Students at the Brentwood School are learning to be citizens of the world as well as scholars.
They are doing it through a community service program that was phased into Brentwood's academic curriculum nearly four years ago. While a minimum amount of volunteer work is required to graduate, faculty members say students have taken volunteerism and environmental awareness to new heights.
"I've been surprised at the entire community service effort," said Teri Redman, a faculty member who teaches biology and ecology at the school.
"The kids are putting time in on their own . . . and what's unusual is they hear messages about the state of the environment and are willing to do something about it."
Cilla Temple, community service program director for the exclusive private school of about 500 students, helped develop the community service program.
"On every level there are specific projects the schoolchildren can get involved with," she said.
Seventh-graders must put in seven hours of service on an environmental project, like working with the Tree People, a group that has a recycling and tree planting program.
Eighth-graders put in seven hours with Head Start nursery schools and ninth- and 10th-graders have fall, winter, or spring of each year to finish 28 hours of a variety of volunteer work.
The ninth-grade programs center on working with adults or children with special needs, such as at the McBride School for the Handicapped. That kind of work gives the students some perspective, Temple said, at a time in their lives when "everything seems to be a major problem and (students) have a tendency to focus inward."
In the 11th and 12th grades, students are required to put in 30 hours in one trimester of either year. They can choose from a realm of community service options ranging from work on a teen-crisis hot line to the Adopt-a-Family Program, which pairs students with a child of a low-income family for one year. They can also tutor elementary children with learning disabilities, adopt beaches to clean or mentor disadvantaged children.
Students also can get credit for community service outside of the United States. For instance, groups of seniors went to Mexico over Easter and worked at an orphanage, where they performed odd jobs and organized egg hunts. Temple said many of these global community service projects are performed by students during summer vacation.
Temple said students frequently surpass school-required community service hours and come up with activities that mesh with their volunteer work. For instance, last year students voted not to use plastic foam products in the cafeteria, opting to use paper plates and silverware instead. A recycling program was begun in the cafeteria where trash cans are color-coded for recyclable materials. The students also embraced a car-pooling program this year aimed at reducing air pollution.
"Community service pervades this whole school," said Joe Gifford, a journalism teacher. Students in the school are busily involved in more than 30 community service projects.
It is Temple's job to keep track of all student volunteer activities. Her work desk is cluttered by a mountain of memos, folders, and brochures detailing dozens of community organizations that students are involved in. A small file box on the corner of the desk contains tattered cards with students' names and number of hours volunteered.
And it's all done on an honor system. The students and teachers agree that cheating on hours worked is rare.
Temple said Brentwood's emphasis on community service is a natural outgrowth of its educational philosophy.
"We are concerned with intellectual development," she said. "And the human development as well. But, there's a lot of work to be done in the human development area."
Wendy Marantz, a senior who takes part in a variety of community service projects, said she would have never considered getting involved in feeding the homeless, until the school offered it as a community service option.
"I was always aware that there were problems," said Marantz, who helped start the Ecology Club this past year and helped paint trash cans. "But it was hard for me to take the initiative to do something." On Wednesdays, Marantz and other students help feed the homeless in front of Santa Monica City Hall, dishing up brown rice and vegetables that they prepare in the school cafeteria.
Since last September, Marantz has put in more than 500 hours of volunteer service, far exceeding the academic requirement.
"I love it," Marantz said, downplaying her volunteer efforts because she said other students in the school are just as active. "It's what I do every day. I've been offered so many opportunities by my parents, and I just want to give a little back."
Andrew Wilder, a freshman, and a handful of classmates work with children at the Foundation for the Junior Blind, an organization that serves visually impaired and multihandicapped children.
Wilder and his classmates work with the children one on one, helping counselors during mealtime and serving as playmates for the children while they use recreational equipment. Wilder said the work helps him put his life into perspective.
"I was really nervous and didn't know what to expect," he said about his first trip to the foundation. "But it makes you appreciate everything you have, and you feel good when you leave."
Temple said Brentwood is building a tradition of community responsibility and hopes the day will come when students make a commitment to community service on their own.
"Many kids are growing up insensitive to others' pains," she said. "We want them to become loving, caring, human beings. That's the spirit of volunteerism."