Service Learning

Life’s most urgent question is what are you doing for others?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
LS Bulb PlantingThe Princeton Day School mission statement notes, “In academics, athletics, the arts and service, we celebrate the pursuit of individual excellence and the spirit of collaboration that binds us together as a community.”
Service learning has been at the heart of this school since its inception; a tradition that stretches back to Miss Fine’s School and Princeton Country Day School.
The Service Learning program at Princeton Day School thoughtfully and intentionally nurtures our students to become responsible global citizens. Service learning erases the “us” vs. “them” approach by facilitating authentic opportunities for developing empathy.   At Princeton Day School, we support our students as they investigate issues to gain a deeper understanding of various problems. They collaborate to develop action plans and build reciprocal partnerships, which lead to a greater sense of their agency in the world. The “us” vs. “them” becomes a collective “we”.

Service Learning in the Lower School

Lower School students engage in several different projects throughout the year, which are chosen based on their accessibility to our younger students. Each project benefits a sector of our greater community with which our students identify.

Some examples include:
  • The Wrap-In: a children’s gift drive benefitting the One Simple Wish Foundation, a local organization that enriches the lives of foster children. Students wrap new donated presents in creative and sustainable ways with recycled materials.
  • Winter Woolies: a mitten, hat and scarf drive benefitting the Children’s Home Society of NJ, a local organization which “helps at risk infants, youths, and families achieve their potential.”
  • 2nd grade student-created calendar sale, with proceeds benefitting an agreed-upon organization
  • Annual bulb planting
Lower School students also participate in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Morning of Service, when each LS grade develops a unique hands-on community service project benefitting a sampling of constituents. This morning of service usually takes place on the Friday prior to the national holiday honoring Dr. King.

Service Learning in the Middle School

Middle School students participate in projects that have been decided upon collectively by the division. Once the organization has been identified, time is devoted to learning about the organization and carrying through with solutions. Here are some additional examples of Community Service in the MS:

  • Loaves and Fishes bagged lunch project; MS students gather together to make hundreds of bagged lunches to benefit Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, an organization that feeds the hungry in the Trenton area
  • Skating Party “Tickets” with proceeds donated to organizations
  • Book drives to ensure books are in the hands of children who may not have access to them
  • Bake sales and clothing drives proposed by individual students and student groups to help local organizations

Service Learning in the Upper School

A Community Service Committee with co-heads, grade level representatives, and a faculty advisor are responsible for overseeing US projects. Community Service projects are developed primarily through student clubs, advisory groups, and by individual students. Students respond to current events and identify programs or organizations which are in need of assistance. They develop a plan for hands-on help—organizing a drive for essentials or a sale to raise funds as financial support. Periodically, informed speakers are brought to campus to raise awareness about the issues that are being addressed.


Upper School students are required to complete 50 hours of Community Service prior to graduation. These 50 hours may be completed at any time over the course of their four years in the US, and may be completed within the school community, as well as outside of school.

TAP- Teacher Assistance Program

A popular and mutually fulfilling service opportunity exists right within our school walls. Interested Upper School students are matched up with Lower School faculty members who would like students to help in the classroom on a cyclical basis. Teachers rely on tap students, planning lessons which require an extra pair of hands. Our littlest students benefit having older students in the room and look forward to the visits.

School-wide Service Learning

The entire Princeton Day School community comes together across divisions on several Community Service projects, including:
  • Thanksgiving Basket Food Drive: Baskets including each part of a Thanksgiving meal are collected and donated to HomeFront, a local organization addressing homelessness in Central New Jersey
  • The Great Giveaway: gently used school supplies are collected and sent to organizations that work with students who are in need of these essentials
  • Ongoing clothing drive: four times a year, the school’s lost and found bins are donated to The Nearly New Shop, a thrift store supporting our local community
  • A spontaneous fall food drive, which collected more than 1,300 pounds of food to benefit the Crisis Ministry, a local organization that provides food and financial assistance to low income individuals
  • American Red Cross Blood Drive: An annual drive for PDS students, faculty, and parents to donate blood at an on-campus location
  • Empty Bowls: Started in 1990, Empty Bowls is an international initiative to fight hunger that is personalized by organizations on a community level. At Princeton Day School, ceramics students make and donate bowls, and local restaurants provide soup. Guests to the event choose a bowl, and enjoy a simple meal of soup and bread. All of the proceeds raised are donated to address hunger in our local community.
  • The Watershed Institute Annual Trail Runs: Princeton Day School takes opportunities to support organizations with missions that are aligned with our school's mission. In May, 2018, a team of more than 40 runners, including students from all three divisions, faculty, and staff, participated in the Watershed Institute's Trail Runs. By participating, PDS runners are helping the Watershed in their mission of keeping water clean, safe and healthy.

Service Learning Team at PDS: Tarshia Griffin-Ley, Elizabeth Monroe, Beth Hatem, Margie Gibson

A Sampler of Service

Schoolwide: Pay to PJ Day benefitting Hurricane victims in Texas and Florida
Upper School: Trail Cleanup and Loaves and Fishes
10th grade: Lunchmaking for Low Income Families benefitting Rise Food Pantry
Schoolwide: Food Drives benefitting HomeFront and Family Guidance Service Center

Lower School: Wrap In benefitting foster children in partnership with the One Simple Wish Foundation
Middle School: Skating Party "tickets" to build an emergency service fund
Lower School: Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

Schoolwide: Empty Bowls, Trail Run benefitting the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association
Schoolwide: The Great Giveaway - a school supply drive

Service Learning News

Record Number of PDS Service Volunteers in Watershed 'Run for Water'

Service Learning Director Margie Wallace Gibson '84 reports on this year's May 19 Trail Run at the Watershed Institute in support of clean water. For the past three years, one of the ways PDS has explored service learning and shown support for the Watershed is to build a team of runners from the PDS family, including faculty and staff, students, parents and alumni, for the annual 5k and 10K Trail Run and Festival. More than 90 PDS runners have participated in the trail run and festival for three consecutive years,; this year, the PDS team won the award for greatest number of participants representing an organization!

[ ... ] about Record Number of PDS Service Volunteers in Watershed 'Run for Water'