Role Models

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on December 2nd, 2008 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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Hill School 

Instilling in children a sense of responsibility to help others less fortunate than they and to give back to others and communities is a challenge under the best of circumstances.  When children grow up with one of two images—absolute devastation, as witnessed on September 11, 2001 or in the aftermath of bombing raids or Katrina and her sisters and brothers, or extreme opulence, as seen through the lives of entertainers, sports figures and other “celebrities”—it becomes an even greater challenge, and one with which conscientious parents continually struggle. 

And as with so many other things, the teachings at home can either be reinforced or undermined by the company a child keeps, the lessons learned at school and the messages blasted by the media. Thus, my hat goes off to Charles and Betty Frank and The Hill School, a private, co-educational, predominantly boarding school for grades 9-12 in Pottstown, PA.  The Franks (Mr. Frank, as well as the Franks’ two sons are all Hill alums) have taken The Hill’s commtment ot communtiy service by its students and pushed it one step further.

With the Frank’s gift of $35,000, The Hill has created a Student Philanthropy Council (SPC) that will ultimately be responsible for making grants to nonprofits serving the Pottstown area.  (Nearly 50 students applied for the 12 slots on the SPC.)  The SPC is spending this fall semester learning about philanthropy, culminating with releasing requests for proposals.  In the spring, members of the SPC will make applicant site visits and ultimately distribute a total of $10,000 in grants to three to five Pottstown area.  Over the next two years, the SPC will distribute the remaining $20,000. According to The Hill’s research, no other high school in the country has a program like this.  (A small number of colleges, however, do).

Why?  How many high schools have stock market clubs and/or classes that give students real money to play the stock market?  (Oh, the lessons they are learning this semester!)  How many of Future Business Leaders of Tomorrow, Future Teachers of Tomorrow, Future whatever of Tomorrow and every kind of service club imaginable?   And yes, many of the clubs regularly hold car washes and bake sales, but most often the proceeds go to fund the clubs activities, while infrequently do the proceeds make their way to a charitable purpose. 
But even when the latter does happen, it is a very different “learning” than will come from the work the Franks are funding and The Hill is implementing.

At The Hill, students will learn about serious philanthropy, the kind that involves coming to an understanding of the needs of a community and the nonprofits that exist to meet those needs.  They will learn the difficulties of having a zero sum pie and a need and demand that far exceeds that pie; and they will learn how to assess the goodness of the business of a nonprofit—which we all know is vastly different than the goodness of its mission—and then make the tough choice of saying yes to some and no to others.  They will at a very early age learn to be very good philanthropists. And while I have nothing but praise for the Franks, The Hill, the students who applied and those who were selected for the SPC, I cannot help but wonder why The Hill is the only high school in this vast country of ours with such a program? 

(Originally printed in the Pottstown Mercury, 11/15/08)

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