“Oh, these are the days, my friends and these are the days, my friends.” – Philip Glass

As the Sienna rolled down the driveway and back up the on-ramp to route 91 south, amidst much laughter, the three students heading to the Food Bank began to sing an original song. The lyrics were simple: the numbers “one” and “two.” The melody was also simple, consisting of up to three different notes in a broken chord. They tried many different variations on the melody, combined in different ways to create a kind of three-part harmony. The result was beautiful, given the students’ voices and the ever-evolving piece itself, a kind of minimalist choral composition reminiscent of the avant-garde and hypnotically repetitive sound of the landmark opera “Einstein at the Beach” by Philip Glass, an extract of which may be heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmX_GgozpQs . The students kept experimenting with different combinations of notes and the basic lyrics all the way to their destination, some 25 minutes away, even taking out a cell phone at one point to try recording themselves.

When we arrived at the Food Bank, the apples we were to sort had not yet been delivered to the volunteer work room and as the students began a somewhat frenetic and giddy dance, I left to find out where the apples were. Soon, we busily set to work checking for mold, bruising, and excessive fungus growth on the skins, ever mindful that we weren’t sure how long the apples might have to sit in boxes before they would be delivered to hungry people who needed a helping hand. The stack of filled boxes grew steadily; the conversation flowed steadily, moving and shifting constantly from baseball to horses to the Spice Girls to grown-ups and their understanding (or occasional lack thereof) of the pop culture in which these girls are immersed. One student spoke of attending a Britney Spears concert and feeling glad she had gotten over her prejudice because she found to her surprise that the show was ambitious, complex and ultimately compelling. The other girls listened carefully and nodded knowingly.

When it was time to leave, those of us who could still stand to look at apples (after sorting over 500 pounds of them into 17 boxes stacked four high) grabbed one for the road. Shortly after, as one girl dozed off, the two others happily looked through photographs on one of their cell phones. The trip back passed much more quietly, but no less happily than the trip down. Upon arrival back at the school, I thanked the students and they thanked me, alighted and ran through the rain to the dorm to get on to their next activity.

When in just my second year at Stoneleigh-Burnham, I began teaching a French 4 course that included an article on aesthetics and French culture. The French, the article said, see art as infusing not just their cultural life but also their everyday life. Perhaps this shows itself in how they combine flavors and colors in harmony for an evening meal, find the scarf that sets off a dress just so, or make conversations challenging, uplifting, memorable. These girls seem to have that same instinct, inhabiting a world of aesthetic joy whether writing a song together, talking to each other or filling boxes with love in the form of apples. The Community Service program was originally designed, with input from the 10 founding students, with three main goals in mind. First, to enable students to connect with each other and their community. Second, that they might develop a sense of competence as they take responsibility for completing important tasks and begin to claim their place in the adult world. Third, that they might develop a sense of confidence thanks to a job well done. Like the continually shifting song sung by these students on their way to volunteer, the Community Service program is evolving into something more than the sum of its parts. This is an exciting thing to witness.