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Tikkun Olam through Service Learning


By Jayde Prudden, LS OEE teacher, and Liz Paige, Director of Ethics and Community


Service Learning at McGillis is a way for our students to engage in experiences that promote self-awareness, increase communal engagement, and to create a sense of community by doing.  Throughout the school, Service Learning is taught through organic experience sparked by student observations, organized events, and partnerships with local organizations.


Student Observations

Our students are curious about their world. While exploring outdoor spaces around our campus or neighborhood, students begin to take personal responsibility for these spaces and to be stewards of our environment.


During 3rd Grade OEE, each student has adopted a tree on campus and does a variety of activities to determine the health of the tree by becoming a tree detective. and like looking for broken branches, missing bark -  evidence that the tree has been negatively impacted by humans or insects.  Recently, a student visited their tree in the famed “Ditch” on the west side of campus and noticed that someone had been carving pictures and letters into his adopted tree’s bark.  Needless to say, the student was appalled that someone would do this to a tree.  He wondered what was used to do the damage and how he could stop further damage to the bark.  When he shared this information with the class, they too were surprised and did not want this to happen to their trees that they have been observing through the seasons. Together, the class brainstormed ideas to alert the community what was happening and determined a plan of action. Their conclusion was that signs need to be made and hung by the tree that was carved to remind students to treat trees with respect and then they would like to make a public service announcement to be shown during to our community about how to be a friend to trees.


In December a small group of 4th graders concerned about winter inversions and clean air started meeting after school on Mondays. The students created signs that they posted to ask parents to not idle while dropping off or picking up their students. Wanting to reach as many people as possible, the students then wrote a script and created a video to teach students and parents alike about the dangers of idling. “This group came to me with a plan of action: signs, a public-service announcement, and a community action. Together we learned about air pollution caused by idling and then they did the rest. It is exciting to follow their passion and to let them be ‘the change they wish to see in the world,’” shared Liz Paige, who meets with the Students 4 Clean Air.


Organized Events

Through classes and all-school projects, students are learning about issues from food insecurity to human rights to preserving the wolf population. These service learning experiences provide students with the opportunity to learn about an issue in depth, ask questions, take action and to celebrate as a community of learners the collective impact they can have on the world.

  • In September, our kehilah learned about food insecurity and donated over 1050 pounds of food to the Jewish Family Service food pantry. Our second food drive will be March 1-16 as part of our celebration of the holiday of Purim.
  • In October, our kehilah learned about the Afghan refugee crisis and the resettlement of refugees in our local community. Students responded by bringing in over 150 winter coats, a small mountain of diapers, over 80 backpacks, 28 bicycles, and $775 to purchase grocery store gift cards.
  • Our annual Fall Leaf Haul in November, reinforces the importance of Gemilut Hasadim, good and kind acts, and is also our opportunity to understand the role of the neighborhood in the McGillis School’s history as well as our impact in the neighborhood.
  • In December, just after Hanukkah, a holiday during which we focus on the importance of standing up for one’s rights for free expression of religion, students in grades 5-8  learned about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is celebrated every December 10. Students then wrote letters as part of Amnesty International’s Write for Rights Campaign. Students wrote to governments in 10 different countries asking that they stop violating the human rights abuses of people advocating for human rights, the environment, an end to police violence, LGBTQ rights, and democracy.
  • In May, our entire community will celebrate our 30th year and address the global concern of climate change by planting trees with Tree Utah. We hope parents, alumni and supporters will join our students in TREEkun Olam, a day of service and action on May 11.


Local Partnerships

Our students are able to have an even greater impact thanks to our partnership with many non-profits including Friendship Manor, International Rescue Committee, Jewish Family Service, Shalom/Saalam/Tikkun Olam, Tracy Aviary, Tree Utah, United Jewish Federation of Utah, and the Utah Food Bank.


At the Tracy Aviary students have been involved in many projects from raking leaves in the fall to improving the habitat of bird exhibits. Currently, we are responsible for the creek that runs through the Aviary. The 1st and 3rd grade classes visited the Aviary this fall to clean the creek, a tributary of Red Butte Creek, of algae and watercress to increase the water flow. This service project has many benefits, including students being able to see the results of their work immediately. As one student explained, “It takes teamwork to make the stream work!”  because it only takes a few large clumps of algae removed from the stream to hear the difference - the flow increases and keeps increasing as students continue to work.  Of course, there is plenty of time to play in the water and discover the microorganisms living beneath the rocks!


Purpose + Tikkun Olam

In Service-Learning, our students engage in experiences that promote self-awareness, increase communal engagement, and create a sense of community by doing.  As we reflect upon our participation in service-learning activities, we explore our thoughts, feelings, and our place in the world. The skills gained will help develop future leaders better prepared to take initiative, think critically, respond empathetically, and collaborate effectively as we begin solving the social and environmental challenges facing us locally, nationally, and globally.