Twenty years ago, Westtown School, a day and boarding school for grades K-12, located in Westtown, PA, embarked on an experiment that had a profound impact on the nature of education. With a $30,000 grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, which was used to purchase vans for transporting students, the school created the Westtown Service Network. While there had been a long tradition of volunteerism at Westtown, this program formalized and focused that tradition, making it more accessible to greater numbers of students.
The Service Network has always been an entirely voluntary organization for students in grades 9-12. Westtown is unique among schools in that it affords service the same status as athletics, so that students who participate typically devote four afternoons per week to volunteering at different sites throughout the community, with the fifth afternoon spent together reflecting on and discussing their experiences for the week. The students who participate, approximately 3,000 since 1978, have given their time in a variety of settings. In an effort to connect with the community, Westtown School students have invested countless hours with young children, senior citizens, developmentally disabled individuals, Head Start programs, a therapeutic riding center, and a Hispanic community center.
The impact of Service Network has extended far beyond Westtown and the agencies that the students visit. Secondary schools nationwide have used it as a model in creating their own community service programs. At its core, the Service Network has provided volunteers to community programs in need of caring and concerned persons.
Westtown endeavors to place students in a long-term, one-on-one relationship with an individual, so that bridges may be built between two people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to connect. The focus is on assisting rather than judging.