CONTRIBUTED BY AMY BAYER
Homework upon essays upon tests. In a high school environment where working for oneself is all too common, the idea of helping others sometimes fails to connect with students. However, one program recognizes the power that a lending hand possesses in a community.
Through a variety of in-depth community service activities, the Alternative Choices in Education program, or ACE, hopes to inspire its students to take a more prominent role in their community.
Since the establishment of ACE two and a half years ago, community values have been an integral component of the program, according to ACE Coordinator Amy Bayer. Students participate in advisory periods twice a week where they often discuss social issues that occur locally and around the globe. Team-building activities are also commonplace within the program.
Bayer emphasized the “seven habits of success,” a series of values that ACE implements as part of its curriculum.
“One of those seven habits of success is ‘community mindedness.’ The way we define that is being thoughtful of how students participate in our ACE community, but also within BHS, their neighborhood, the state of Massachusetts and beyond,” Bayer said. “We really try to challenge them in their thinking about what it means to care about their community. Our community service activities really tie into that habit of success.”
According to Bayer, during the days leading up to Thanksgiving and winter vacation, students get the opportunity to give back, whether it be volunteering at a daycare center, aiding a food or clothes drive, working at a homeless shelter, or other similar activities.
Junior Jared Hidalgo volunteered at one of the Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church’s homeless programs. He cooked, served food and had meaningful conversations with homeless individuals, and by the end of it, saw them in a different light.
“You get to see these people as people and no longer as just an obstacle on the sidewalk,” Hidalgo said. “It’s eye-opening, and it was a good experience for me.”
Sophomore Isobel Tworetzky, who volunteered in a child care center populated by children from low income households, spoke to the importance of doing community service.
“It’s really important to give back to the community, since they’ve done so much for you. Doing community service can change somebody’s life in the tiniest way, but it can have the biggest impact,” Tworetzky said.
Hidalgo added to this idea, mentioning how the privileged nature of Brookline only makes the work more fulfilling.
“It’s gratifying work,” Hidalgo said. “When you grow up in an environment like Brookline, a relatively wealthy area, you don’t end up giving back much to the community. When you go out to do community service, you get to give back to all the people who have made the environment for you what it is.”
During the recent protests held at the high school against controversial videos, many speakers and participants were from ACE. Bayer believes this to be a direct result of how the program treats the notion of community.
“I think our students end up being role models for BHS at large because they get empowered when they’re with us,” Bayer said. “They find what they’re passionate about and they build confidence when speaking about those issues, and in turn they bring it outside of ACE.”
Hidalgo also praised the program for how it made him more community-driven.
“ACE has made me a lot more amicable,” Hidalgo said. “It is such a tighter community; there’s only about 40 or 50 students. Instead of being in mainstream, where it’s like every man for himself, in ACE we’re all in this together. When you have that mentality, it’s a lot easier to do communal work.”
At the end of the day, with the many community-orientated aspects of ACE, Bayer wishes to shine light on the power that every student possesses.
“I hope they can get that understanding, that there a million versions of what community service can look like,” Bayer said. “But most importantly that, as a human being on this planet, they can make a difference.”