EXCEL: A Culture of Partnership by Director of the Anderson/Cabot Center for EXCEL Ben Snyder
When queried on our mission, Nobles students reliably respond “to be leaders for the public good.” (For parents of new students see how quickly your children pick this up). While an audacious and highly aspirational goal, we are serious about our commitment to building a culture where the expectation for every member of the community is to make meaningful contributions to the world around us: in our neighborhood and city, across the country and/or around the world. EXCEL (Experiential and Community Engaged Learning) programs at Nobles (including service, travel immersion programs, applied learning and Achieve and Upward Bound) embody much of the Nobles mission to develop leadership for the public good.
The most significant challenge in achieving this aspect of the school’s mission is in the creation of substantive opportunities for broad involvement on institutional, group and individual levels. At its core, Nobles believes that developing multiple partnerships across many aspects of the institution is the only way to achieve the school’s mission and EXCEL’s role in achieving that mission. Over the last 25 years Nobles has built myriad programs based on the principle of identifying, developing and sustaining partnerships with like minded organizations locally, nationally and globally - and today those partnerships number well over one hundred.
Service to others has always been part of the Nobles culture. Graduates from the 1940s and 1950s share stories of the Head’s encouraging the small acts of giving that makes others lives better. In the late 1980s, however, Nobles made two fundamental shifts to institutionalize its commitment to serving and partnering outside the school walls.
The first shift was to mandate an 80-hour community service graduation requirement. While not broadly accepted initially, it became clear that service to others was critical to our mission and that only by requiring substantial service from each student could both the educational goals be achieved and the impact of service felt.
The second shift - twenty-five years ago this summer - was to partner with the University of Massachusetts-Boston to establish an Upward Bound program targeting low-income first generation high school students in Greater Boston. This decision to use dorm and classroom space to serve urban youth while foregoing lucrative summer opportunities made clear Nobles’ commitment to serving a high need population. The Nobles/UMB partnership not only utilizes the Nobles campus but also has delivered a six-week academic program (and Saturdays each month during the school year) often taught by Nobles faculty and young graduates that mimics the academic year program.
Upward Bound had such success that in 2007 Achieve at Noble and Greenough was founded to serve low income/first generation middle school students from Boston Public Schools. Again, Nobles faculty, graduates and students are fully engaged in all aspects of Achieve. Together, these programs serve close to 150 young men and women to put them on the path to college and embody Nobles institutional commitment to developing long-lasting sustainable partnerships serving the broader community.
Building service partnerships - in our backyard, across our country and around the world as a “culture of service” has evolved, becoming central to our purpose. For example, for over twenty years Nobles students and faculty have been volunteering as part of their Nobles Afternoon Program commitment at Community Servings, an organization providing nutritional meals to individuals and families living with critical and chronic illnesses. These types of local partnerships (like annually partnering with the Dedham Postal Service to host the Stamp Out Hunger Drive and our Big Sibling Program at Dedham’s Riverdale elementary school) provide goods, services and critically needed funds to ongoing local partners and involve hundreds of Nobles students each year.
Over the years student groups such as athletic teams or drama ensembles also have found partners for shorter term projects ranging from hosting a soccer clinic for low income students to working with local rape crisis centers to providing sled hockey for the handicapped. By building these partnerships into “non-service” programs, the lessons of finding meaningful service partnerships are reinforced.
While Nobles students have been part of student exchange programs and the occasional “school trip” for decades, over the last fifteen years Nobles has developed a broad array of partnerships with schools and non-governmental organizations across the country and around the world. Together, each year close to 150 Nobles students and 30+ faculty immerse themselves in service and academic/cultural exchange programs. Nobles has developed longstanding service partnerships with NGOs in New Orleans (10 years this March, click here for an article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune recognizing Nobles’ commitment to service there), South Africa (20 years), Romania (15 years), Guatemala (3 years), India (8 years) and Cambodia (7 years) and school partners in Japan (20 years), China (4 years), Spain and France (10 years each). Several have become mutually beneficial; we have hosted students from our partner schools and NGOs in South Africa, China, Japan, France and Spain and provided specifically requested funds and direct services for our NGO partners. Nobles also provides more than $100,000 worth of financial aid to make these experiences affordable for all students.
As these partnerships have grown and the approach has proved efficacious, the Nobles Trustees took an important step. The most recent school strategic plan affirmed Nobles’ commitment the partnership-based approach and value of experiential learning through the creation of The Anderson-Cabot Center for Experiential and Community Engaged Learning (EXCEL). Further, the current capital campaign has designated a $12 million endowment goal to insure the future of current programs as well as a $6 million endowment goal to endow the Achieve program. This commitment from the Board affirms that this approach is critical to the fulfillment of the Nobles mission.
Through long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships, Nobles believes graduates will understand the positive impact they can have and find a cause that is personally meaningful, ensuring the Nobles mission of developing “leaders for the public good.”