Like many academic institutions, KO has a set of “core values” that inform the actions of the community. While many of these overarching ideas are seamlessly woven into the KO experience with little fanfare, frequent emphasis is placed on one of these values in particular: “care beyond oneself.”
Although it’s a simple phrase, it’s packed with meaning and applies to countless situations members of the community experience every day. Whether it’s clearing your dishes at lunch or respecting the ideas of others during class discussions, “caring beyond oneself” is a major part of life at KO.
An extension of this core value is KO’s community service requirement, which specifies that students must log 60 hours of community service in order to graduate. The intentions of a community service requirement are undeniably positive, instilling the importance of giving back and community engagement in students. However, there is room for improvement and there is no better time than the holiday season, which is frequently associated with charity, for KO to reevaluate the state of community service in the Upper School.
For most students at KO, schoolwork is just one component of their lengthy to-do lists; with busy club and athletic schedules, it can be difficult to find pockets of time to dedicate to community service.
With that being said, it is vital that we as a school are giving back to our community.
In the Middle School, volunteer work is a pillar of the KO experience. Every Middle Schooler is required to travel to Loaves and Fishes multiple times throughout the year to help serve food to people in need.
At some nearby independent schools, community service is similarly a required part of the school day. Whether it be specific dates set aside for outreach activities, or even just free periods dedicated to picking up trash on campus, opportunities to improve the community are conveniently built into every student’s schedule.
The KO Upper School should consider doing the same. While community service is definitely an individual responsibility, KO would certainly still benefit from implementing school-wide service initiatives, as they could both unify the student body and bring together the school with the greater Hartford community.
Although KO offers some “school-sponsored” community service experiences, these opportunities aren’t always accessible due to cost or location. One of the most well-known volunteer opportunities for students is Team Tobatí. For years, the service trip has been a beloved aspect of students’ time at KO and, after a three-year hiatus as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are eager to head to Paraguay over March break.
The trip, which has enabled decades of KO students to get involved in something bigger than themselves and do incredible things for the community of Tobatí, involves international flights, week-long housing, food, along with other expenses which result in a total cost of $3,400. Team Tobatí will continue to be a wonderfully unique opportunity for KO students, and it’s understandable that such an involved experience will be expensive.
In addition to Team Tobatí, another highly popular aspect of the KO experience is volunteering at Camp KO. Students may elect to take on a regular volunteer role, which earns them 40 volunteer hours per week-long session.
While the experiences and lessons learned during students’ time with Team Tobatí and Camp KO are invaluable, KO should seek out additional opportunities that are not cost prohibitive and are accessible to the student population which comes from towns across Connecticut. Additionally, the school should look to develop relationships with outreach organizations in order to give students established starting points when the time comes to get involved themselves.
In-school opportunities are also limited; in the past couple of years, community service has taken a new direction with the establishment of the Fundraising Committee. Now, school-wide fundraising efforts have been limited to two per month. While it is understandable wanting to organize and monitor fundraisers, at the same time, it feels unnecessary to enforce strict quotas for the amount of good KO can do.
As KO looks to increase community involvement at an individual level, perhaps some school-wide improvements can be made as well.