think that everyone who is here at Archer is really privileged in terms of education and just the access to incredible teachers and resources that we have,” Fenster said. “A lot of people don’t realize that homeless students lose about three months of education every time they move.”

School on Wheels volunteers tutor each individual student in terms of their needs while also helping them with basic educational skills.

“In ninth grade, I knew that I wanted to tutor and I wanted to help with access to education because I think that child literacy is super important,” Fenster said. “I was really privileged in that my parents read to me as a kid — and [that] in and of itself makes a huge difference.”

Fenster described her experience in the five-year-old service learning program as having an “impactful” role in her life.

“Community service is more than getting school-mandated hours,” Fenster said. “I think that it is also a really good opportunity to connect with other students within the Archer communities.”  

Hannah Kim: Love in Music

For her service learning project, fellow senior Hannah Kim focuses on teaching young children about the importance of music.

Photo credit: Nyah Fernandez
On the day of the Archer Action Fair, Hannah Kim ‘20 talked about her service learning project to other Archer students in the community. She described why she is passionate about music for her service learning project and gave information on how other people can get involved with her organization “Love in Music.”

Kim works with the organization Love in Music, which, through volunteers and partnerships, works to “help build a more loving, healthy and strong community using the gift of music as a tool to meet the needs of young children.”

“I know how much music has changed the way I developed intellectually, the way I relieve stress and the way I express myself,” Kim said. “If people are blocked from those resources and that kind of talent or gift,  I don’t actually think it’s fair at all. I had the privilege to be able to afford buying instruments and getting private lessons. There are a lot of students in my area who don’t have the means to get that kind of education.”

Celeste Ramirez: (ABC)

Senior Celeste Ramirez has based her service learning project on education and how it correlates with racial inequality.

Ramirez works with an organization called A Better Chance (ABC).  The organization has “served talented students of color by opening the doors through which they can best develop their innate potential,” according to its website.

Ramirez said it is “surprising” and “sad” that, in Los Angeles, the neighborhoods students live in determine the quality of education they receive.

“I firsthand knew what it was like to be one of those students, and then I came to Archer, and I realized ‘Wow — there is so much more other schools offer,'” Ramirez said. “I wanted to go back and mentor more students and show them that there is a way to get to a school like Archer.”

Ramirez said the achievement gap is a “huge problem.” She does not think she will solve the problem, but she wants to do her part by mentoring more students.

“It ground[s] me,” she said, “and I think that’s why it is really beneficial for me.” 

Service as education

Throughout her years at Archer, Shirk has focused on highlighting the importance of service learning without making it mandatory.

When they start their projects, students think that they are helping others,” Shirk said, “but through the process, I think that [the students] are the ones who grow immensely.”

Fenster expressed appreciation that, at Archer, community service is a great “opportunity” and something that “you are lucky enough to have the time to do.” 

Finding something that works with you and will work with your schedule, your time and your commitment is really important,” Fenster said. “You have the passion to drive and work harder for the topic you are trying to spread awareness through around Archer.” 

Shirk recommends students don’t “bite off more than [they] can chew” with their projects but find a passion that “lights [their] fire.”

“At the end of the day, I want to empower all Archer students and know that they have the power to change the world,” Shirk said. “If they leave believing that, I think the program is working.”