Tucked away in the attic of the theater, sorting shelves of telephones, plastic pie and other props, or stacking boxes of costume pieces and shoes, Peak School students chose to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day with acts of service at nonprofit organizations throughout Summit County.
This is the first year of the MLK Jr. Service Day, on which founder and head of school Rebekah Jordan said is a meaningful way to help students follow the school’s mission of translating understanding into action.
“Social justice is a big part of our curriculum, it’s built into our academic objectives,” she said. “In order to graduate, students must demonstrate their understanding of government and citizenship and social justice through action, whether it’s volunteering for a political campaign, creating a service project of their own, volunteering or letter writing.”
Besides working at Lake Dillon Theatre, the Peak School also sent students to Summit County Preschool, worked on projects at their own location in Frisco and had a group at Children’s Hospital in Denver to work on art projects with inpatients.
Not even two hours in at the Lake Dillon Preschool, the volunteer team had already finished cleaning and sanitizing all of the play mats and strollers. Outside, another group worked to chip away ice and snow covering the path to the playground.
For 12-year-old Elli Vandeyacht, giving back, rather than having the day off, was a great way to spend her time.
“We’re big on helping the community because they help us all the time,” she said.
Every site team was made up of six to eight students, one teacher and at least one parent volunteer. The groups, with students ages 12 to 16, arrived between 8:30 and 9 a.m. Monday and worked until returning home at 1:30 p.m.
Jordan said students continuously learn about outreach and service at the school. As part of the advisory groups at the school, students meet for an hour-and-a-half every Wednesday for academic counseling, recreation or community service time. Every group is responsible for taking charge of a project, and past service has included volunteer work at the Summit County Animal Shelter, raising money to save dolphins in China, helping the Summit County preschool and the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.
Before transitioning to different divisions — groups of grades at the school — students also spend six to eight weeks on immersion projects, working on a research or service project with job shadows on topics of their own choice. Jordan said these projects are designed to be lasting and community-based. She said volunteering at places like the Lake Dillon Theatre help students see real-world applications of what they learn.
“Theater and arts are such a different way to enact social change,” she said. “It serves a purpose in the community of creating a space where people able to examine ideas in a different way, have their minds opened to new ideas and new concepts. Historically around the world theater has been an agent of social change, so to give back to an organization that brings that to our community was important.”
During the day, nonprofit staff members also set aside a few minutes to talk about the role the organization plays in the community. Jordan said it was important to communicate to the students how their work is supporting the organization missions and helping Summit County community as a whole.
“Community service can be really fun with all of the people and surroundings, it’s usually fun for me,” Vandeyacht said. “You’re serving your community, every day you get a different learning perspective.”
As they worked, students often brought up the idea of how MLK Jr. not only fought for racial equality, but worked to help communities grow stronger.
“We want them to grow up to be informed, thoughtful citizens who don’t accept the status quo,” Jordan said. “Student as worker, teacher as coach. That’s something we talk about a lot. We do with our students instead of doing to our students. There is a big focus on community, and doing things together.”