Ninth Grade Service Partnership with PS 81 in Brooklyn

A team of Hackley ninth graders joined their class dean David Sykes for a day of teaching, partnership and friendship-building with 1st through 5th grade students at PS 81 in Brooklyn in what they hope will become an ongoing partnership.
A team of 29 Hackley ninth graders joined their class dean David Sykes for a day of teaching, partnership and friendship-building with 1st through 5th grade students at PS 81 in Brooklyn. Connecting with the school through the organization Change for Kids, with whom Mr. Sykes had worked in the past, Hackley kids gave up their Saturday and, Mr. Sykes reports, even more were ready to come but for athletics commitments. “Our kids were great. When they arrived, there were various activity areas marked out. Our kids just took charge.”

While some Hackley kids organized the younger children into teams for games, others involved students in a song-writing project that, at the end of the day, culminated in a performance of the song the kids had created together. Still others led young students in a ceramics project, making “pinch pots” that were then transported back to Hackley for firing so the students could then glaze them before a final round of firing. Everyone had a great time; the energy and excitement were palpable.

The day after the visit, Catherine M., Alex M., Joy D., Benjamin R., and Connor W. came to him to ask if the grade could make an ongoing partnership with PS 81 their class’s four-year project. These students did a fantastic job of organizing Hackley’s next visit to PS81, which took place last Saturday, February 8th. This time, over 70 students came from PS 81 to play basketball, participate in relay races, paint the ceramics they made during our previous visit, make Valentine’s day cards, and sing and dance with the help of Hackley 9th graders.

Mr. Sykes said of this most recent visit: “I cannot stress enough how impressed I was with Catherine, Alex, Joy, Benjy, and Connor. The five of them did such an impressive job of organizing a great day for the students at PS 81. For me, to simply walk around from activity to activity and see the 9th graders doing such a good job and interacting so positively with the students from 81, all while having a great time, was amazing. The success of the day is entirely due to the commitment and energy of the 9th graders!”

Across four years, Mr. Sykes reports, real mentoring can happen. Students now in first or second grade can build a relationship with a Hackley student across four years – deepening the connection and enlarging the learning potential over time. The school-to-school partnership can also allow more targeted support. “Rather than supporting a random coat drive, we will hear from our partners that they need 47 coats for these particular kids,” Mr. Sykes observes. The specific connection makes the reality of “need” all the more real to our students. However, the larger lesson has more to do with how much they have in common with these kids. Mr. Sykes notes, ”The children our students worked with are brilliant. Creative. This was, for example, the first time some of the PS 81 students had touched clay, and the work they were able to produce was astounding. So much ability and imagination.

Hackley students came away from the experience with important lessons of their own. Here are some oftheir reflections:

“The highlight of my day at PS81 was when, early on in the day, one kid, Josiah, walked into the music room. I was the only boy in there, and the girls were singing Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry songs while I played guitar with Aurora. When Josiah walked in, he didn't see me at first, and when, after a few seconds, he saw me, he said, "Phew! I thought I was the only boy here!", let out a sigh of relief, and sat next to me and introduced himself. He told me he loved guitar, and I asked him if he knew how to play. Of course, he told me. I gave him my guitar and he just strummed random strings. Then, he asked me if we could do some rock music. I let him use my earbuds and listen to some of the music on my computer, and the expression on his face made my day. (Josiah spent the rest of the day playing on my phone, playing catch with me, passing the soccer ball with me, jumping rope with me, teaching me how to dance, and reading to me.) I want to go return to PS81 next time we go because of Josiah.”

“I had such a great day at P.S. 81 because we were able to make the kids’ day that much better. We didn’t just brighten their day, they made us laugh, too and helped us enjoy the day even more. Everybody taught the kids something and helped them to enjoy the idea of school which is an important part of their young lives. “

“The highlight of my day at PS81 was singing and playing the guitar with students to one of my favorite songs, "Sweater Weather." I want to go return to PS81 next time we go becauseI might be able to teach students how to skateboard. I will also get to see students that I was able to make friends with. While at PS81 I was surprised that we Hackley students giving other students at PS81 an opportunity for extracurricular activities can help influence how long they may actually stay in school, which is especially important in a community where only 40% of students graduate from high school. I was really happy that I made an impact on young peoples lives with friends and I also made people smile. :)”

“The highlight of my day at PS81 was when I helped a little boy make 6 paper hats, one for each of his siblings, counting him, and he put his on and acted like a train conductor, yelling "choo choo!" Izzy and I painted him a picture of a train, which he left in the art room, so we had to run around the gym looking for him in the ice-cream-induced chaos (don't worry, we found him). Next time we go to PS81 I look forward to recognizingand be recognized by the kids I got to connect with this time. Our visit made me think about the fact that we are all human beings who have the same basic needs, regardless of any social identifiers (age, race, gender, etc.), not just for food and water, but for a safe, nurturing educational environment that provides not only academics, but forms of self-expression, like art or music. At PS81 I gained perspective on the world outside the little bubble of Hackley, which is that not everyone has these necessities in their life, and though I knew this on some level before, it was a different matter entirely to see these kids firsthand, who have one Saturday in a whole month to experience the arts, instead or every day in school (correct me if I'm wrong on that statement), the way we do at Hackley, which is something I believe needs to be fixed.

I really enjoyed my day because I felt that I was giving back to a community and doing something of worth in the world. The kids we met may grow up to be the people who cure cancer, or find an alternative energy source or a better way to dispose of waste, and that will be partly because we, as a group of privileged Hackley students, showed the kids a positive picture of who they could become, and encouraged them to stay in school, so they can work hard and imagine a better future, which they can no doubt turn into a reality.”

“I want to return to PS81 because I had such a good time with the kids. We had a pretty big group of girls in the music section and they obviously had an amazing time having a dance party with us. The girls were dancing their hearts out and showing off all kinds of different gymnastics. I know I will have as much fun next time and I can't wait!I had a great day because I felt like I was helping these girls. They were all smiling and laughing and having a great time and that felt really good. One girl in the beginning said "I don't dance. There's no way you are getting me to dance." We had a huge dance party at the end and needless to say, we had her dancing. This just showed how comfortable she became with us and everyone else and how much fun she was having.”

“The highlight of my day at PS81 was seeing the kids dance and smile.I want to go return to PS81 next time we go because it is amazing to see the kids laughing and having a great time. While there, I realized how lucky I am to go to school and live where I do. I had a great day because the kids were happy and I realized how fortunate I am and that my problems are never as great as some of the kids there.”