Travel has always been a powerful teaching tool at Principia. Service trips, in particular, can have a lasting impact on students. After the sophomore trip to the Dominican Republic, for example, upper schoolers reflect on their week of service to the residents of the island and how they—even as high school students—can make a positive difference in the lives of people around the world.
“The impact this trip has had on me has opened my eyes to people’s daily lives and what they have to go through,” says sophomore Jonathan as he observes people getting ready for a long day of work. “Even on the beach at 6:00 a.m., people are working hard to provide [for their families].”
Jonathan is one of many students who walked away from the trip with a newfound perspective. Students often describe the experience as “humbling” and “life-changing.”
Each year, all sophomores embark on a week-long excursion to build homes for families in need in partnership with Youth with a Mission: Homes of Hope International. During the trip, members of the community come together to help; the project is truly a community activity.
Since 1990, more than 130,000 volunteers have participated in building Homes of Hope for the poorest of the poor in 27 nations. This most-recent trip marks Principia’s 10th trip to the Dominican Republic in support of Homes of Hope. This year, Principians, together with Homes of Hope members and community members, built four houses in three days—an impressive feat.
“The trip to the Dominican Republic opens sophomores' eyes and broadens their perspectives,” said Student Life Programs Director and Trips Coordinator Lisa Johnson. “Throughout this impactful journey, students experience firsthand the power of community collaboration and what happens when a group works together toward a common goal.”
There are a variety of service opportunities available to upper schoolers. Juniors can participate in the “Simunye Project,” an 18-day spring adventure that brings support for education, health, and renovation through hands-on work in underprivileged communities in South Africa. Simunye means “we are one” and its mission is simple yet powerful—to inspire young people to be positive forces for change.
On both trips, students seek to answer the question: What does it mean to be a change agent? This is a regular theme at the Upper School within all service initiatives. Lisa Johnson tells us more.
Q: What are some new and exciting things you can share about the service program at the Upper School?
A: At the Upper School, we continue to make new and meaningful connections in our community with a variety of St. Louis-based organizations, and our partnerships in St. Louis continue to thrive. Because we now partner with so many initiatives and organizations focused on different causes, students are exposed to a wide variety of volunteer opportunities and become engaged citizens, interested in addressing the community’s particular needs. We are working on giving the students more agency when it comes to figuring out which organizations and projects they’d like to partner with so that they are able to pursue the causes that resonate with them most.
Q: How has service evolved in the US in the past few years?
A: Our service program has grown substantially over the past four years, and now it’s truly embedded in our culture and across different trips, school activities, and more. There isn’t a week that goes by where students don’t hear about service opportunities they can volunteer for.
Q: Why is introducing students to different organizations so important at this age?
A: When students gain a deeper understanding of the challenges a community faces and the people that are facing those challenges, they can get out themselves and work creatively to make a difference. Our program exposes students to these challenges and connects them with the movers and shakers behind important organizations. It opens their eyes, minds, and hearts to the world around us when the students can really engage with the community and see the benefits of working together. You can be very self-involved in high school with everything going on in your little bubble, so service asks students to look outward.
Selfless service is part of the student experience at each level of the School. Some of the hallmarks include the Early Childhood program’s Salvation Army Angel Tree, Lower School’s annual Giving Day, Middle School’s eighth-grade trip to Costa Rica to support local farms and primary schools in the region, and the Upper School’s trips in support of various organizations at home and abroad.
“Principia has exposed me to so many different types of volunteering opportunities that I wouldn’t have even thought about before,” says junior Quinna. Quinna is the recipient of the Congressional Award Silver Medal, a national award given to young Americans for their commitment to volunteerism and character development. Quinna has completed nearly 300 hours of community service in her high school career. She says, “I work harder when it’s for other people. I especially love working with kids and am passionate about making quality education more accessible to all.”