Alex’s Summer Service with SPNA

This summer I volunteered with the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association (SPNA). I helped out at Stuyvesant park near school with gardening tasks that are important to maintaining the park, such as pulling weeds and raking leaves. I have been volunteering there for the past few years, and it is wonderful to be able to see the direct results of my work. For example, I can plant flowers in the fall and see them bloom in the spring, or spread mulch over an area without grass and come back a month later to see a grassy field. This is really a volunteer opportunity where you can see the results of your work and how you have helped improve the park for everyone.

Since I live nearby, I have gone to Stuyvesant park throughout my entire life. I used to go there to play with my brother, and I often walk my dog through the park. Now that I go to Friends, this park is also a part of my school community. For me, volunteering with SPNA has been a great way to give back to my community in a way that improves the experience of me and everyone else who uses the park.

Alex’s Schedule Generator Update

Last year, I figured out how to add my eight day schedule to Google Calendar by creating the events as a spreadsheet and then importing them. In the process, I realized that I could write a program that others in the community could use to generate spreadsheets and import their own schedules into Google Calendar. Using my basic knowledge of HTML, CSS, and Javascript, I created a simple website that allowed users to input their schedules and download a generated spreadsheet. I eventually presented my generator so that others could use it. It felt great to know that my work was helping others keep organized and adjust to the new schedule. (For more information, see my relfection from last year.)

This year, I updated the dates of classes in the generator for the new school year. I also made the repeat function easier to use and added an option to repeat class twice per cycle. Additionally, I redesigned the website and added clearer instructions on how to use it. I also moved the website from Google Drive to Github in order to have a more reliable website and a simpler, more memorable url. The new link is https://schedule-gen.github.io/. I hope these updates will make the generator easier for people to use and that it will continue to contribute to the community in the future.

Alex’s Schedule Generator Experience

Last year, one method I used to keep track of my classes was to add them as repeating events to the Calendar app on my iPad. Instead of having to perfectly memorize my schedule, I could, at any time throughout the day, simply swipe down Notification Center and see when my classes were. Notification Center also tells you helpful information, such as how many minutes you have until your next class.

It is a challenge for everyone this year to adjust to the new eight day schedule, and it is even more difficult to keep track of when your classes are than last year. Instead of having to memorize five school days worth of classes, you have to memorize eight, and in addition know what number each school day is. This gets even more challenging when you to take into account the holidays on which we do not have school, and how they shift the entire schedule a day later.

As soon as I learned about the new schedule, I tried to put it into my Calendar app like I did last year. I quickly ran into some problems. Unlike last year, you cannot simply create calendar events that repeat weekly. Making events that repeat every eight days does not work either because it does not take weekends into account. Even if you could make events that repeat every eight weekdays, holidays would still be a problem.

The solution I finally came up with takes advantage of Google Calendar’s “Import Calendar” feature. I figured out a way to create a spreadsheet in Excel that can be imported as a calendar. Earlier in the summer, I had begun to learn some basic HTML, CSS, and Javascript. I realized that I could use these coding languages to create an online schedule generator that others could use to easily generate their own spreadsheets that could be imported into Google Calendar.

After a lot of research, programming, and refinement, I was finally able to create a working version of the schedule generator. From there, I added some additional features, such as the ability to add locations, add free periods, have a separate schedule for Semester 2, and even automatically fill in all classes of a certain block letter.

Here is the link to the current (not yet finished) schedule generator, hosted on Google Drive: https://www.googledrive.com/host/0B2EJ3y8e4rmfdU83dHYyMkhWNmM/. My schedule generator will hopefully be available as a finished product by Semester 2 or by next year.

“We are in community each time we find a place where we belong and find we are needed.”

–Peter F. Block

By being able to create and share my schedule generator, I feel connected with the meaning of this quote. It is a wonderful and unique service experience to be able to share a solution that I found with the entire Friends community, and I hope it will help everyone manage the new eight day schedule.

Alex’s YPI Reflection

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PlaygroundFor the 9th grade YPI service project, my team chose inaccessibility to early education as our social issue, and the organization that we represented was the Bloomingdale Family Program, whose mission is “to serve preschool children from low-income families in upper Manhattan.”

At first, inaccessibility to early education might not seem as important of a social issue as those that have a more immediate effect on people, such as hunger or homelessness. Before the project, I had never really thought about how lucky I am to have received a good education starting at a young age. However, over the course of the project I learned the impacts a quality early education can have on people’s lives. It can allow children to get into a good high school, a good college, and, when they are older, a good job. All children, regardless of where they are born, should have an equal chance in the world.

FeelingsWhile researching, however, we found that this is not the case in New York City. Poorer neighborhoods tend to have worse schools, meaning that a child’s future can be determined simply by where they live. We decided that this should not be the case, and that is why we wanted to represent an organization that helps with this social issue.

One of the most challenging parts of the project was organization: making sure that everyone in our group helped out and that everything got done by the deadlines. Some of the work needed to be done outside of History, so it was important for us to figure out a way to divide up the work.

BlocksOther challenges were researching our issue, picking out important information, and making an effective website and presentation. In order to make a convincing presentation and website, I learned that you need to have the perfect balance between not having too much text, which can lose people’s attention, and still getting all of your points across. I think that our team did a good job of accomplishing this, especially with the presentation, and I developed research and prioritization skills along the way.

Alex’s Experience with the Bloomingdale Family Program

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Over the past few months, I and the rest of the 9th grade have been working on a service learning project in History funded by the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative, an organization which donates over one million dollars to nonprofit organizations every year. The grade was split into teams of four to six students, and each team chose a social issue and an organization to represent. After the finalists presented on Service Day, the winning team received a $5,000 grant from YPI to give to their organization. Although my team did not win, I still learned a lot about my social issue and how it affects the NYC community.

PlaygroundMy team chose inaccessibility to early education as our social issue, and our organization was the Bloomingdale Family Program, whose mission is “to serve preschool children from low-income families in upper Manhattan.” We visited the school and got the chance to speak with José Velilla, Executive Director, and Marilyn Barnwell, Education Director, who told us about the school’s values. They believe that early education can really give poor children a chance to break out of the poverty cycle, and that it opens up a lifelong curiosity for learning.

PhotosOne aspect of our issue that really struck me was that in many cases, access to quality early education in New York City can be determined simply by where you live. If you live in a poor neighborhood, you do not have as good of a chance to get a good education and be successful in life. Instead, you will stay in poverty, and your children will continue to live in poverty, and their children will stay in poverty. It is a never-ending cycle. Before the project, early education did not seem as important as some other social issues, such as hunger or homelessness, that have a more immediate effect on people; however, the Bloomingdale Family and the YPI project made me realize the importance a quality early education can have on people’s lives.