A few months ago, a man was nominated to the Supreme Court with a background very familiar to those on the Close. Brett Kavanaugh was raised in Bethesda, Maryland, and went to high school at Georgetown Preparatory School, an all-boys private boarding school similar to St. Albans. Late into Kavanaugh's nomination process, he was accused of sexual assault by a psychology professor named Christine Blasey Ford. In her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ford alleged that at a small gathering a drunk Brett Kavanaugh and a high school friend of his locked her in a bedroom and attempted to rape her. This allegation brought national scrutiny to the DMV’s private school environment and its history of mistreatment of female students. St. Albans was not immune to this scrutiny; in particular, media attention was put on St Albans’ infamous 2015 Yearbook, which contained numerous subtle but sexist insults against students attending NCS.
Some students at St. Albans consider it unfair that they would draw criticism for an alleged action of a student attending a different school 30 years ago, or for a yearbook written by those no longer attending the school. However, I believe that everyone attending the Close knows that issues of sexism, sexual harassment, and even assault are still prevalent, and ignoring them is dangerous. Unfortunately, you do not have to spend very much much time among St. Albans students to hear some sexist remark leveled at NCS or the students there. These remarks, even phrased as jokes, can be harmful and add to an already toxic environment.
So, will the Kavanaugh hearings have any effect on this environment? Personally, while I think it may be a bit early to tell, my intuition says no. The Kavanaugh allegations offered a unique opportunity for discussion: a privileged white man, much like the many of the students at St. Albans, may have faced consequences for his actions in high school. And, in the week after Christine Ford’s testimony, there was a notable change in tone at St. Albans. Students began to consider the effect their actions were having on the students at NCS. However, I believe that any hope of a lasting change at St. Albans was swiftly dashed when, after two contradicting testimonies and a short, substandard, inconclusive FBI investigation, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Again, a man faced no consequences for his actions because those deciding his fate either believed him over a woman or, perhaps more likely, never really cared in the first place. And while the Kavanaugh allegations remain in the public conscience for now, sooner or later, people will move on. Instead of teaching the young men at St. Albans that their actions would have consequences, it instead reinforced the notion that they would not.
I talked to Jack Tongour ‘19, who started the student organization ASAP, or Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention, after the Kavanaugh allegations. He told me he had the idea for ASAP at the end of the last school year and was planning to start it this year. ASAP serves as a place students can share their experiences and learn how to be an ally for victims of sexual assault. I asked Tongour what effect, if any, the Kavanaugh hearings have had on the Close. “In many ways it is the same, but I think people are a little more aware...I think people are more careful too in terms of their actions, because nobody wants to be accused of [sexual assault].” He went on to discuss what effect in may have had on the administration: “I think it’s prompted the administration to…[want] to have conversations. But it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be any curriculum changes as of now, because it seems that talk has sort of dissipated about it. When you’re under the spotlight, under the pressure, there’s big talk about how ‘oh we’re going to change everything,’ but that pressure isn’t really there. I don’t know if we need a class — I’m not sure what the best solution is a this point — but I do think that there is more that can be done. I personally think that the best way is through the students. Ultimately it is on us.” Tongour told me how the hearings have affected NCS student’s experiences with St. Albans, “I’ve heard girls, in ASAP, they talk about how they come to St. Albans and they don’t feel comfortable just walking into Marriott Hall. And that’s something that’s been around, and I certainly don’t feel that the Kavanaugh hearings have helped that.” Tongour then told me about his hopes for ASAP’s future: “In terms of moving forward, I’m confident ASAP’s going to be around. I am confident that we’re going to continue to have this club throughout the year, and ideally it’s going to be here after I’m gone. I think we actually have a chance to make real change.”
Perhaps, with efforts like Tongour’s ASAP, change can be made on the Close.
by Will Holland '20
Atop an unassuming hillside off of Jones Mill Road lies the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend nature center. A forty acre campus in the heart of Chevy Chase, the property is an ideal location for local residents hoping to escape the monotony of suburbia. Its biologically-rich ponds, sweeping meadows, and dense forests create a sentiment of harmony that is rarely seen in daily life. My family was drawn to the place as became acquainted with our neighborhood, and over time it came to influence my appreciation of the natural world.
For the ten years that I lived less than a mile away, I visited the preserve countless times. Whether it was to get birdseed or search for whatever wildlife had wandered onto the campus on a particular day, I often found myself beneath the beech trees that seemed to extend in every direction in their towering stature.
So, when it came to deciding upon my project for the Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts, a requirement for all seeking to attain the position, there was no other place that I wanted to assist as part of my effort to benefit the community than Woodend. After visiting the site in early October, I planned to build a trail from the nature center’s parking lot to its back entrance. The project was executed this past weekend with help from fellow scouts, school friends, and adults who I have known all my life. Our objective was to build the trail from start to finish before sun down, and because of some very efficient labor, we completed it with time to spare.
The tasks included marking out the trail with logs, raking leaves, removing all intrusive plants, clipping back branches, and laying wood-chips to create a definite surface. At one point, we even used pick axes to level a sloped portion with the rest of the trail. It took hours of dedication and focus in the cold in order to achieve the feat, but when it was finished we could all take pride in what we had created. What was forest floor at morning was a clear, well designated trail when we concluded our work that afternoon.
However, the most important part of the project was not personal. It’s doubtless that the motivation to finish the job in order to become an Eagle Scout was a driving force for me, but the sentiment that will last much longer than my pride is the benefit that the trail will give to Woodend. As it was a place that greatly affected my outlook on nature, I am thrilled that this trail will connect two different parts of the property and better the experience of anyone coming to visit in the near future. This opportunity to give back to a place that had given me the ability to form some of my initial perceptions of the world is something which makes me exceptionally grateful.
And, I suppose, that’s what community service should be all about. For sure, it’s tempting to view our service hours as items that we can simply check off as we go through high school, but it really does produce a greater appreciation for the world at large to see them in a larger context. The challenge for us when serving food, moving furniture, or speaking with individuals less fortunate than we is to actually see the impact we are making on our community as a whole. That’s what can enlighten our view of the situation and people around us, and can always move us to serve those in need of our help.
by Liam Warin '20
Both STA and NCS require a student to work sixty hours of social service; however, these hours must be done in a “person-to-person” fashion.
The person-to-person label has been slapped on many things, sometimes legitimately, others questionably. For example, Martha's Table is a fantastic way to help the community because it combines physical labor in sorting clothes with social interaction between customers. These routes of reaching out to the DC-metro area through immediate action leads to improvement of the student as well by widening one's worldview. The average STA and NCS student is primarily sheltered and privileged, so experiences with the less fortunate put students in vulnerable states where they are forced to socialize, fostering the development of character. Without these experiences, students are deprived of the opportunity to grow as a person.
The most unfortunate occurrence is the misnomer of such places like A Wider Circle as people to people community service events. Don’t get me wrong, AWC is a phenomenal place for a phenomenal cause; however, it does not provide the same intimate personal relationships that other sites like SED bring to the table. AWC allows students to hide out in the basement, avoiding all meaningful social interactions. Quite simply, A Wider Circle does not meet the person-to-person requirement of community service.
Person-to-person community service is firstly intended to make the student help the community and secondly intended to cultivate character growth. An unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people and forced interaction accomplishes this goal; a place filled with friends in a comfortable scenario and no outside people fails to do so.
by Alyssa Gabidoulline '20
For the past two years, Sundays had been my one lazy day of the week. A day free of plans, in which I had no obligations. That’s how my Sundays rolled, and that’s how I liked it.
But this year, it all changed.
Yes, I am now assigned more homework over the weekends, have to worry about SATs, extra-curricular responsibilities, and everything else that is associated with being a junior. These classic examples, however, are not why my lazy Sundays came to an end. Instead, it is because almost every Sunday from 12 to 3pm, I find myself surrounded by kids and young adults like myself in the gym at Tilden Middle School. We spend time together doing fun activities such as dancing and making music, or shooting hoops and building castles out of blocks.
The KEEN program, or Kids Enjoy Exercise Now, is a “nonprofit volunteer-led organization that provides one-to-one exercise and recreational opportunities for children and young adults with developmental and physical disabilities” (KEEN).
I first stumbled upon KEEN because of its annual Sports Festival that was held at Avanel park. This was near my house, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to earn some of my service hours. That day was rainy and cold, and I was not very excited to spend three hours outdoors. Nevertheless, there was a tent, and I signed up.
So I went.
I will never forget the athlete that I coached at the Sports Festival. A young boy who loved Ben Ten and just wanted to dance, despite his disability. Three hours with him was enough to make me see that KEEN was important. Although on the surface it is a program that engages sports and music into a young individual’s week, what it is really about is growth and friendship. Every Sunday when I am partnered to coach an athlete, I know I am going to make a new friend, and that we are both going to take immense strides in our understandings of the world around us. Just as amazing was that after going for several weeks, I began to see some of the athletes that I had coached before. Their smiles and waving hands, and the connection that I now have with the KEEN community fosters a relationship that amounts to so much more than going to volunteer because of a school requirement. I continue to volunteer at KEEN because I look forward to spending time with the athletes.
It is easy to say that an individual who has an intellectual or developmental disability is different, and that the two of you could never connect. For seventeen years of my life, I had not been able to be a friend to my cousin, who has autism. He is only a couple years younger than I am, and throughout my childhood, I always thought that we wouldn’t be able to be friends. KEEN has showed me that this is 100% not true. Luckily, I am going to visit my cousin this Christmas, and I am looking forward to finding a friendship that I know is there.
Seeing a kid smile because he beat you across the gym, even if he hadn’t said a word to you for the past hour, brings you warmth that even your bed on a Sunday morning couldn’t give you. I truly believe that giving up my lazy Sundays for KEEN was one of the best choices that I’ve made so far in high school.
KEEN is a national non-profit organization, and has multiple locations that high schoolers can volunteer at in the area. There are several locations in the greater DC area (Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington DC), and I encourage anyone who is even slightly interested to come to a session. There is no commitment, but who knows? You might just find yourself coming back. https://www.keengreaterdc.org/
by India Reynolds ‘20
Our “obligation to make a difference in the world” through service is one of the NCS core values. The community and in-school service requirements were established to help better connect students to the community and foster a lifestyle of giving back. The benefits of a community service requirement are hardly debatable, and students nearly universally support the requirement. However, the in-school service requirement tends to face resentment by some students who struggle to see the benefits.
Students completing in-school service projects often remark on the seeming futility of the work and lament feeling they have not made a difference in the community. On the NCS website, there is a list where teachers can post if they would like for students to come in and help. While this provides an opportunity for a student to connect with a teacher, often students end up grading other students’ work or doing menial jobs around the classroom. Students tend to feel like the work they are doing for the teachers is similar to the tasks students perform for detention. This makes the in-school service feel more like a chore, rather than giving back to the NCS community.
There are, of course, other options through which students can complete their in-school service hours where the work feels meaningful. Many students apply to be student ambassadors, giving tours to prospective NCS families. These tours allow students to share their personal stories with prospective families; thus fostering a sense of community because the students are able to share their own experiences at NCS and everything that they love about the school. Another way that many students receive in-school service hours is by working at the book sale which takes place during Flower Mart. The book sale is NCS’s vendor contribution to the event. By having students work at the tent as an option for in-school service, there is a stronger feeling of giving back to the NCS community because students are essential to helping sell books.
While it is certainly important to give back to our NCS community, it is important to begin a constructive dialogue as to how we can make the in-school service requirement more effective, meaningful and less chore-like. Maybe one of the ways to solve this problem would be to have a list of all of the different activities students could complete for in-school service hours instead of just the contact information for the teachers. This way, students could select the in-school service opportunities which are most appealing and which help feel like they are indeed contributing to the greater good and responding with purpose to the needs of others.
by Peyton Gordon '19
After the 25-minute drive, I muscle my way out of the back seat of my mom’s station wagon (because I, of course, can’t drive) and wipe the tears from my eyes. I stand up, take a deep breath, and walk towards the door. I pass a staff member donning an aggressive smile and a “pOVERty” t shirt.
“Hi, and welcome to A Wider Circle.”
Let it be known: I hate A Wider Circle. From running into too many people, to the smell, I am just not a fan.
However, my hatred, embarrassing encounters, and back braces aside, AWC is a wonderful organization that serves the DMV community. My family has donated many items, and I spent many hours volunteering there this summer. Though it was objectively un-fun, I recognize their productivity and support for many families.
Is it person-to-person? Though many think that spending hours folding linens or moving furniture in a basement does not qualify as person-to-person, my opinion is that: yeah, it is. I’ve found myself both helping a girl find the toy for which she is looking and sporting a back-brace to put cardboard boxes into a car. At AWC, it’s easy to feel like you are not helping others when you’re fulfilling your domestic duties as a woman in the basement — folding clothes and wiping lamps (angel in the house, you know) — but those jobs are just as necessary for the overall productivity of the organization to complete their person-to-person mission. Simply, since AWC is a place where volunteers truly help families by organizing, transporting, and fixing homegoods, it is person-to-person service.
Please don’t cancel my hours.
Harper Darden ‘19
Every Saturday morning, I drive up to the NCS cafeteria to meet up with the Latino Student Fund (LSF) and other volunteers to tutor underprivileged children in the metropolitan DC area. Many of these children come from under-funded DC public schools, leaving them behind the curve for their age group due to inadequate resources. Many of these students also cannot seek homework help from parents or a family member because many of their parents are immigrants, equally lacking in education, and are often unable to get it due to full-time jobs or other circumstances.
I tutor a whole age range of students. Most students I have tutored in the past are in 1st-4th grade, but I have also been frequently assigned to work with the preK students. This is a whole different kind of tutoring. The regular students practice reading and math through worksheets and reading books, but preK students get to color and listen to me read out loud. Some students are content to color dinosaurs and bugs for an hour and a half, but the restlessness gets to some of them, and I am forced to become somewhat of a child wrangler for the last thirty minutes. First, I attempt to coax them from the NCS clearing station, then beg, then yell. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. However, no matter how many funny stories come out of trying to control the four and five year olds, it is always worth it when they follow along with my reading and begin to asks questions about the book, reminding me every time that LSF is helping build a foundation for a future education.
With older students, I search for a seat in our crowded cafeteria to sit down and practice some reading out loud with an independent reading book before moving on to grammar or math worksheets. You never really understand how hard it is to explain what percentages are until you have to to a confused fourth grader. However, just like the preK students, even though we have some “crazy” kids, or ones that require a little extra encouragement to focus on their work, it is always worth it to tutor a student who simply wants to do more math, and to give them the opportunity that they don’t have normally in school.
Through my service at LSF, I have grown to really appreciate the educational opportunity I have at NCS. I know it’s a cliche reminder which we roll our eyes at because of our oppressive homework or our struggles in class, but when we complain, it’s important to keep in mind that we are already much more fortunate than so many others. Education is so important in our society today and in our world, and now that we have been given an opportunity that so many children and adults are deprived of, I encourage everyone to find a way to give back and support either LSF or education in any way they can.
Elena Arvanitis ‘19
With Winter Break approaching in less than two weeks, don’t just get into the holiday spirit by listening to Christmas carols or sipping on hot chocolate, but instead try serving others in your community. I know break is a time to relax and catch up on sleep, but it can also be a time for community service. Take advantage of the extra free time to check off some of your service hours or just help the people around you.
To make this easier for you, I have created a list of organizations you could potentially volunteer at and other actions you could take to make this season brighter.
If none of these inspired you to go out and volunteer this break, look online for organizations that might or go back to organizations you have volunteered at before. The community could use any volunteering during the holidays.
by Sophia Charles '20
In order to answer whether we do enough through our service requirement at NCS, we must first identify exactly what we are doing. Excellence, service, courage, and conscience. They are four separate words, but the principles conveyed by them are deeply intertwined. Service, at NCS, is integral not only because it poses one of the four ideals for which we strive, but because its very nature encapsulates all of them.
We pursue excellence by “maintaining the highest standards,” by setting goals that honor “the contributions of the entire community.” But who is that community? The most visible version of our community may be the Close, but it does not stop there. We are members of an immediate community that is the residents of the DC-Maryland-Virginia area, not to mention our broader community of individuals that is the world. The contributions of our community are boundless. They are the insightful patience of the veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, the loving diligence of the students at Horizons of Greater Washington, the patient hard work of the learners at For Love of Children, the welcoming warmth of the elderly at IONA House… This list, infinitely inadequate, gives a taste of the contributions offered by our community every day. We must honor them with attentive appreciation, but also with our own contributions, with our service.
We define courage as “conviction, strength, and integrity,” as standing up “for ourselves and others.” It is fairly easy to see how assisting the underserved populations of our surrounding area might translate into standing up for others, but I would argue that it applies nearly as much to standing up for ourselves. To engage positively, selflessly with the lives of others, and through that process, to expose oneself to new perspectives, to new human contexts, is, inherently, to grow in character. Stronger character means firmer adherence to one’s values, greater willingness to stand up for one’s beliefs, and therefore, for one’s own identity. Service entails learning about others and learning about oneself, and these are both processes that require courage.
Similarly, conscience is a product of both self-awareness and awareness of others. In order to “seek ethical responses to life’s challenges,” we must first understand life’s challenges — as we encounter them and as they present themselves in the lives of those around us. Every one of us has difficulties, but the more we serve, the more we address the difficulties of others. We learn about the challenges responsible for shaping the many versions of human nature that compose our society. We become truer citizens of our world.
So, the service requirement: sixty hours out of school, twelve hours in school… It seems like a lot, especially given that our time is not exactly plenteous. But is it worth it? If we have grown in excellence, courage, conscience — indeed, if we have grown to be better versions of ourselves — then yes, it absolutely is. And do we do enough? In other words, does the service requirement do what it is supposed to do? It gives the opportunity for growth, but after that, the answer to that question ultimately lies in the heart and the intent of the one who serves.