Habits of the Heart

The Greenwich Public Schools Community Service Awards program was established in 1986. Dr. Ernest Fleishman, Superintendent of the Greenwich Public Schools from 1976-1989, initiated the program in order to honor student commitment to service in the community. This year, the Community Service Awards program celebrates thirty years of extraordinary contributions to Greenwich and globally by our youngest residents – our students. The entire Greenwich community is invited to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Community Service Awards and our 2016 award recipients on March 22, 2016, 5 p.m. at the new Greenwich High School Performing Arts Center.

How do you define the quality of a school system? Is it standardized test scores, numbers of students in AP classes, class size, percentage of students going on to higher education? One could make an argument for each indicator, but we frequently omit one simply because it is difficult to measure and often not emphasized; namely, the number of students who are performing service to their community. We tend to forget that there are two major purposes for schooling; one, to provide students with the skills and knowledge to further their education and become employable; and two, to improve students’ own quality of life as well as the lives of their fellow community members.

I believe that the Greenwich School system is a leader in fostering and supporting community service. For the past thirty years, the Greenwich schools have sponsored the Community Service Awards to honor students who have undertaken projects to improve the quality of life for those less fortunate. In 1986, a group of us determined that community service should be honored in our schools, just as athletics has been. “What you expect is what you get,” and what we have received from these students should touch our hearts and souls.

Our elementary school students support such service organizations as UNICEF, Neighbor to Neighbor and Kids in Crisis. They help senior citizens, veterans groups and local hospitals. The elementary, middle and high schools participate in the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism Day to combat intolerance and to celebrate diversity in our Greenwich community.

Middle and high school students support GEMS, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Make a Wish Connecticut, the Stamford Soup Kitchen, Abilis, Red Cross Safe Rides, the Greenwich Boys and Girls Club, Children’s Cancer Research, Nathaniel Witherall, and countless others.

The impact of service to the students is so powerful. The 2015 award recipients commented; “ Community service connects us to people and gives meaning to our lives.” “It provides us with different perspectives on life and how we want others [and ourselves] to live.” “ It enables us to focus on what really matters.” Research on the impact of community service reinforces the students’ views; it helps students to overcome boredom and lack of motivation; it transforms theoretical knowledge to actual practice; it leads to greater involvement in public affairs including voting; and it provides a more positive lifestyle by helping students understand that they can make a difference.

Hundreds of Greenwich students participate in community service programs each year, which translates into thousands over the past thirty years. Community service has become a lifestyle for these students. They have not only developed habits of the mind but habits of the heart as well.

These habits do not develop by accident. Students learn from their families and caregivers who model such behavior by their own actions in the home and community. They learn from their teachers, counselors and school leaders who provide them with the opportunities to serve and honor them when they do.

As a community, we need to remind ourselves that preparing students to become responsible, ethical and compassionate members of society is at the heart of an excellent school system.

Dr. Ernest Fleishman, former GPS Superintendent 


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