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San Domenico School

Student Service Learning Experiences

At San Domenico the values of service and social justice are central to our Dominican mission. All students take the social justice course in their junior year as a religious studies requirement which helps students develop a systemic approach to understanding the social and environmental challenges of our day.

From the Bay to the Balkans

A Unique Service-Learning Opportunity

In 2014, for the sixth time, a group of San Domenico students and teachers traveled to Bosnia-Herzegovina for two weeks of travel, service, and learning about international affairs and human rights. Over the course of the seven years prior, nearly forty students and four San Domenico teachers have traveled to the region, which is still recovering from the 1992-1995 ethnic conflict of the mid-1990s. In an effort to engage the local community, and contributing to the process of postwar reconciliation, participating students work with local youth, teaching basic English, facilitating art and dance, and coordinating sports at one of the only multiethnic summer camps in the country. The program, which was first established by San Domenico teachers Jill Hoefgen and Ian Sethre in 2000, includes local Muslim, Croat, and Serb children in the mountain town of Vares, about an hour outside of Sarajevo. Students also meet with representatives from a variety of international assistance organizations, such as UNICEF and the International Commission for Missing Persons, as well as meet with judges and the war crimes prosecuting attorney at the state court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which now handles the majority of war crimes cases.

2012: Voices that Need to Be Heard and Stories that Need to be Told - Uganda

San Domenico Students Travel to Uganda to Collect Oral Histories

By Rita Hil '13

One of the main objective of the service learning trip to Uganda was to colelct oral histories from the local Ugandans. Oral history is different from written history because the process of collection– generally through recorded interviews–gives voice to people who are struggling in the center of social issues.

Kristen Levine, Social Justice teacher and co-coordinator of the service-learning trip to Uganda, emphasized the importance of documenting the stories of the girls at URDT. "What they are doing at URDT is social justice," said Levine. "They are educating the leaders and peacemakers for the future. This is also why we need to collect oral history because what the local people are experiencing is so different than what the outside assumes–it is the people's history."

During our meeting with the school's Cultural Club, the teacher and students shared Ugandan traditional food, clothes, dances and tribes. The club's director, Ms. Kayesu, emphasized the importance of coexistence and tolerance. "There are no bad tribes," Kayesu explained. "We should respect their unique traditions."

Two 17-year-old girls were eager to share their experience, as the duaghters of refugees who had fled the genocide in Rwanda in the mid-1990s. Both girls–Mukamutara, whose name means "born in the time of war" and Muteteli, whose name means "Dainty" –shared their memories of how their families started all over in Uganda. They recalled the difficulty of establishing a "real" home, because their parents had no money to even find materials to build a hut. Yet they expressed no hatred, no resentment. Both expressed goals of becoming college professors and a readiness to move forward.

Later that evening, senior Hanna Hermansen explained how the process of collecting oral histories had inspired and informed her. "I am really impressed by what all the girls are learning here," said Hermansen. "It is so different than what I have heard from the news because before I came here all I knew was KONY 2012."

"I am so glad that we heard the voices of the local people so we can go back and share with others," she added.

Overall, the service-learning trip to Uganda provided so much more than a simple service-learning experience. The Cultural Club's emphasis in respect to various cultures proves the URDT's critical approach toward peace education, and the collection of oral histories– empowering those in need to tell their stories– is reflective of San Domenico's Mission.

2011: Spring Discovery: Bahia Vista Elementary School - San Rafael

Spring Discovery: Bahia Vista Elementary School

By Alessandra Jurick '12

During the Spring Discovery week last month, seven students joined Math teacher Kristi Epke in volunteering at Bahia Vista Elementary School in San Rafael.

The students—seniors Cynthia Leon, Kim Lin, Angela Lo, Maloli Lemmen, Qing Chen, Nicole Garcia, and junior Lynn Falesoga—worked as teacher aids for several kindergarten classes where they were broken up into pairs. Throughout the week they taught arithmetic, spelling, grammar, and English to the children who mostly speak Spanish at home. The girls also led exercises teaching motor skills and did one-on-one tutoring.

The Spring Discovery program, Buenos Vecinos, meaning “Good Neighbors”, is an appropriate title. The girls acknowledge their duty to serve their local neighborhood by volunteering for a largely underserved community within Marin County.

Because many of the students do not speak English proficintly, they are at a disadvantage as they advance through elementary school. Therefore, it is important to level the playing field as early as possible to ensure success later on. The San Domenico students noticed several posters around the school campus encouraging the students to work towards attending university.

Senior Nicole Garcia who had volunteered the year before as well, acknowledged the similarities between the San Domenico and Bahia Vista. “Both schools teach students to be critical thinkers and work towards social justice,” said Garcia. For her, the experience has been valuable, “The human interaction aspect of the Buenos Vecinos program is the biggest part.”

2010: A Generous Jive: Senior Pair Shares Love of Dance - San Rafael

A Generous Jive: Senior Pair Shares Love of Dance with Area Children

By Kita Gayle ‘11

For the second consecutive summer, seniors Laruen Huff and Elle Koagedal organized and ran a dance camp—El Campo de Baile—for a dozen children living in Marin City and San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood.

This program, which was created in 2008 by graduate Shanna Kohn ‘09, provides dance instruction for kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity.

Huff and Koagedal taught ballet, modern and jazz classes each day, and choreographed a performance for parents.

D’lynnes, a local dancewear shop, provided leotards and ballet slippers for all the dancers and Roco Dance lent out their studio for use. Thanks to the Julie Davis Butler Award, Huff and Koagedal were able to pay for the dancewear and provide snacks. “Each girl got to wear a nice leotard and dance in a professional studio, so they could feel important and special,” Koagedal said.

“I know that being able to express yourself and let loose in dance has gotten me through a lot of stuff in my life,” Huff said. “I wanted to bring that to these girls who don't have the means to pay for a bunch of activities.”

Both years, the seniors worked with Felicia Gatson, founder of Marin Performing Stars Nonprofit organization, to spread word about the camp. During the year, Gatson picks up the kids from daycare and brings them to dance classes.

“I hope that the program continues and more children participate,” Huff noted. “It is such a good outlet for their energy and greatly inspires them.” Koagedal noted that the experience is inspirational to her as well. “It made me realize that something I sometimes take for granted was really a treat for those girls,” Koagedal noted.

2009: World Parliament of Religions - Australia

San Domenico Upper School Delegation in Melbourne, Australia

The three Juniors, Elle Koagedal, Abby Costello, and Kira Kull, joined nearly 8,000 people from around the world at an international interreligious gathering exploring the theme: Making a World of Difference—Hearing each other, Healing the Earth. The students were accompanied by Shelagh Smith and Kristen Levine from the High School Faculty as well as Sister Gervaise and Sister Margaret Diener.

San Domenico’s Mission calls for us to “respond to the critical issues of our times," and as we look into the future, we see the need to work together with persons of all faiths and traditions to alleviate global issues. The 2009 Parliament’s focus included today’s most critical issues. It brought together the world’s religious and spiritual communities, leaders, and followers to a gathering where peace, diversity, and sustainability were discussed and explored in the context of inter-religious understanding and cooperation.

The world is waiting for us to be the change we want to see in the world.

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