No longer an only child

Chronicle Staff

After 19 years of being an only child, Harvard-Westlake is finally going to have a sister. Her name is, as of yet, unknown. Every six years, the school completes a self-evaluation and proposes measures to improve the school community in a lengthy report to renew its accreditation.

One of the five priorities in this year’s action plan is to “increase engagement with the broader community.”

To achieve this, the school identified four courses of action, the first is to partner with a sister school “with which to build an ongoing relationship through community service” by 2012.

The other three propositions are also undeniably strong plans: to grow and promote the Middle School’s Summer Enrichment Program for public school students in the fourth and fifth grades, to combat the “perception that the school is insular” by better communicating “its commitment to improving our city and community,” and to “continue to foster and develop relationships with schools and educational organizations around the world.”

But it’s the sister school that could really make a permanent, major, and incredibly positive impact on the personal growth of students.

“A calendar of shared community service events would be created to benefit both the public or charter school and Harvard-Westlake,” the report says. “Examples of projects might include: personnel and/or resource sharing and exchanges, mentorship and tutoring opportunities.”

As evidenced by the vast number of students who failed to complete their community service requirements on time last year, many students have not found a community service opportunity that they find meaningful and satisfying. Even among those who do complete their community service requirements, many of those students attend only one event.

Community service might become an opportunity for emotional growth. When students return to the same school and tutor the same students, they become personally invested in the project. Students from both schools could perform community service together.

And there is so much more we could do in conjunction with our sister school. We could try short term student exchanges, interschool athletic competitions and joint trips, like the journalism trip to the National Scholastic Press Association convention or the Model United Nations trip to the University of California, Berkeley conference.

Harvard-Westlake and its sister school could collaborate to create outreach opportunities for both schools. The most effective way to combat the perception that our school is insular is to throw open the doors.