Since September 2013, 200 Halifax Grammar School students have shopped for and prepared meals for the families of Ronald McDonald House, in a program called Home for Dinner. Ronald McDonald House provides a “home away from home” for families of seriously ill or disabled children receiving medical treatment in Halifax.
Home for Dinner is a core initiative of the school’s service learning framework, formalized in 2013 after decades of ad hoc service activity. Indeed, the school’s motto, first stated on its founding in 1958, is Enter to Learn/Exit to Serve. The introduction of the service learning framework simply applies a pedagogical vision and systemic approach to the school’s longstanding ethos. Faculty took stock of and mapped out Grammar’s many service initiatives, and developed a written philosophy to guide planning:
At the Halifax Grammar School, we believe that our students should develop a genuine desire to help others. Students at HGS learn about their local and global communities and develop skills critical to being responsible, active, global citizens throughout their lives. At HGS, Service Learning integrates instruction, action, and reflection.
The next step will be to establish a system for reflection: a means through which the students are able to access and understand what they are seeing and doing. Reflection is a key component of the CAS program for grades 11 and 12 IB students, and the plan is to make it a model for reflecting on the service programs in the younger grades.
Meaningful service is visible at all grade levels. Grade four students, under the guidance of Mr. O’Carroll, are taking ownership of the recycling program in the Prep School, while the Green Gryphons, under the leadership of grade 12 student Tara Sverko, have organized a successful recycling campaign in the Senior School and had students from grades nine to 12 participating in the Great Nova Scotia Pick-me-up. The Home for Dinner program has expanded beyond the Middle School to include the Senior School Student Council and the Senior Girls’ Varsity Basketball team.
Grammar's Home for Dinner support of Ronald McDonald House is one of many service programs made possible by alumni parent Gordon Stirrett (Scott Stirrett'09). In 2009 Stirrett established the Gordon Stirrett Community Service grants, and since that time dozens of HGS students have realized their altruistic goals through this funding, including Renuka Koilpillai's Backpacks for Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank, Oliver Falvey's Fins Swimming program, and Nika Gantar's Malala's Dream. All groceries for HGS Home for Dinner meals are purchased with the Stirrett grant, which so far has meant approximately $4000 of groceries!
Olivia DeJager is in grade eight, and has participated in service initiatives supporting Feed Nova Scotia, Kids Help Phone, Ovarian Cancer Canada, Free the Children, and Ronald McDonald House. She enjoys her service opportunities and is learning from them too. “Ronald McDonald House is a small place, but they do a lot. It’s taught me that you don’t have to be a huge organization to make an impact.”