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Nature Is the Classroom During Schoolwide Day of Service

By Denis Grasska

SAN DIEGO — Not all learning takes place in the classroom.

That’s what more than 700 students from St. Augustine High School discovered on Nov. 26, when the entire student body participated in a schoolwide “Day of Service.”

“There’s really not a dichotomy between being in class and being out of class,” Augustinian Brother Maxime Villeneuve, who is currently in his first year as the school’s Christian service director, told The Southern Cross prior to the event. “It’s just that, on that day, nature will be our classroom.”

Students were assigned through their homerooms to service sites at one of five parks in the county. These included Oakoasis County Preserve, Bonita Cove, Presidio Park, Morley Field and Goodan Ranch/Sycamore Canyon Preserve. The students reported to their assigned site at 8 a.m. and engaged in beautification work until noon, when they were dismissed by their homeroom teachers.

Brother Villeneuve stressed that the Day of Service was not a vacation day, nor was it an optional event that students could choose whether or not to attend. Rather, it was treated as a regular school day, albeit one that took place entirely off-campus and ended with early dismissal. Through their participation, students earned four hours toward their annual 25-hour community service requirement.

While planning the event last summer, Brother Villeneuve told city and county park officials that he wanted the students to “be doing real work for the day, not just picking up litter.” So, among other things, they cleared brush, planted flowers, spread mulch and helped to remove invasive species.

The biggest service project to take place that day was at Oakoasis County Preserve, where the entire freshmen and sophomore classes were assigned. Together, they planted 2,000 trees. At the conclusion of their work, Brother Villeneuve blessed what they had planted.

“The stereotype is always that the young people of today have their phones in their hands all the time and, on this day, [they had] a shovel and a rake,” he said, explaining that the opportunity to “unplug” from technology was yet another benefit of the Day of Service.

The first Day of Service was held eight years ago. Originally, it was intended to take place every four years, so that every student can experience it at least once during their time at the school. However, it has begun to be held more frequently, and Brother Villeneuve hopes that it might develop into an annual tradition.

Citing St. Augustine High School’s motto, “Accepting boys and graduating men who change the world,” Brother Villeneuve said that the sort of men who change the world are those who are actively involved in their communities. The Day of Service, he said, is a day explicitly set aside to promote such involvement.

He expressed hope that the service day might help students to recognize “the diversity of opportunities that they have to serve,” as well as to “rekindle a love of nature, a love of being outdoors” and perhaps even spark interest in establishing an environmental club or related activities on campus.

While their recollections of specific school days might fade over time, Brother Villeneuve predicted that the Day of Service will be “a lifelong memory” for students.

Religion teacher Vladimir Bachynsky was among the faculty members on site at Presidio Park. He remarked on the impact that the school is able to make through its Day of Service.

“Every kingdom needs an army,” he said. “So, today, Saints has sent an army of students to help build the Kingdom of God.”

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