From Dog Biscuits to Winter Coats, High Point’s Community Engagement Initiative Has Created Worthy Traditions in Giving

By Norma Richman, Director of Community Engagement

“I learned that working hard is worth it if it helps people in need.”  Sunshine H.

Now in its fourth year, the Community Engagement curriculum at High Point Academy is turning out thoughtful, educated and empathetic members of society who are learning the value of helping those less fortunate than themselves. Each class, from kindergarten to eighth grade, has determined its own age-appropriate charitable cause and planned a course of action. This kind of service learning gives the children an outward look at the world around them and the ability to put, not only critical thinking skills, but compassion to work as they make informed decisions for themselves and others. It further serves to introduce our students to the community and conversely, the community to the uniqueness of High Point Academy.

The process of organizing the curriculum began with a school-wide initiative to seek out local charities and causes and pair them up with classes at High Point. With themes in mind, teachers created action plans for carrying out their projects. The lessons were so-well articulated the first year that very little tweaking has been needed since; the projects are now established traditions for each grade.

Head of School Gary Stern has observed the academic and social-emotional growth of our students as a result of the program: “Developing empathy and caring for others is the greatest gift we can provide our students. Student engagement in direct communication with those benefiting from their generosity has a profound, emotionally authentic impact on what it really means…to make a positive difference in the community.”

Kindergartners spend the weeks leading up to the holidays learning about the importance of helping other children by collecting new and gently-used jackets of all colors and patterns and packing them into huge boxes for Families in Transition in Pasadena. While some children raid their own closets, others shop the pre-Christmas sales for just the right size and color. A big part of the activity is decorating two large gift boxes and then folding the jackets and coats; the boxes are delivered directly to children at the Madison Center of Families in Transition.


Local dog rescue agency Hand in Paw works closely with the first grade classes to promote kindness to animals. Paw’s founder, Piper Wood, always impressed with High Point’s generous students, is herself an HPA graduate. The program kicks off in the spring with a Read-A-Thon to raise funds for needed materials. Then the children set to work baking dog biscuits and sewing fluffy blankets. At a final presentation, the first graders do market research as they gather around visiting pups from the agency who sample the healthy treats and always offer approving wags.



Even something as simple as a little pen pal note can brighten a day, and when it comes in a gift bag—what could be better? This lesson is on the minds of High Point’s second graders as they craft colorful pouches and fill them with life’s necessities.  After class discussion to determine a basic “shopping list,” students collect travel-size shampoos, mouthwash, toothpaste, and toothbrushes and pack them into hand-made felt pouches. In addition to a sewing lesson, students practice letter writing and then tuck cheerful notes and goodies into the bags. These gifts are delivered each year to Hillsides Home, where they are handed out to school-age residents.



Friends in Deed is always the big winner in High Point’s “Souper Bowl,” where third graders kick off their annual canned food drive by collecting hearty soups for those needing nutritious meals. There’s a twist here, however, as the kids create posters supporting their favorite Super Bowl contenders and go classroom to classroom to drum up competition for the big day. As cars pull up on “Souper Bowl” morning, third grade students grab donations and deposit them on one of two team tables. The bounty is then counted—not once but several times for accuracy—and a tally is announced school-wide. The can drive competition, regardless of the score, always results in a generous donation for Friends in Deed and needy families in Pasadena.


Fourth Grade students share songs and friendship with residents of Sierra Madre’s British Home each year. The children sing songs from California’s Gold Rush era, accompanied by Mr. Jesse Marquez, HPA’s choral music teacher. The retirement home, an establishment that has been part of the community since 1931, is the perfect venue for bringing together young and old, and the performance is always followed by a cookie meet-and-greet. The children always have an opportunity to reflect on the experience, and they do so with amazing insight:

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“We don’t usually get to sing in front of an audience and it seemed like it warmed their [the residents’] hearts,” said Thomas J.

“It made me feel happy because the residents really liked when we sang. I think that they will remember this forever,” added Wyatt T.

In one of the most comprehensive Community Engagement projects of the year, the fifth grade class plans an event that takes almost four months to complete. The children brainstorm ideas for a service project that benefits their chosen charity, Ronald McDonald House in Pasadena. The students have to consider how to finance their ideas and how to implement a plan to provide children and their families at RMH with “Party Bags.” They kick off the year with a bake sale, complete with poster ads to attract as many lunch-time customers as possible. Additional funds come from earning money for doing chores at home—a proposition eagerly agreed to by parents. After careful research and debate, the class decides on a shopping list of goodies. Tote bags—one for each family at RMH—are filled with hand-made cards and gifts and delivered directly to the home. Not only do the students learn practical lessons in finance and planning, they have an opportunity to think about the meaning of charity in the best sense of the word.

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In the spring Eaton Canyon Nature Center provides an opportunity for our sixth graders to learn what it means to be stewards of the land. One shovel at a time, High Point students do battle with stinging nettles and hostile shrubs to make the world safe for hikers and their four-footed friends. They tame the unruly trails that meander around the canyon as they clear overgrown, invasive weeds or remove rocks and tree branches. The day also offers a rare moment of reflection on the value of preserving the natural world:


“I really enjoyed doing community service because it is important to help our planet because you only have one life and one planet.” Taylor T.

The K-6 Community Engagement curriculum prepares High Point children for more comprehensive service activities in junior high, where the Student Council determines several student-driven projects each year. Some projects change from year to year, depending on the interests of the council, but the constant—a worthy tradition—is a spring service project that teams up with Rise Against Hunger, an international organization whose goal is to end world hunger by 2030 by providing meals and aid to those who need it the most. Each year junior high students mobilize into a well-coordinated effort that includes all classes at High Point. They raise the funds needed to purchase food and packaging supplies for as many meals as possible. This past year, they raised over $8,000, which bankrolled more than 15,000 meals with money left over for a cash donation to the local office of Rise Against Hunger.


A school-wide “packaging event” is coordinated by the Student Council and begins with set-up in the Multi-Purpose Room of all supplies needed to package the meals. Scales, hairnets, gloves, and boxes of soy, rice, dehydrated vegetables, and micronutrient flavoring mix are assembled by each class as it visits the packaging site in thirty-minute shifts. Last spring the well-oiled machine completed the packaging in six hours—a new record—and a worthy cause turned into an engaging school day.

The value of any curriculum is bringing all disciplines together to create the whole child. Each year, as students pass from one grade to another, they walk away with a greater sense of self and community. Additionally, as fourth grade teacher Mrs. Becky Lievense has observed, “Students who are educated with real world and big picture experiences are more likely to make meaningful and long-lasting connections to their learning.”

More details about these projects can be found on HPA’s Blog Site:

Kinders Carry on a Tradition in the Spirit of Kindness

Zeus Returns!

Second Graders Reprise Perfect Project

Rise Against Hunger

Sweet Moments at the British Home

5th Graders Create a Celebration in a Bag

A Loss for the Hometown but a Win for Those in Need

Bake Sale for Ronald McDonald House






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