Hackley and Westhab – Service-Learning in Action at Ludlow Commons

Anatomy of a successful partnership

It started almost by accident. Westhab board member and Hackley School parent Jonalie Korengold had just finished teaching her weekly chair yoga class at Westhab’s Ludlow Commons when she fell into a conversation with Lynda Zezze, Ludlow’s case manager. The chair yoga class, which Jonalie conceived of and had been teaching for over a year, was firmly established, and she and Lynda were tossing around ideas for something new to engage the seniors who live at Ludlow, a 71-unit affordable senior development that Westhab opened in Yonkers last year.

Lynda thought tech support would be useful, and it just so happened that Jonalie knew a couple of young men who could help with that. So, last October, Jonalie returned to Ludlow on a Saturday morning with her son, an eighth-grader at Hackley School, and one of his friends. Residents were invited to bring their phones and tablets, and the two young students—who have no memory of a world without smartphones—helped out a group of appreciative seniors who were often mystified by them. Many of the seniors were native Spanish speakers, and the two young men quickly saw that this was a great opportunity for them to get something in return—a chance to practice their Spanish. Word of the visit made its way back to the eighth-grade Spanish teachers at Hackley, Margaret Randazzo and Sara Budde, and it did not take long before Tech Saturdays were born.

When Ms. Randazzo and Ms. Budde heard about the boys’ experience at Ludlow, they immediately recognized an opportunity to expand Hackley Upper School’s service-learning program to middle schoolers who were studying Spanish. The idea behind service-learning is to provide students with experiences that benefit others and the community, while also advancing the goals of a given curriculum. It is experiential learning, and it is meant to be reciprocal. In the words of Ms. Randazzo, it needs to be a “win-win.”

The third incarnation of Tech Saturday took place recently, and the modern, sun-filled common room was buzzing with Hackley students working with several Ludlow residents on their phones and tablets, but with an added twist—this time here was a game of dominoes going on on the side. In an earlier visit, one of the Hackley students who lives far from his grandfather mentioned how he missed playing chess with him. So the students brought a chess board with them, but, in the end, the seniors chose to teach the students a game of their own instead.

Another Tech Saturday is in the works for March. Once again, the students will design Spanish language flyers ahead of time to announce their visit, and they will work on the pertinent grammar and vocabulary in their lessons leading up to it. It is obvious that the seniors get a big kick out of the visits: they appreciate the tech help as much as they appreciate the chance to engage the young people in conversation. When asked what motivated Ms. Randazzo and Ms. Budde to give up their Saturday morning to come to Yonkers with their students, Ms. Randazzo replied, “seeing our students use their language skills outside the classroom is all the reward we need.”

During the last Tech Saturday, as the kids and the Ludlow seniors did their thing, Ms. Zezze, Ms. Randazzo, and Ms. Budde continued to brainstorm ideas for future visits. The notion of the students collecting the seniors’ oral histories began to take hold. The teachers would practice the interview questions with the students ahead of time, and the students could present the seniors with a personal book at the conclusion of the project. As the conversation continued, there was little doubt that Ms. Zezze, Ms. Randazzo, and Ms. Budde are all very excited about the future and the direction this “two-way street” is headed in.

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