Stacie Dudley ’14 was introduced to James Berry Elementary, an environmental science magnet school in North Houston, during the summer before her freshman year. She joined other Upper School students on a community service project to make improvements to the school’s grounds and to help create outdoor classrooms for the students. As service projects have for many St. John’s students, this particular summer experience ignited Stacie’s passion for working with Berry Elementary. Three summers later, she is now the Project Leader. "What I saw the first summer I worked at Berry was a school with the powerful ability to effect positive change in its students and their families. There was, and still is, a lot of work that can be done at Berry, and I wanted to make sure we went back and did it." Dudley felt that continuing to direct the project towards rising freshmen was only natural. The opportunity to work with and get to know not only their new classmates but members of other classes at St. John’s makes the transition into a new school that much easier.
The community service program in the Upper School, despite being entirely voluntary, saw 98% of students collectively volunteer 44,900 hours during the 2011-2012 academic year. The projects are typically chosen by the students, and the structure of the student-led organization creates many leadership opportunities and teaches students real world skills that are applicable beyond these storied cloisters. In addition to getting her hands literally and figuratively dirty, this project gave Stacie the opportunity to learn about grant writing, strategic planning, budgeting and management. According to Upper School Community Service Coordinator, Marci Bahr, "In Upper School, students get to control the project by being Project Leaders. When they have an idea for a project, we meet and talk about everything from what they want to accomplish to skills needed and steps to take. This background work and planning along the way ensures success of the project. Our kids want to make a difference that lasts. When the project begins, they are ready to run with it."
This particular project is one of many student-led initiatives, which received a grant from the St. John’s Community Service Fund. Proceeds from sales at the sports concession stands support St. John’s volunteer projects as well as initiatives in the greater Houston area. In the past three years at Berry Elementary, St. John’s students and faculty have planted numerous gardens, refurbished a gazebo and a maintenance shed, cleared a nature trail, removed numerous invasive trees, painted murals inside the building, and interacted with Berry students during their Saturday School sessions. For their work at Berry Elementary, St. John’s received the Mayor’s 2011 Distinguished Service Award.
Stacie Dudley reflects, "We’ve made tremendous strides at Berry, and none of it could have been done without the outstanding support I’ve received from St. John’s faculty, parents, students, and the monetary support from our Grant Fund. The Upper School community service program is truly remarkable in its ability to bring people of all grades and interest groups together to do projects that they personally have chosen to start and continue, and I’ve found the entire process allows for both large scale independence and communal effort."