Eighth grade teacher Mark Tompkins is noted for inspiring others to give back to our extended community. School News recently sat down with Mark to talk about volunteerism at Ross School and about taking an active role in positive change.
Describe your role at Ross School. I’ve enjoyed teaching the eighth grade at Ross for eight years, and it’s personally rewarding to watch the students develop into young men and women with the ability to help make a positive difference in the global community.
I find that young people are often thought to be self-absorbed and egocentric. That’s true to an extent, but the trick is to help them find ways to use their energy and spirit to help others. It’s been my experience that the events we participate in are always well received, and the students like being involved in a good cause.
For example, we volunteer five or six times a year at Maureen’s Haven in Riverhead, and the students are always polite, helpful, and generally eager to pitch in with whatever is needed.
Plus, at that age, they associate service with doing fun stuff with friends. It’s social as much as it is moral.
Tell us about the events you have involved your students in this year. Sure. In addition to volunteering onsite at Maureen’s Haven, I also organize a group to participate in the Polar Plunge at Founder’s Beach in Southold to support the shelter. It’s a really great time, and the students get into it. This year we dressed up as ninjas with swords and props. Even those who were reluctant at first quickly found significance in being involved in supporting such a great cause.
Another great experience for everyone was joining the People’s Climate March in New York City back in September. As one student put it, “being involved in something so large and meaningful was surreal.”
In November, we also had the pleasure of hosting the founder of Malawi’s Jacaranda Foundation and School for Orphans, Marie Da Silva, and 16-year-old student Alinafe Botha, who shared their inspiring stories with the Ross community. We continued the connection, and the class is currently raising money to ship 100 pairs of shoes to Jacaranda students.
The students really seem to enjoy getting involved. What are they currently working on? As part of eighth grade orientation for the past few years, the class has watched a film about the Paper Clips Project, an initiative by middle school students in Tennessee who created a monument for victims of the Holocaust. It inspired our own sculpture to represent the casualties of war with buttons, and each class has influenced the project.
A final design was chosen last year, and the current eighth grade class is helping it take shape. Every button represents a life, and it’s pretty powerful for the students. They are really driving it forward. I may offer some guidance here and there, but ultimately, I step back and let them own it.
As the school year draws to a close, can you share some final thoughts on your student volunteers? I’m so proud of how the students have developed as individuals, and I know they will continue to build on their talents and strengths. It will be interesting to watch their progress at Ross, and I look forward to their continued involvement in the efforts to make this world a better place.