Bishop England holds inaugural 1st Day of Service
On Monday, August 19, schools across the Lowcountry opened their doors for the start of a new academic year. At Bishop England High School (BEHS) though, the usual first day rituals were noticeably absent from the campus. There were no uniformed students filling the halls…no teachers at their desks…no schedules or lunchboxes or books. Instead, a new school-wide tradition was born: The First Day of Service.
In lieu of the traditional first day spent in their school on Daniel Island, teachers gathered with homeroom classes in locations scattered throughout the Charleston area, including The Ronald McDonald House, Windwood Farms, Greek Orthodox Church, Veterans Hospital, Blessed Sacrament, Home Works, Lowcountry Food Bank, Pet Helpers, Tricounty Family Ministries, Isle of Palms, Folly Beach, Carter-May Nursing Home, and Summit Place. The classes were assigned tasks ranging from cleaning, building repair, gardening, outdoor work, picking up litter, gathering data for the South Carolina Aquarium, organizing canned goods and serving the homeless.
Bishop England social studies teacher Betsy McMillan, and Matt Parry, an English teacher, worked during the summer to coordinate the event. They said that a faculty committee that infuses service into the curriculum came up with the idea to help students realize that serving their neighbors is an integral part of the Catholic mission.
“We don’t want it to be a box they check off to satisfy a mandatory requirement, or something they only do as an individual to get into college,” the teachers added. “As Christians, we believe that it is in giving that we receive. On this inaugural day of giving we wanted to love our neighbor together as one body. Having it on the first day of school underscores to us all that love of neighbor is at the heart of our Catholic mission.”
One of the groups visited The Ronald McDonald House in the heart of downtown Charleston near the Medical University of South Carolina. The charity supports families by providing a home-away-from-home when a child needs complex or long-term medical treatment. It provides housing, meals, and supportive programs at no charge. On the day the students visited, the house was at full capacity.
“We had a great group of students,” said Leigh Nuchols, a volunteer coordinator at The Ronald McDonald House. “They fixed both breakfast and lunch for our families. They fed 32 families that day, two different meals, which was amazing. The students were full of great energy, and we loved having them here.”
Meanwhile, in Awendaw, about 20 students from BEHS traveled to Windwood Farms to help beautify the 110 acre property. They weeded, cleaned out the dog pens and washed the dogs, landscaped around the school, and cleaned out a children’s garden.
“I think having kids volunteer on their first day of school is a great idea,” said Charlotte Livingston, Windwood’s development officer. “It gets them out in the community and helps that home room form relationships and team build.”
Students were receptive to participating in the Day of Service. Senior Nicole Boyd said, “This was our first time doing something like this. It was introduced this year and everyone did projects in different time frames all in the same day. I worked at Pet Helpers for two hours. I loved my project. I got to spend time with animals while giving back – cleaning their rooms and helping Pet Helpers out!”
Ryan Campbell, a junior, spent the day doing home repair projects with Home Works, an organization that provides services to low income homeowners while mentoring youth.
“I worked on a woman’s home,” he said. “We repainted her kitchen, her windows and her window shutters. And we did a lot of just tidying things up and making things look nicer. To me, it was a lot of fun! I got to hang out with my friends but at the same time help someone out. And I got to do things I hadn’t done before!”
“I felt it was a great way to kick off the year by engaging with the community because it will allow us to keep our larger community close to our hearts as we embark on our upcoming academic endeavors,” added Emma Albano, a senior.
When coordinating the Day of Service, McMillan and Parry were pleased with the support they received from parents.
“Most were very excited, donating money to buy construction supplies, garden supplies, food for meals, transportation, and then some even joined us volunteering at beach sweeps, planning, cooking, cleaning, and hammering,” they noted.
Wendy Albano, a parent of a sophomore and a senior at BEHS added, “I was excited for the BE students to spend their first day of school participating in service projects in the community. It was a nice way to start the school year giving their time with their classmates helping others. We want our children to be a part of something bigger than themselves and BE gives them that opportunity.”
Patrick Finneran, principal at BEHS, believes that putting the focus on service is critical to success in education.
“Service to others is essential to our mission as a Catholic school and a need in our community,” he said. “By exposing our students to the many different opportunities to serve others, the hope is to provide them ideas and a passion to help others.”
The first day of school was purposefully chosen to set a tone that encourages helping others throughout the rest of the year.
“It is an expectation that all clubs and athletic teams complete service as part of their mission,” added Finneran. “We have also imbedded service for freshmen in their English class and for seniors in their economics class this school year and will expand it to all four years next school year.”
There will not be any more mandatory service days planned during this school year, but, as McMillan and Parry said, “We will encourage [students] to develop ongoing relationships with any of the places we went as well as finding their own ways to bring joy to others.”
Rosie Ryan, office administrator and BE graduate, concluded, “I think this was a tremendous showing of what BE is all about and I pray that all of us who were fortunate enough to participate will take this with us as a reminder of what our mission should be and that is not only caring for others but helping others as Christians every day of our lives. Love comes in all forms and sharing and caring is the best - and what better way to show our students if not by example.”