Opportunities for Engagement

August 1, 2007
All around town: PIE excursions have included weekend trips to the Cox Farms pumpkin patch

All around town: PIE excursions have included weekend trips to the Cox Farms pumpkin patch. Photos courtesy Duke Club of Washington

Through its Partners in Education (PIE) committee, the Duke Club of Washington has long maintained a partnership with the Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School in Northeast Washington.

All around town: PIE excursions have included weekend trips to the Spy Museum

All around town: PIE excursions have included weekend trips to the Spy Museum. Photos courtesy Duke Club of Washington

Club members have donated computers, mentored students, and performed school-beautification projects. But over the past several years, direct interaction between club members and students had dropped off. Last summer PIE, co-chaired by Hardy Vieux '93 and Loree Lipstein '03, sought to reinvigorate the club's community-service program by instituting monthly outings for small groups of students from Ludlow-Taylor, accompanied by club volunteers.

"We were looking for opportunities for real engagement," Vieux says, "not just to drop off cash." As part of the new effort, they also joined with a second elementary- school program through the Community Academy Public Charter Schools.

Lipstein, who was working as director of community involvement for Community Academy at the time, says Washington public-school classes are often limited in the field trips they can take to inexpensive museums and other sites that are accessible by public transportation. As she and Vieux put together a schedule of trips, they consulted teachers, asking them where they would take their students if cost were not an issue.

The excursions, which take place on Saturdays when volunteers are more likely to be available, have included trips to Cox Farms, a family-run farm in northern Virginia, the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, a Baltimore Orioles baseball game, and Washington's popular Spy Museum. Each trip includes twenty students from one grade and about ten Duke club volunteers, with two students assigned to each volunteer. There is often a learning component. During an aquarium visit, for example, volunteers helped students locate all the sea lions and learn the differences between a seal and a sea lion. PIE handles the trip logistics, coordinates volunteers, and foots the bill using money from donations and fundraisers.

Lipstein says that over the course of the year, the listserv of volunteers has grown to more than fifty and that there is a waiting list for almost every event. She says the trips are a great way for volunteers to connect in an informal setting and that they bring together alumni who otherwise might not meet. "At other alumni events, I tend to only talk to the people I already know," she says. Those events "are not as conducive to that type of interaction. Here, you have ten volunteers sharing responsibility for twenty hyper kids," she says, laughing.

The PIE program, which Vieux and Lipstein hope can become a model for other Duke clubs seeking service components, is also serving its two partner schools in other ways. At Ludlow-Taylor, the club purchased $500 of sports equipment from a wish list created by Donald Presswood, the school's principal, and volunteers participated in an outdoor Community Day with the school in June.

At Community Academy, the club's focus has been indoors. One of the academy's four campuses was in the process of setting up a small library. Administrators had come up with the idea and the space, Lipstein says, but had yet to come up with concrete plans. Richard Leggin '75, an architect, volunteered his services to create a plan for the space, and James Walsh '74, president and CEO of William V. Walsh Construction, volunteered his company's time to make the renovations. Over the summer, other Duke volunteers plan to spend time sorting and shelving books. The club hopes to have the library ready to open when school starts.