By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Marlborough/Northborough – Hollis Brooks is currently in his fourth year at Hillside School, an all-boys junior boarding school that opened its doors in 1901. As the assistant dean of students and leadership instructor, he brings his passion for helping others to his roles at the school and hopes to instill this same value in the boys. He believes that in order for students to reach their full potential they, need to give back to the community. For this reason, the Hillside School leadership curriculum involves a service learning component.
After a discussion with the boys about how to better serve the community, the decision to visit local retirement communities was made. For this school year, the fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade classes have been visiting Bolton Manor (now called Kindred Transitional Care and Rehabilitation), 400 Bolton St., in Marlborough, and the eighth- and ninth-grade classes have been visiting the Coleman House, 112 West Main St., in Northborough. Each class visits the retirement home once a week (four classes total per trimester) with each visit taking place during leadership class.
Leadership class is one of three “specials” classes, the other two being art and music. The entire student body rotates through these “specials” each year. For example, a boy might have music in the fall trimester, art in the winter trimester and leadership in the spring trimester. Each class ranges in size from eight to 12 students, allowing Brooks to work with all of the boys during the course of the school year.
The Hillside boys arrive at the Coleman House dressed in khakis, button-down shirts and ties. After they greet each resident personally (and often by name), they engage in simple exercise motions (to music) and then everyone heads to the recreation room for a friendly bingo competition – Hillside versus Coleman House – with Brooks calling the letters/numbers.
“Watching the boys interact with the residents is a very humbling experience for me,” Brooks said. “I have yet to make a trip to one of these homes and not have one of the residents or administrators pull me aside and tell me how much they enjoy having the boys around. I am very proud of them, as they do all the “work”- all I do is drive the bus.”
During the return ride back to school following a visit, the boys reflect on their experiences. Many of the boys express a sense of satisfaction and pride for having helped older people. They gain an appreciation for, and connection to, an older generation that had different experiences while they were growing up.
Over the course of the term, the boys develop strong relationships with many of the residents and are often sad when their last trip of the term arrives.
“It is amazing to watch some of our boys, who may struggle with different aspects of school life [academics, athletics or interactions with peers], really shine while working with some of our senior citizens,” Brooks said. “It provides them with a sense of accomplishment and helps build their self-esteem.”
It is Brooks” hope that, after completing the leadership class, his students will be inspired to continue to give back to the community throughout the remainder of their lives.
“My goal in engaging our students in community service is for them to find some form of enjoyment in helping others, so that they make an earnest effort in the future be more empathetic and aware citizens,” Brooks said.