Compassion in the Community at East Palo Alto Academy

“I don’t want any of you ever to wonder how powerful you are. I don’t want you ever to wonder your ability to make the world a better place. Don’t think about it and wonder, ‘can I?’ Know that you can if you ask yourself how and when. Because you already did it. You’ve already done it. The question is how, and when.” –Amika Guillaume, Principal of East Palo Alto Academy, speaking to seniors

Principal Amika Guillaume at the Senior Exhibition Presentation (photo from M-A Chronicle)

Every year at East Palo Alto Academy, as part of its project-based, social justice-themed curriculum, students participate in and present an “exhibition” on a major topic. The Senior Exhibition, called “Compassion in the Community,” was started two years ago, “transforming what was previously a reflections senior exhibition into an action-based one.” It is a “semester-long project that asks students to think critically about their own definitions of compassion and community and how they can improve their community using compassionate measures.”

In groups, students develop their own community service projects, starting by surveying 100 people in the the community and identifying an issue, then creating a proposal to address it, implementing the project with a live audience, and reflecting on the results. They conclude with a presentation to a panel of judges (made up of various community members), informing them of the need in the community and convincing the judges to fund their projects.

PVF partnered with East Palo Alto Academy to award funds to the top three groups of seniors to donate to a nonprofit organization of their choice, matching their project’s theme.

Based on “a strict rubric for effectiveness, overall presentation and impact,” the selected winning projects were focused on: (1) creating more active and engaged young people in East Palo Alto, (2) mindfulness for parents to combat stress, and (3) renters’ rights.

The seniors in the first group created a dance/step team for children that included a mentorship component. The weekly step class was held at Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula (BGCP) and included lessons on the history and social context of step. As the winning (first place) team, the group was awarded $3,000 dollars for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula to continue the step class.

The second and third groups of seniors tied for second place.

The mindfulness group studied the impact of yoga relaxation techniques and developed weekly (bilingual) mindfulness and yoga classes for parents—specifically Hispanic parents. The group was awarded $1,500 to give to the Niroga Institute, a mindfulness organization, for yoga instructors to train a cohort of next year’s seniors on educating parents and continuing these mindfulness and yoga classes.

The renters’ rights group hosted an evening tenant education workshop for local families. The students also conducted a panel at Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service to educate Stanford students about gentrification and its effects. At this panel, the group raised $2,000 for the San Mateo County Emergency Housing Fund, providing immediate relief for people struggling to pay rent. The group was awarded $1,500 to give to Youth United for Community Action (YUCA), a group focused on empowering youth to make social change.

The success of EPA Academy’s Senior Exhibition led the school to receive the Civic Learning Award for California Public Schools, one of only six in the state this year. EPAA “was selected because of its innovation, the intensity, and the commitment of the school behind the program.”

We at PVF are proud to work with EPA Academy to inspire social change, develop new leaders, and help create meaningful partnerships in the community.

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