The Youth Engagement Zone at Banana Kelly:Year End Celebration!

By Stephanie Gilman, Program Manager

[pullquote]So many of the students getting awards are those that feel invisible or alienated at school.[/pullquote]

With the school year winding down, we’re taking the opportunity to recognize the hard work our students and staff have put into making the Youth Engagement Zone at Banana Kelly such a success. No one was quite sure what to expect–integrating service learning with urban high school curriculum presents challenges for which there are no ready-made solution. But as stories right here on the blog have shown, the last semester in particular has been a rewarding one. We’ve seen students reaching out to their communities, to each other, and to themselves–to the selves they might not have realized they had within them.

Our Year End Celebration was designed to engage in the same manner that our service project and field trips engage. We handed out lots of awards and watched a video montage with footage and stills from the whole academic year. 9/10th grade Guidance counselor Sandra Rivera-Perez noted to me how moved she was by the festivities–“So many of the students getting awards are those that feel invisible or alienated at school,” she said. “And many others might be considered ‘bad’ or unwilling to engage.” Today was about putting the spotlight on all of them.

Engagement across the board has led to achievement across the board. Many of the Youth Engagement Zone’s projects, such as the community garden and the school store, are still going strong and will continue into next year. We handed out awards to our gardeners, as well to students who excelled at our Paint4Change Service Day, our senior interns, our The Point volunteers, students with notable service hours, and many others.

Reflecting on strategy is a crucial part of service learning, and I was happy to be able to fuse assessment with celebration for this year end event.. It was a truly emotional few hours at Banana Kelly; students and teachers are still coming up to me with inspired reminiscences about the “energy in the room.” And as I welcomed next year’s class at new student orientation later in the day, I was reminded that this is only the beginning. I look forward to continuing my reflections here on the blog, and to engaging with the Bronx’s youth in even more exciting ways.