Not Either/Or, but Both/And by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School
In the last issue of the Parents' E-Newsletter, I wrote about the importance of high school students getting a summer job – to gain some "real world" experience, to take on some personal financial responsibility, to be held accountable in new ways and to develop different interpersonal skills. And then I promptly got on a plane and took 18 Nobles Class I and II students to Vietnam and Cambodia to cycle a few hundred miles, do some service, learn important history and expand their view of themselves and the world.
Some might accuse me of being somewhat hypocritical in promoting two very different agendas, but the efficacy of both types of experiences is undeniable. Sarah and I have been fortunate to take Nobles students to New Orleans, India, South Africa and Southeast Asia, and each time we do so we are overwhelmed by the impact these immersion experiences have on kids and on us. Adolescents are incredibly self-centered, and often the best way to help them break away from that focus on self is to put them in a context where nothing is familiar and where all assumptions are challenged. Whether swinging a hammer in New Orleans, holding an abandoned child in Romania, building a library in Cambodia or helping in a South African township (and many other experiences of this sort) our students are brought face to face with the challenges (and opportunities) that many face in our country and in the world today.
At our farewell meeting in Cambodia one student said that she’d always wondered why people would go outside of Boston to do service "when there is so much to do in our own backyards." As we talked about this conundrum, we came to the conclusion that there are many ways to make a positive impact on the lives of others and that the goal is simply to find the vehicle that is right for each individual. Nobles' mission of trying to develop "leaders for the public good" makes no mention of priority of cause or location – we simply want to help people find a place and a way to make a difference that is meaningful to them and to others.
My advice to parents would be to try to help your child try on different service experiences for size and see what fits best. Some will find satisfaction in their neighborhoods while others will find opportunities in the developing world. But armed with the intellectual and analytical skills developed in Nobles classrooms and a range of experiences that push them out of their "comfort zone," Nobles students will develop into leaders of the future.
Side note: And the connection to summer jobs? We always made our children work in the summer to help pay for these kinds of experiences – when they had some sweat equity involved, it made an obvious difference.