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A Journey of ServiceService at HKIS – 1990-2020by Dr. Marty Schmidt, High School Humanities TeacherWhen I first came to HKIS in 1990, there was only one service Interim and an annual Day of Giving in which the entire student body participated in one outing on one day. From these humble beginnings, the service involvement of the school developed over time.
In the mid-1990s, service Interims began growing rapidly as students returned with meaningful and moving stories to report. In 1996 our principal Jim Handrich, Humanities teacher Zella Talbot, and myself created a “Service on Saturday” program, in which students committed to approximately eight outings with the same service organization over the course of a school year.
By the year 2000, service Interims, SOS, and the growing number of service clubs, all examples of what may be called “community service,” had created a broad array of engagement opportunities for students. Giving this major shift in social conscience that occurred among our students in these years, in 2003 Zella and I initiated the first “service learning” course, which brought service into the curriculum for the first time in an interdisciplinary grade nine course called “Humanities I in Action.”
In addition to a thematic approach that aimed to increase awareness of, empathy for, and action in the community, the “in Action” course also included about eight Saturday service or experiential learning opportunities, including a four-day trip to an orphanage in southern China, the highlight of the course.
In 2018, a grade 10 “Humanities II in Action” course was added to the Humanities Department curriculum as well. In sum, the marked increase over the past three decades in service interims, Service on Saturday programs, service clubs, and service learning courses have all contributed to a growing student social consciousness about the need to contribute to society, which has become one of the enduring values of the school.
The Evolution of Service Learning at HKISSequence of Service The growth of service clubs and service Interims was marked by new courses and the formalization of the Service on Saturday (SOS) program, to be called Seeds of Service (SOS) beginning August 2021.Jasmine Lau '08A Thousand Words Jasmine and Dr. Schmidt stand with HKIS students and CWEF scholarship awardees. Jasmine and classmates set up the fund in 2009 as a result of service trips to the area.It’s difficult to pinpoint when one becomes aware of one's own self-efficacy, the moment when empowerment happens. For me, looking back, I became aware sometime in high school due to Humanities in Action and SSS. So much of my current worldview has been developed by those classes, including my purpose and my understanding of self and society. The choices that I have made in my current career - deviating from the traditional career paths like finance or consulting that many Ivy League graduates choose to pursue, and instead moving to China to start a nonprofit dedicated to philanthropy and social impact education - can be directly traced back to the spark from Humanities in Action that has driven me since. My education has given me the power to see beyond success as defined by society and instead to follow my calling to pursue a non-traditional path that aligns my work with my life's values. It took me away from the comforts of Hong Kong to work in the challenging environment of mainland China. Humanities in Action awoke in me my desire to create positive change, but also made me see that it was possible - that I can be the one leading the change. True education should help individuals find wisdom that is timeless and universal. Looking back, I believe Mr. Schmidt's classes did so, and many years after I graduated, these lessons continue to reverberate and guide my life's decisions.While I found a lot of meaning and purpose in the path that I chose, four years into my nonprofit career, I was burned out. My fire was rekindled through an inner work retreat in Montana that I was invited to by chance. It was there that I rediscovered my spiritual self that I had suppressed after high school, and made up my mind to reconnect with my body, mind, and heart. Not long after, I caught up with Mr. Schmidt and he shared with me that he had started incorporating spiritual practices like meditation and approaches like the Enneagram into his curriculum. It felt uncanny - his evolution as a teacher and my evolution of what I needed. I have since then taken parts of his high school curriculum to build my own spiritual practice. Learning More Jasmine (second row, second from left) and Humanities in Action classmates.True education should help individuals find wisdom that is timeless and universal. Looking back, I believe Mr. Schmidt's classes did so, and many years after I graduated, these lessons continue to reverberate and guide my life's decisions.
Brittany Fried '15Sharing Strategies Ella Hurworth '18 and Brittany Fried '15 walk through the Teaching for Empowerment curriculum with students at Concordia Ambur and Concordia Pernambut in south India.You never expect a grade nine course to shape your decisions throughout high school, let alone in university and beyond. Yet as a soon-to-be graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, I can say that has exactly been the case. Humanities in Action was my first true taste of holistic education: learning that focuses on the mind, heart, and soul. It taught me that compassion, community development, and social consciousness not only can, but should be integrated into an academic setting. This knowledge has been core to my learning both in and outside the classroom since.
Humanities in Action provided a space for reflection on personal views of the world and our individual place in it. This reflection, paired with exposure to global challenges, prompted me to identify issues that spoke to me personally, and shift to long-term engagement with them. My personal topic of choice became transformative education, due to my exposure to it in Humanities in Action, and the positive impact I saw it could have on the greater global community. "Humanities in Action provided a space for reflection on personal views of the world and our individual place in it. This reflection, paired with exposure to global challenges, prompted me to identify issues that spoke to me personally, and shift to long-term engagement with them."As a result of this shift, my best friend Caroline and I developed a leadership and empowerment program implemented annually in India. The program was started my freshman year of high school. While Caroline and I had initiated service programs together before, taking Humanities in Action provided essential critical thinking skills that enabled us to engage the local community on a deeper level. As a result, we attempted to minimize the harm that came about from our presence—for instance through voluntourism, a concept we were exposed to in Humanities in Action—and instead aspired to provide benefit for all involved.The commitment to transformative education I developed through Humanities in Action did not stop after freshman year. For the next three years Caroline and I remained engaged in the India program, and with the help of Dr. Schmidt, led the trip twice more, expanded the program to other countries, and developed an official curriculum. Beyond this, I spent a summer with the organization Me to We running “Take Action Camps,” and as the school’s Senator of Service worked with the school administration to incorporate a greater long-term vision into our high school service clubs. How low can you go HKIS and Concordia students participate in a communication task while on Interim in 2015, where the group works together to lower a meter stick to the ground. By the time I arrived at university, it was clear that transformative education was central to my core interests and being. Continued engagement with the topic manifested itself in my major and minor, which focus on peace education and genocide studies, respectively; a semester studying peace education in Rwanda; four spring breaks conducting Holocaust study in Eastern Europe; work with a Jesuit community development organization in Zambia; and internships and service opportunities in DC. Now, my undergraduate experience is culminating in an Honors Thesis on the intersection of peace education and Ignatian pedagogy in post-conflict Timor-Leste. It is unknown what next year will bring, but one thing is clear: the pursuit of transformative education will be a part of it.
When I look back, it’s very clear where this 8-year journey began: in a grade 9 classroom, when I was asked what I cared about, and how I was going to engage with it academically, physically, and spiritually. Addressing these critical questions at such an influential time in personal identity formation, and being provided the tools to engage with them through the course, allowed me to discern a topic that has and will continue to shape my life. I will forever be grateful to Dr. Schmidt and the Humanities in Action team for not only asking these critical questions of my classmates and me, but for believing we had the ability to do something about them, and for challenging us to do exactly that. Giorgia Franchi '01Foshan, 1998 Matt Mosley '01, Katie Ferrell '01, Alexis (Cuddyre) Simkin '01, Giorgia Franchi '01, Chuck Dedeu '01.I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the experiences I had at HKIS in relation to social awareness and service led me to becoming a human rights lawyer and thereafter work for a humanitarian aid agency.
Looking back, I believe it was around 9th grade when I first became aware of the impact that charity work could have, both on myself and others. I had been selected to travel to Vietnam on the Christina Noble Foundation interim. Prior to leaving for Ho Chi Minh City, we were asked to read Bridge Across My Sorrows by Christina Noble (1994), the founder of the organization, and this provided an amazing introduction into what we would experience once in Vietnam. It provided a whole other layer to my experience – how the will of one woman changed the lives of so many children, and how this in turn helped her grow as an individual.
In the following years I became involved in other types of community work, volunteering for Mother’s Choice, World Vision, and Habitat for Humanity through another interim. These experiences were eye-opening – not only because they put some perspective on my life, which had always been privileged, but because they also gave me an understanding of cultures, languages, and history. It was also not lost on me that as expats we could choose to “pop in and out” of these experiences – how could we really serve these communities? These were the kinds of questions that began forming in my mind. "These experiences were eye-opening – not only because they put some perspective on my life, which had always been privileged, but because they also gave me an understanding of cultures, languages, and history. It was also not lost on me that as expats we could choose to “pop in and out” of these experiences..."In 10th grade I enrolled in an interdisciplinary class [a forerunner to Humanities I in Action] with Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Coombs which provided a blend of literature, history, and service work. This was the first course I had ever taken which expressly incorporated service into the curriculum. I saw that all the students – whether academically-minded or not – engaged in the service aspect of our class with enthusiasm. A highlight was a class trip to an orphanage in Jungsing which we visited for a few days. I cannot say how much we did in fact help the nurses, but it was a distinct moment in our studies where our social conscience was galvanized, where we were encouraged to step outside of our physical and emotional safety zones; to reflect; to be conscious of not only our actions but our spirituality as well. I was overwhelmed with emotions: guilt, empathy, gratitude. And I kept going back to the same questions as before – was this meaningful? What could service really mean for me, in a way that would not be tokenistic, selfish, imposing? Was there really a way of being of service as part of daily life?
I returned to the orphanage in Jungsing with Mr. Schmidt as an adult, ten years after my first trip there. In retrospect it was easy for me to see how that explicit marrying of service and education pushed me onto a specific career path of service – in a way that felt genuine, where I could contribute purposefulness with my own specific skillsets. It wasn’t that single visit to Jungsing that did this, but it was that class where the seed was planted and which shaped the decisions I made as a high school student and beyond. Cuddles with Cuddyre Giorgia Franchi '01, Marty Schmidt, Alexis (Cuddyre) Simkin '01.After university I practiced as an immigration/human rights lawyer before shifting slightly to working for a humanitarian aid agency. For the last few years I have managed research projects that look at preventing and responding to violence against women and girls in conflict settings. The charity sector is not a perfect system, and I often ask myself the same questions I had asked in Jungsing. But that’s how I know I am still being conscious of my actions, of my service; still thinking about my privileges and place in the world; still learning. And I am grateful for my high school teachers who took us beyond the classroom into a world of compassion, awareness, and mindfulness.