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A School Without Walls


service learningSamantha Merzbacher, Amy Kitz, Avery Friedman, and Matt Hellsten are seniors in the Shoreham-Wading River High School in New York who took the newly introduced class School Without Walls. Samantha was recently accepted into Dowling College where she hopes to become a Psychologist. She loves to travel and experience different cultures. Amy is enrolled in Eastern Suffolk BOCES in a dental assistant class, currently attaining Honor Roll, with the goal of becoming a dental hygienist. Avery has future plans of going into the military. His goal in life is to travel the world. He is backpacking across Central America this upcoming summer. Matt is currently enrolled in Eastern Suffolk BOCES in their Audio Production Program, he plans to pursue a career in the production of music. Matt will be going to Kenya, Africa this February to work with AIDS affected children at an orphanage. (The student authors are pictured at right.)

A new course was introduced in the Shoreham-Wading River High School, this new course made it possible for high school seniors to help out throughout the community in which we live in. As seniors, we all remember being undecided about what to pick as our English and Social Studies courses. Our guidance counselors introduced the School Without Walls course to us. This class consists of independent English work, service learning, working with the community, and participation in government. Our guidance counselors also told us that “if we love to read and write, this course is perfect for us.” We enjoy the opportunity to try new things, so we decided to take two periods of School Without Walls a day.

The following year all of us decided to enroll in the School Without Walls class. We have two teachers which whom none of us have ever had before in the same classroom. They told us that in this class we are considered “guinea pigs,” so we have to build up this course to make it successful. In doing so, we have enough freedom--more than any other students in the school--to accomplish big tasks such as the Holiday Project, SWR Challenge, and Service Learning throughout our small community. We believe this course will be successful for upcoming future school years.

Every day as a class we represent the School Without Walls course both in the hallways and around the community. One of the ways we do this is through service learning, a concept which we are still learning. Service Learning is a teaching and learning strategy that mixes meaningful community service with class time and reflection to enhance our learning experience. This teaches responsibility and tries to bring our community closer as a whole. We, as a group, are using the service learning concept and intertwining it with a new concept which we call the SWR Challenge.

This “Challenge” is a tool where we as students get the opportunity to switch sides of the board and take up a teaching role. We teach the underclassmen about several topics that have been causing chaos in schools everywhere: removing prejudice, respecting others, taking time to think, reaching out to others, and removing bullying completely. We, as a class first derived these topics from a lesson where we learned about Rachel Scott, who was the first person to be killed in the 1999 Columbine School shooting. We learned about the way she lived her life and about the journal she kept. Her journal talked about her life and what she wanted the world and her community to be like. Our main goal was to have all the underclassmen we taught to pledge and follow the terms; we did not force anyone to sign on the terms. All students had the choice.

service learningBefore we could just walk into a classroom of 28 students and teach, we had to know a little bit about teaching. We learned about teaching methods, such as how to draw students’ attention through different types of media. In addition to showing a Rachel’s Challenge video we came up with a lesson plan including Project Adventure. This is a lesson that teaches students to work together to complete a goal. To demonstrate this we played an activity called “stepping stones.” This game required all students to cooperate and work together to cross over the hot “lava.” We as a group had to draw up lesson plans to accompany our teaching methods further. In the end we, as a class, got every student we taught to pledge to the terms. This is a great example of Service Learning because not only did we teach underclassmen, but we ourselves learned as well, and that is what makes Service Learning so special.

As part of our curriculum in the School Without Walls classroom we helped our neighbors in need get through the rough holiday months. Over the past two decades Shoreham-Wading River High School has been helping our neighbors throughout numerous holiday seasons. SWR students go outside of their normal school settings in order to find the holiday must-haves for families throughout our community, such as Christmas trees, Hanukkah and Christmas gifts, holiday meals, and fuel oil to heat their homes. For the 2012 holiday season seniors provided twenty one families with their holiday needs. People have been so kind in making donations to help out in our efforts. Lewin’s Farm donated approximately 15,000 pounds of produce for our neighbors in need. We sold produce to gain a profit so we could buy gifts and trees, and we also donated the produce to soup kitchens and families for their holiday meals. SWR students ran sales throughout the school selling things like hot chocolate as a simple way to raise money to help out. Students not only raised money in the school itself, but went outside of the classroom in order to try and fulfill every families needs throughout the holiday season.


Seniors in the School Without Walls class now have a newfound understanding of the community that we live in. The Holiday Project helped us understand that not everybody in our community is as fortunate as the rest of us, and we now want to do whatever we can to help them have a good holiday season filled with warmth, gifts, and meals. As seniors we gained knowledge when we got the opportunity to go to other grade levels teaching them about our “SWR Challenge.” We went into classrooms with high hopes of students pledging to the challenge.

School Without Walls has taught us so much as a class; the units we did as a group were powerful and meaningful, and will leave a lasting impression on all of us. We will always remember going into classrooms and helping families receive a good holiday season.

Spreading the Message


About the authors: Emily Lutz, Heather Cullum, and Sia Laino are seniors at Shoreham-Wading River High School. With multiple interests, the group became close friends this year due to their choice of taking the new experimental class, School Without Walls. Emily takes much interest in travel. She has visited Madrid, Spain; Kenya, Africa; and multiple cities in Switzerland. She also plans on voyaging to Haiti this February on a church mission trip. Heather’s passion for photography has inspired her to attend The Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. Sia plans to attend Suffolk Community College with high hopes of majoring in cosmetology and continuing her cheerleading athletics. The skills derived from the three young women provide an excellent combination for an active role throughout their community.

As upsetting as it was, the Columbine High School massacre was a terrible yet life-changing experience for those who witnessed it and for those who learned of the shooting on April 20th, 1999. Two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered a total of twelve students and one teacher. They injured twenty one additional students who were trying to help people escape the school. The pair then committed suicide.

At the beginning of this year, our class was reminded of this tragic story that affected so many of us. Rachel Scott was the first student to be killed that morning. This young student would never get to know the impact she holds around the world today. Darrell Scott, Rachel’s father, has co-authored three books about his daughter's life and her impact, urging students to practice compassion and kindness. In turning the story of a catastrophic death at Columbine High School into a mission for change, Darrell Scott established a program named Rachel's Challenge to perpetuate his daughter's example and her two-page "Code of Ethics" she wrote in her journal a month before her death. Rachel’s Challenge is serving to create safer learning environments in schools and making a worldwide impact. The intense, powerful training course has affected schools all across America as well as in Australia, Bermuda and several other countries. The program teaches students how to reach out and make a remarkable change in their overall attitude towards life itself.

service learningA new class has begun at Shoreham-Wading River High School for the 2012/2013 school year. The brand-new experimental course that bears her name, School Without Walls, is designed to encourage us to take an active part in our community within and beyond the school building. The best part of this new class is that our role as students remains an important factor in every assignment we work on. So far this year, we’ve begun a service learning program in order to help construct strong relations between the students and staff of our town. Service learning reinforces students’ assets and skills by enabling them to help themselves while helping others. Through service learning, students are sent the message that they have something to offer to their community, and they carry out teaching what they’ve learned. By doing so, communities, other than Shoreham-Wading River, can grow stronger and they can work together to help stop negativity among people.

Here at our high school, our class has started our own challenge, called The Shoreham-Wading River Challenge. We set a goal to develop a plan which encourages responsibility. Our five guidelines include removing prejudice, stopping bullying, respecting others, reaching out to others, and taking time to think about our actions. By teaching these steps, we began believing we could transform our community into a better, safer place. Starting at the beginning of this year, our groups planned visits to freshman classes to talk and teach them what we’ve been creating. We created multiple trial and error lesson plans weeks in advance to have a well-organized class period with the students. In an attempt to keep their attention on us, we used fun games as well as provided helpful information that they would find interesting, not boring. But reaching out has had positive and negative results so far. Although our group’s confidence was high, we feel that we failed at making the powerful difference we expected. Attempting to teach students that you’ve known since you started school is a lot more difficult than it may seem. Our level of comfort wasn’t the problem; the students focus wasn’t necessarily on us but instead the “free” period they thought they were getting out of our presentation. We now believe it’s much more complicated to re-teach teenagers morals that they have been taught since they were younger.

In order to carry on our plan of making a positive difference, over the past 20 years, the seniors of Shoreham-Wading River High School have also developed a project that assists local families in having a special holiday. The school-based project was created to give members of our community the opportunity to have a wonderful holiday without having to stress about not having enough to offer their families. Our goals of delivering Christmas trees, food, gifts, and fuel oil for each family was achieved by a combined effort from multiple senior classes. Our class, as well as the Community Relations class, raised funds through planned events such as selling hot chocolate in our school and collecting donations from local businesses. As a class, our groups were assigned businesses, churches, restaurants and banks throughout our community to mail outreach letters to. These letters included ways that they could help out as well as how many families were in need this year. Our group stayed in touch with our community’s churches and banks and received enough gifts to fulfill six families’ wish lists. At the end of the project we had completed our goal of assisting 21 families.

School Without Walls hopes to continue eliminating any hostile school environments through trial and error. Together, students will mutually work in achieving each goal we have set for ourselves this year. We hope to persuade the grades after us to continue in our footsteps. In an effort to influence the upcoming seniors, our class will describe the importance and the possible achievements through various workshops. Through our hard work we want to spread this message to other schools so they can work on their own challenge and create a safer, stable society.

A Moral Marathon


The writers of this article are students of the School Without Walls class of Shoreham-Wading River High School. As part of a warm community we like to participate in community events in our free time. Billy plans to go off to college and become a Marine Biologist; Paul plans to work in the construction field. John Melandro, the best golfer to graduate from of Shoreham-Wading River, plans to follow his golfing career to college as well. This article was written to spread the word about the new School Without Walls class and the monumental changes we have brought to the school and the community.

School Without Walls, a class where voices wander between classrooms teaching not only the ideas of community relations, but composition. Community Relations is a class in our school that involves community service and service learning. Composition is a class in which you learn how to combine your thoughts and sort them into organized thoughts on paper. As an experimental class, the boundaries are unlimited and our potential is infinite. With the projects of Community Relations, and the writing of Composition, our course resume includes the SWR Challenge we provide awareness for moral values to better our school’s environment. The Holiday Project, a project revolved around the teachings of service learning, is a fundraiser we raise money for our community members who are in need during the holiday season.

In the months of October, SWR participated in a moral marathon where the seniors of the school represented a higher moral standard for the community. Moral standards were influenced by the Rachel’s Challenge movement, they are trying to spread the kindness of Rachel Scott, a high school student killed in the Columbine shootings in 1999. The five moral pillars holding the foundation of the SWR Challenge were built with the values of the class of School Without Walls. These values include removing prejudice, the halt of bullying, respecting others, reaching out to others, and taking time to think. The School Without Walls class has given presentations to 3 of the 4 grades in the high school including the use of the 5 points. As a group we have progressed through each new presentation learning ways to deal with different grade levels, such as being a little more strict with the younger groups, as the older groups were more about keeping the interest of the class. The teachings of Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the tipping point, resonate within the SWR challenge. He teaches of the importance of the ripple effect in change. The hopes of the Challenge are to reach the schools Tipping Point where more people are participating in the challenge a not and the trend of moral kindness begins to strengthen the ties between members of every community in the country.

If we were to describe the Holiday Project in one word, the word would be success. The Holiday Project, a project revolved around the teachings of service learning, is a fundraiser in which we raise money for our community members who are in need during the holiday season. We were able to help all our neighbors in need. Also every child in the community looks forward to gifts during the holidays. To make the spirit of the holidays illuminate in the children we acquired gifts for them. We were able to get all twenty-one families gifts, trees, heating oil, and holiday dinners. We managed to get this all done by selling candy canes and doing fundraisers. Some fundraisers we did was the school set up two pillow polo tournaments one of the pillow polo tournaments raised one hundred and four dollars and the one before that raised one hundred and fifty dollars. We also got a very generous donation from Meenan Oil. They donated one thousand dollars worth of oil to help make this project a success. Also the SWRTA (Shoreham Wading River Teachers Association) donated half a gallon of oil for every teacher in the school district and that added up to another five hundred dollars in oil.

The School Without Walls class this year has paved the way for classes of the future. As an individual group of the School Without Walls class we designed a poster to represent the Holiday project, in turn it was used as the backdrop for a national TV station. We reached out to all restaurants in the local community, asking for donations of any sort, and kindness to the community. The school Without Walls class hopes to stand as a symbol of kindness in the Shoreham-Wading River community. We plan to lead a moral marathon to act as the Tipping Point for our school and community towards kindness.

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