By Patrick Donachie

Students in the Service Learning and Leadership Program at Mary Louis Academy were honored for their efforts to enact positive change in the Jamaica Estates neighborhood by the board of directors of a nearby apartment complex last week.

“The girls were so happy to be recognized,” said Allyson Gutierrez, an English teacher at the all-girls high school and the coordinator of the service program. “They do so much work throughout the year and it’s nice for that to be noticed.”

According to Gutierrez, the program started seven years ago and consists of eight homerooms of approximately 250 students. In these classes, the students learn about global issues and discuss how best to bring about changes in their own community. Gutierrez said the students focus on health, social justice and environmental issues, and much of the work they do is guided by the students’ own interest.

“It doesn’t take much to get them excited to act and effect really positive change. They just need the opportunity to learn where these challenges exist,” she said. “It’s nice to introduce them to issues like education for girls and see them run.”

The Service Learning program also works with Million Trees NYC, a private/public partnership that has plans to plant a million trees in the city by 2017. In 2015, the Service Learning program was the recipient of a $780 grant from Million Trees to tend to 25 city-planted trees in Jamaica Estates.

Rose Scalia, the treasurer of the board of directors at the Camelot, an apartment complex in the neighborhood, noticed signs on these trees specifying their caretakers. After inquiring about the Service Learning program, she said she was struck by the sheer amount of volunteer work the students did.

About 200 people attended the ceremony held in the school’s auditorium to celebrate the students’ work. In addition to the trees they maintain, the students in the program run a community garden, have helped to design and sell reusable water bottles and have raised funds to donate clean water to a parish in Flint, Michigan.

Later this month, the program will hold a program to inform students about how to wisely and securely utilize the Internet, and will have their annual Fair Trade Christmas Bazaar this December. Gutierrez said the students’ future plans for service stretches far beyond the end of the program.

“The girls almost all go on to continue their service when they go to college,” she said. “It’s a way of bringing the Mary Louis mission out into the world.”

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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