Unpacking the Public Purpose Program

Lick-Wilmerding‘s mission statement identifies Lick- Wilmerding as “a private school with a public purpose.” At the core of the school’s identity, Lick previously served public purpose through the intercession and Jellis block program. However, under the leadership of the Center, the program has been reinvented into the Public Purpose Program (PPP) to reinvigorate student service and better serve the school’s mission.

Alan Wesson speaking to the Honors Statistics PPP Class. Photo by Quinn Donohue

Alan Wesson speaking to the Honors Statistics PPP Class. Photo by Quinn Donohue

Unlike other independent or parochial schools, Lick- Wilmerding did not have a service requirement except participation in the Jellis Block week. Attendance at every “Jellis Block” was a graduation requirement; the week was organized by advisors for their advisees. Jellis Block plans varied from advising to advising, and ranged from construction of furniture, to working in community gardens, to teaching art in schools, to working in a food bank, or helping out the Lick community.
Last year, Lick-Wilmerding transitioned from the Jellis block program to the Public Purpose Program, a new system designed to improve service learning for students. When asked what motivated the transition to the new system, Alan Wesson, the Service Learning and Public Purpose Program Director for Lick-Wilmerding said that the two main reasons for the change were consistency and continuity.

Wesson explained that Jellis Block’s consistency issues were created by an uneven range of experiences for different advisories. Some advisories undertook incredible service projects, but Wesson would also have parents come to him and say, “I thought Lick was a school that cared about getting involved in the community, and my student just stayed at school all day not knowing what they were doing; they might as well have stayed home.” Christine Godinez, Director of Student Inclusion, Leadership and Civic Engagement, shared the sentiment. Godinez pointed out that “not every advisor has the skillset or the desire to plan a really meaningful Jellis block.” Kate Wiley, Dean of Students, agreed with Godinez about the unevenness of the Jellis Block experience, “As a whole, across the school, there was a lot of discrepancy.”
Another issue with the Jellis Block program was continuity. Wesson, Godinez, and Wiley each pointed out that Jellis Block was a distinct block set off from the rest of the school year. Jellis Block did not actually integrate service into students’ lives. The separation of Jellis Block from school days suggested service and school are exclusive, rather than woven into a cohesive program of service learning called for in Lick’s mission statement. Jellis Block seemed to many advisories like checking the box of “doing service” without actually making a difference for either the student or their communities.

The Public Purpose Program, the successor to Jellis Block, was designed to solve these issues. The new program offers a comprehensive and different path for each grade. The program was intentionally designed to better reflect the Lick-Wilmerding mission.

The freshman program is based around a series of workshops which explore public purpose, responsibility, and service in the context of Lick-Wilmerding. These workshops have the benefit of standardizing understanding of what service means to a freshman class coming from a diverse set of schools, some with stronger service programs than others. The workshops culminate in a full day of service, chosen by the freshmen class. Last year, this day of service was cleaning up Ocean in partnership with San Francisco Parks and Rec, with various groups focusing on different areas of the Ocean Avenue corridor.

Sophomores are required to complete 40 hours of service. This requirement for service is a departure from Lick’s previous policy which only encouraged students to engage in service. According to Godinez, “making it optional for students to engage in service learning doesn’t help students live it.” Students can fulfill up to 10 hours of their service through helping out at Lick-Wilmerding events like open houses.

The Public Purpose Program by Year. Infographic courtesy of Quinn Donohue

The Public Purpose Program by Year.
Infographic courtesy of Quinn Donohue

When asked if 40 hours of service was a lot, Godinez answered that she didn’t think it was. Students could easily fulfill their requirement through attending four of the monthly service days organized by the Center and working at admissions open houses. While this would be an easy way to fulfill the requirement, both Godinez and Wesson hoped students would use the opportunity to plan and do something they are very passionate about.

Godinez says she found “The students who stick to one thing finish up their hours really quickly.” In fact, close to ten students had finished their 40 hours before the second semester.

Sophomores last year pursued an astonishing range of activities to complete their 40 hours of service. One student worked with the California Academy of Sciences to help with research on dogs and another worked to lower the municipal voting age to 16. Students worked with the SPCA and with Food Banks like Glide and St. Anthony’s.

Sophomores cannot complete their 40 hours of service during the summer. When asked why, Godinez responded, “There are students that have the flexibility in their schedule during the summer to go travel and do summer immersion programs or volunteer. There are also kids who have to work so they can’t volunteer. We don’t plan service days in the summer, so I wanted it to just be as equitable as possible.”

Wesson agreed with Godinez, but also added that the time constraint was in some sense intentional. Students live busy lives, but Jellis block was very separate from a student’s day to day life. Jellis Block, according to Wesson, was “a week where your life stops, and you do volunteer work, and then go back to your life.” This clashed with the Lick-Wilmerding and PPP mission, which aims to integrate service into the life of every student. The 40 hours is an effort to teach students how to make time for something that matters like service (although the lessons learned can be applied to other important areas as well). By forcing students to do their service work during the school year, Wesson says, “Volunteering is a thing that’s in your schedule, something that you do regularly. In that way, it becomes part of your way of life”.
Students can accomplish their 40 hours during the various breaks throughout the school year.

Juniors and seniors are required to either be enrolled in one PPP course, carry out a semester long independent study, or do a year long internship with a local nonprofit. PPP classes are offered by teachers who choose to take on the additional responsibility (unlike Jellis block, where all advisors were required to participate). Classes can make a direct impact, like Honors Statistics, which works with nonprofits, or PreCalculus PPP which helps run Math Cafe, or can be focused on learning and raising awareness about an issue. The same requirements hold true for internships and independent studies as well. Interns this year are working on marketing for One Degree (community resources program) and are tutoring for Reading Partners. One student is carrying out an Independent study on the causes and responses to a lack of female computer scientists, while another looks at the history of food as a necessity and cuisine as a choice.

PPP classes were intended for the majority of students, while independent studies and internships were for those with a clear vision in mind. However, according to Wesson, this year due to scheduling difficulty, students who wanted a PPP class were unable to receive one. While the Center is working closely with the students to help them plan internships or independent studies, this is an unintended consequence of how the schedule worked out and after scheduling priorities. The 20 PPP classes this year are more than enough for all juniors and seniors to participate in, and many students have more than one PPP class.

Wiley urged critics to remember that this is a new program. “I want students to be excited and encouraged, but also to be flexible, because there are going to be bumps in the road.” Despite these concerns, the Public Purpose Program has already been remarkably successful and as a successor to Jellis block will better embody the Lick-Wilmerding Mission.

Posted in Tigerways | No Comments »

About Quinn Donohue

Quinn, a Senior at Lick, is a co-editor in chief. Quinn frequently writes for the Science and Technology, Politics, and Features section of the Paper Tiger. Quinn was a member of the Journalism class Sophomore year, and Junior year did an independent study focusing on science journalism.

Leave a Reply