The final buzzer sounds, and the girls basketball team has done it again! The Knights are all smiles and the crowd roars their appreciation for a great team effort. This season, the Episcopal girls basketball team has earned wins against 5A schools Walker High and St. Joseph’s Academy. They’ve bested St. Michael and St. Scholastica. They have come together as a team and it’s exciting to watch.
Like most teams, this group of girls runs drills together, lifts weights together and spends hours practicing on the court. But it’s the behind the scenes focus on service that tells a bigger story. These athletes volunteered at a church youth camp and helped visitors to the Shepherd’s Market Food Pantry gather the supplies they needed for their homes. For Christmas, the team wrapped gifts they donated to the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child program. They have even attended Episcopal Lower School girls basketball games where they cheered on the mini Knights with enthusiasm and spirit. Why would a group of high school students dedicate so many hours to service?
“God gave us the talent of athleticism,” says senior forward Sydney Summerville. “God allows us to play on the court as a team. Service is our way to thank Him for that.”
This is a powerful reminder of why service is as much a part of life at Episcopal as academics, arts and athletics. Service examples can be found throughout every division. For example, a fifth grade lesson on the cultures of Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas led to the creation of the global marketplace. Students sold handmade items to generate funds, which were donated to Heifer International to purchase livestock for residents in poverty-stricken nations. Middle School project-based lessons have benefitted Friends of the Animals, Catholic Charities and Support Our War Heroes. Ninth graders began this school year with a service learning retreat in August. Students volunteered at the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Melrose Elementary, the Knock Knock Children’s Museum, Front Yard Bikes and the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired.
While service learning is required in Upper School, many students participate in the projects simply because they want to help. Coach Taylor Mims says the girls basketball team made a commitment to service this season. “We want to think outside of us,” she says. “We are fortunate to be here and this is our norm, but we must think about what we can do for others.”
This commitment to service runs throughout Upper School. To empower students and encourage participation, there is a student service learning team. This group of students meets monthly to discuss potential projects and how to make them enjoyable for the Upper School community. “As co-president of the center for service learning, I’ve tried to advertise service as a fun activity, not as a graduation requirement,” says senior Ryan Whaley. “By pushing groups of friends to complete service together and by working with administrators to find fun new service projects, I think that our team has done a great job branding service as a ‘fun activity.’”
Collectively, the Episcopal community can do tremendous good. In November, members of the community donated more than 3,000 pounds of food to the Shepherd’s Market Food Pantry. More than 3,000 pounds! Each year, members of the Episcopal community participate in a school supply drive benefiting our partner school Melrose Elementary. When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and surrounding areas, members of the community donated supplies to help residents recover.
Next week, there are numerous opportunities for Episcopal students and staff to serve, including the 2020 MLK Fest presented by the Walls Project, City Year’s Day of Service and the Front Yard Bikes effort to refurbish their outdoor spaces. Beginning February 1st, Episcopal volunteers will once again work alongside a new homeowner to build a home through Habitat for Humanity. Summerville, who is great at the three point line, says the basketball team has plans to work a Habitat shift together. Episcopal students and staff have participated in the student Habitat build for nearly 20 years.
It is often said that those who serve others reap more benefits than the people they are serving. In an educational setting, service learning helps students connect what they learn in the classroom to real world issues. It helps spark innovation and imagination as they explore and work toward meaningful solutions. It also fosters empathy for others that will hopefully generate understanding, a willingness to help and a desire to make the world a better place.
Thank you to everyone who makes service a priority, especially our student volunteers.