The Reality of CAP and Service

at Westridge 

Hadley P., '21, helps two kids from Washington Elementary with their drawing.
Erica St. John
By Isabella W.
February 26, 2019

As students progress through each grade level, the focus on and engagement in the Community Action Project (CAP), the service project primarily for senior and juniors, increases. But how is CAP actually viewed by students? And why is there often a negative attitude about CAP?

 

“CAP is the culmination of a four or more, if students were in the lower and/or middle school here, year journey of service and community engagement. The purpose of our service program is to get students thinking about how they can become contributing citizens/members of their communities, even changemakers,” said Erica St. John, Upper School English and Service Learning Coordinator.

 

Service is embedded into Westridge culture, and students at every grade level complete a yearly service requirement. In middle school, students take a Service Learning class, and “eighth grade students use some of their class time to go out into the community and engage in service work with Westridge partners,” said Becca Marcus, Service Learning Coordinator and Dance Teacher.

 

Freshman and sophomore students complete different service activities each year in order to help them identify what their service interests are. The Service Handbook states, “During your freshman year, you must have two distinct service experiences. Do something you have never done before.” The requirement varies slightly for sophomores. “By the end of the year you need to have 3 service experiences that are EACH at least 3 hours in length and that (ideally) revolve around a theme.”

 

In junior and senior year,  students complete their Community Action Project, a project in which students engage in their community in a way that promotes change. “After learning more about the issues they care about and having service experiences OFF campus and IN their communities, students propose small or large projects that help meet a need,” said Erica St. John.

 

Despite all the benefits CAP has to offer, the negative attitude surrounding it still persists. Most students feel that the amount of time dedicated to CAP is difficult to manage with the high demands of being a student at Westridge. “I think CAP can be a burden because it’s hard to do it on top of school,” said Shania B., ’21.

 

The hours spent on CAP are not the only parts that negatively affect students. Many of the additional requirements can become challenging to manage. For example, the reflection requirement after CAP is yet another task to be added to students work. “We have to write like a 10 page essay reflection, which can be hard to manage,” said Olivia N., ’19. While the CAP requirements may feel like a "10 page essay," no official length specifications are outlined on the Service and Community Engagement Finalsite page.

 

Although CAP has numerous benefits, some students feel there are downsides. “It’s like we're forced to do it,” said Shanti R., ’21.

 

CAP’s many requirements can often overshadow the experiences and lessons learned. “I think in the process of planning CAP, you also work on different skills, and I think I have personally improved on communicating with people of authority/teachers, organizing dates, and involving my peers because the thing that makes something work out is to make sure people know about it.” said Kaylan P., ’20.  

Children from Washington Elementary hold up their newly received books.
Erica St. John

Although many lessons can be  learned during the CAP journey, the requirements can still feel restrictive and can be overwhelming to students. “I believe that CAP may have a negative attitude surrounding it because of the time commitment Westridge students have to make, another thing on our plates that we must finish,” said Eleanor W., ’20. Sosi D., ’21 hopes to break the negative attitude surrounding CAP by becoming a service representative. “We really want to destigmatize the service process. I think that’s why I signed up to become a service rep. There’s this general idea that service is somehow inaccessible or hard to do, but it doesn’t have to be that way” said Sosi D., ’21, a service representative for the sophomore class. “If you have a friend who’s an upperclassman, there’s a high chance they have somewhere for you to volunteer at,” said Molly M., ’19, a service representative for the senior class.

 

Students’ views of service change and evolve throughout their middle and high school experience. “In middle school, we had to take service learning class, and it was viewed more as a requirement rather than something engaging but now that it is something that I am more invested in and have done more research on, I view it more as something that can make a change and I feel more personally invested in it,” said Kaylan P., ’20. Kaylan’s change of view about service results from becoming more invested in a single project revolved around helping others.

 

“Ideally, the service work a student does is rooted in passion, and they get as much out of their project as the people, animals, or environment they're helping,” said Erica St. John.

 

Jaya S., ’20, one of the junior class service representatives, agrees that passion and interest plays a huge role in enjoying CAP. “I feel like with CAP I was able to really invest myself in one specific opportunity, and do the most and the best work I could. I really enjoyed it and I think that’s the most important part of the CAP project.”

Erica St. John
Rachel H., ’19 (back left), Hanne I., ’19 (middle left), Salomé A., ’19 (front left), Maya D., ’19 (back right), and Lauren B., ’19 (front right), are all making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in Madeline Court.

Daniel Calmeyer, Upper School Math, and Yearbook Advisor, believes a service requirement is part of the privilege of a Westridge education. “I understand that it’s a task that’s an addition to school work that people don’t want to do, but in this school where people pay $35,000 a year to go to, I think it’s okay that we require people to give something back to those that cannot afford such a tuition.”

 

CAP can also help students develop a deeper understanding of their community and the role students can play in improving the lives of others. “CAP helps people understand their perspective. It is very selfless in a way and I think that is needed in this society where everything is self-centered,” said Sissi L. ’19, a service representative for the junior class.

 

With all service requirements, the main objective can often become lost amidst the due dates and time spent. “I think that a service requirement of any form can make service feel like a chore, and can deemphasize just helping others because you genuinely want to. I think if you plan ahead, CAP can be a very successful process and rewarding as well,” said Jamie G., ’20. While a negative attitude about CAP persists, some students still agree that the lessons and purpose of CAP allow students to inspire change and help others in a more impactful way.