Working to Make a Difference
A growing number of colleges and universities are emphasizing civic engagement in their curriculum—a move institutions say is in response to an erosion of public discourse.* Harley has made civic engagement a cornerstone of our programming since we were founded in 1917.
We prepare students to become citizens able to use their knowledge and energy to accomplish meaningful activities in their communities. As today’s students show renewed interest in activism and political engagement in order to resolve problems they identify, we help them acquire skills needed to make their efforts effective.
The Harley School Definition of
“Civic engagement” means understanding the root causes of social issues and fostering within Harley students and faculty a sense of personal responsibility to advocate for positive social change according to their values.
The Briggs Center for Civic Engagement
The Briggs Center for Civic Engagement focuses on programs that put students, faculty, and the institution in positions of civic leadership. Harley is nationally recognized as a leader in partnerships that close the achievement gap for urban students from impoverished families.
In 2015, the University of Rochester, Nazareth College, Monroe Community College, and The Norman Howard School launched summer programs based on Harley’s model forming a regional consortium, the Greater Rochester Summer Learning Association.
Harley students participate in community service both on- and off campus. This allows them to develop skills, make contacts, and improve the quality of life of others. It also provides students with the opportunity to become active members of their community and has a lasting, positive impact on society at large.
MLK Day On!
MLK Day On is a day for Harley, Horizons, and the Greater Rochester communities to come together in a variety of projects, community service, and sharing. Many of our families attend for all, or part, of the day.
Middle and Upper School
Harley hosts MLK Day On events for Middle- and Upper School students and their families, Horizons families, and the public. With a goal of taking the opportunity to pause and reflect on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message and impact there are readings, a screening of MLK video clips, team building activities, and interactive stations including: mural making, art, an interview booth, and cooking in the Commons kitchen.
Lower School and Horizons present “Dr. MLK Day of Solidarity”
Held in the Centrum at Harley, a variety of guest artists lead families in interactive activities including: solidarity quilt making, a drumming circle, and interactive spoken-word sessions.
This is an impactful, unique, and memorable event.
Middle School: Brightening Birthdays
Several years ago, Volunteers of America launched Brightening Birthdays, a program to make sure children experiencing poverty or homelessness have a chance to celebrate and receive the party all youngsters deserve. Our entire Grade 8 is involved in planning and fundraising (including an awesome bake sale!). Different students are involved in differing parts of the process, but every Grade 8 student participates. The kids come together to brainstorming themes, talk about what should go in the goody bags, and which are the best games, activities, and crafts to bring along. They also collect socks and books for people at the shelter to choose from. There is a lottery to determine which 10-12 students will go onsite for the actual party.
Beyond Soup is a student group in the Upper School that cooks a meal at St. Joe’s House of Hospitality soup kitchen a few times a year. The students identify recipes, gather ingredients, and cook a meal on select Sundays at the soup kitchen. When possible, they attempt to incorporate food from the Harley garden. A current student is investigating ways to connect Beyond Soup to Harley academic classes, as well.
Sample Classes and Programs
Rights & Responsibilities
A required, one trimester class for all Grade 9 students with a simple goal: to encourage informed and active citizenship.
Developed with the belief that everyone already has skills they can use to contribute to community growth, this class enables students to enhance old skills and practice new ones to gain new knowledge about our communities and how to contribute to them.
Being an informed and active citizen is a lifelong process and this course is only one step. In order to begin (or continue) the process students design advocacy projects to explore issues that impact the health of our communities and take action.
Students participated in PhotoVoice, using ethical photography to promote positive social change.
Experiences beyond the school campus
Students engage in field experiences off campus in a variety of ways including through field trips, service work, and school collaborations. These moments are opportunities for students to connect what they learn in the classroom to the world beyond Harley. It also is a time for students to fully engage interdisciplinary skills they develop in the academic program such as collaboration, empathy, and investigation.
The Harley upper school participates in Roc2Change, a youth Race Summit is a student-led initiative to “bring students together from Monroe County schools, both public and private, to engage in facilitated dialogue with peers related to race, racism, privilege, internalized racism, non-racism, and anti-racism. They are working together to develop plans to be the change.” The event happens two times a year, once in the fall and in the spring.
Grade 5 students wrote letters to Honor Flight veterans and then welcomed them home at the Rochester airport on Sunday afternoon!
Senior Capstone Program
The Harley School senior capstone program is a culminating academic experience for students with an authentic interest in a particular field. The program includes research, engaging in a meaningful project, ongoing reflection and documentation, and a public presentation at the end of the year. The project component can take several forms–a film, podcasts, poetry book, thesis, educational website, coding, the possibilities are many. The capstone is not for everyone, as students must be self-directed, resilient, and comfortable with authentic assessment. Students are assigned a capstone advisor and work with other adults in both the Harley community and outside of Harley. The capstone is a unique opportunity for students to direct and design their own learning.
Sample Capstone Projects:
- Multilingual instructional videos about daily life activities for Mary’s Place to use to show refugees how to use common appliances.
- Biomimicry Education: A series of lessons used by the senior to teach Grade 4 students about biomimicry. The children explored the major concepts of biomimicry and designed their own biomimicry project.
- “Moments in Between” poetry book about one student’s transgender experience.
- Designed and built an interactive exhibit to teach community members how a solar chimney functions.
- Creation of a guidebook for creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ community members and presentation about how to be an ally.
Center for Mindfulness and Empathy Education
The Center for Mindfulness and Empathy Education (CMEE) evolved in response to the increasing recognition that mindfulness and empathy play an indispensable role in humanizing our education system. The Center’s launch was supported by an E.E. Ford Foundation Educational Leadership grant, one of the most prestigious grant programs in the country for independent schools.
The Center’s Mission
“To empower Nursery to Grade 12 teachers, students, staff and parents with the requisite tools and support necessary to foster a sustained, compassionate presence through the development and nurturing of programs that demand authentic human engagement, stimulating our inborn capacity to compassionately connect to and understand others, embracing their situation as our own.”
Harley is committed to sharing its experiences with others in the educational community.
©2023 The Harley School