PDS Service Learning Initiatives Are Thriving

Service Learning has always been an integral part of the Princeton Day School Community. Although this school year is different in significant ways, service learning continues to thrive among PDS students, faculty and staff. While many traditional service opportunities, such as the always popular bake sales, are not possible due to health and safety protocols, the students have found new and more intentional ways to serve their communities and create lasting relationships.

“This year we continue to focus on how to come up with truly meaningful service learning experiences. The students are taking the time to understand the problems, learn about the recipients and develop thoughtful plans for how to help, ” Director of Service Learning Margie Gibson explains.

Lower School Highlights

In the Lower School, with students fast approaching their 100th day in school this week, their teachers have taken this traditional learning opportunity and applied a service lens. PreK and Kindergarten are creating 100 kind notes for people in the community, the First Grade is collecting 100 boxes of pasta and cans of sauce and the Second Grade is collecting 100 canned goods, including beans, vegetables and soup. In Third Grade, the students are creating a collection of 100 masks while also reinforcing their understanding of the importance of masks and how they protect not only themselves but the broader community. Fourth graders, who have participated in numerous service learning initiatives throughout the year, are focusing on advocacy work.

Middle School Highlights

In the Middle School, students recently created encouraging Valentines Day cards for nursing homes. You can view some of their uplifting messages in our Flickr album. The seeds for this act of service are linked to the efforts of the MS Student Service Learning Team. In the midst of quarantine last spring the MS team made a public service announcement (PSA), expounding on the positive effects that gratitude and acts of kindness have on mental health.


The Fifth Grade has also embarked on a robust service learning project that centers around Chimp Haven, which is the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary located in Louisiana. In Science class with Mrs. Clingman, her months-long exploration of cognition includes an extensive unit on animal cognition and focused explorations of how chimps can think. The students even had the opportunity to speak with one of the world’s leading experts on chimpanzees, Dr. Steve Ross. You can learn more about their talk and the amazing work that Chimp Haven is doing in our December 2020 news post and our September 2020 news post. Although the Fifth Grade bake sale to benefit Chimp Haven has been popular for the past few years, this year the students and Mrs. Clingman came up with an innovative Chores for Chimps initiative! The students asked their fellow students across the school to do chores at home to earn money that would help support the work of Chimp Haven. Results of the effort: more than $1,700 in donations was raised for Chimp Haven.

“That’s a lot of dog walking, dishes, laundry and beds made!" Mrs. Clingman noted. 

Below: Fifth Grade's five-minute public service video for Chores for Chimps:

Upper School Highlights

The Upper School has focused this year on teaching students how to develop meaningful service learning opportunities. Following a template developed by the US Service Learning Committee, each grade is going through a detailed process that allows them to take ownership of their service. They begin with a question or topic, conduct research about the issue, prepare a thorough plan of roles, responsibilities and timelines, implement their plan, seek feedback in order to improve their plan, and then reflect on the experience.  Grade-level representatives are exploring everything from environmental service to helping those in need within our PDS and local communities.

In addition to these division-specific experiences, there have been a variety of cross-divisional service projects. One example is the collaboration between Ms. Dunlap’s Da Vinci students and 2nd graders. To support the 2nd Grade notecard sale, which replaced its traditional calendar sale, Ms. Dunlap’s students are creating the website for the sale.  

And of course, independent student service efforts abound, as always, based on their individual circumstances and interests. Gavin Yang ’23, for example, performed magic shows for local nursing homes over the holidays, as well as produced a series of magic shows that were available for free over Zoom. Yang took a passion of his, realized it could spread joy through his community, researched whether there was a need for it, and came up with a plan for how to create a meaningful relationship. His service work was recently highlighted in his local newspaper.

“Whether with pandemic limitations or without them, the hope is that our process for developing student-led service learning will lead to more authentic, reciprocal relationships that will inspire the students to continue to be engaged with their community,” Mrs. Gibson concluded.

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