Junior Service Learning Program goes virtual amid COVID-19 crisis

From hospitals and hospice care facilities to schools and nursing homes, Mount St. Mary Academy juniors regularly devote 7,500 collective hours of hands-on service at numerous local organizations each year through the school’s signature Junior Service Learning Program. Despite the challenges and restrictions created by the current coronavirus crisis, this year’s Class of 2021 is finding new, resourceful ways to keep Mount’s rich tradition of service alive.


“Service is such an integral part of our school, especially during students’ junior year at Mount when they spend their theology class periods volunteering out in the community and experiencing firsthand what it means to put others before ourselves,” said Lauren Lawrence, theology teacher and Junior Service Learning Program coordinator. “During our present circumstances, in particular, this important service work cannot end. Although we have to get a bit creative in how we do it, we can still be a source of positivity for our community during a time it needs it most.”


With the help of the school’s technology and media specialist, Carrie Burkhead, students in the Junior Service Learning Program have explored ways to volunteer virtually in order to continue assisting their service sites or reach others in need throughout central Arkansas during this challenging time. One idea – utilizing the online video discussion platform, Flipgrid – recently led to the creation of websites featuring nearly 120 videos of Mount St. Mary 11th graders reading different children’s books. Links to these websites were sent to a handful of Mount St. Mary Academy’s service sites to be shared with their younger students or patients.


Little Rock-based nonprofit ACCESS was one of the service sites to benefit from this resource after having to temporarily suspend their onsite volunteer programs in light of current circumstances. “We were thrilled with the innovative virtual story time these dedicated volunteers created,” Suzanne Carter, assistant director of ACCESS Early Childhood, said. “Our teachers will be able to utilize smart board technology for those students receiving services at this time, as well as share the links for our students at home to continue to promote language and literacy. These videos enable us to continue the partnership between Mount St. Mary Academy and ACCESS while combining literacy and fun for our students.”


According to Coach Lawrence, more projects like this have already been completed or are in the works for the time period social distancing is required. For example, the students composed uplifting letters that were delivered electronically to service sites to share with residents or patients who can’t have visitors. They are also partnering with UAMS to submit inspirational messages for the hospital’s electronic health record system Message of the Day.


“We will continue to find ways to be a shining light to others, from a distance, during this time,” Coach Lawrence said.


View the Junior Service Learning Program’s virtual story time project at the following sites: https://flipgrid.com/9799485b, https://flipgrid.com/c27d81c3, https://flipgrid.com/7b6ffad5, https://flipgrid.com/ffe8bf8d and https://flipgrid.com/7709e13e.


Mount St. Mary Academy, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, develops young women with a moral and intellectual foundation rooted in Catholic tradition. Mercy-minded and college-prepared, our students meet the future with wisdom, compassion and integrity.