Category Archives: Service

Meet Our Teachers: Derek Smith

Derek Smith teaches English and Social Studies classes in the Upper School and is our Director of Service Learning. He is teaching American literature and consumer economics this school year, his sixth at Morgan Park Academy.

Mr. Smith holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Master’s degree from Framingham State University.


What do you like best about teaching at Morgan Park Academy?

I enjoy how much autonomy and flexibility we are afforded as educators. I’ve created courses from scratch about Middle Eastern literature and about graphic novels, for example, and we’re reintroducing a speech class next spring. The encouragement to create new classes and to make use of our strengths enables and pushes us to continually grow as educators.

I also love our small community and the connection I have with students, including the opportunity to make connections outside of the classroom. As teachers here, we do not lose touch with our students once they graduate and move on to college and adult life.

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Summer Service Learning in Ecuador


Our journey into the Amazon rainforest was a long one: two flights, an eight-hour bus ride, and a boat ride before we reached the Minga Lodge on the Upper Napo River in northeast Ecuador. But it was worth every minute.

We were thrilled to represent the MPA faculty and school community on a remarkable service trip this summer, volunteering with fellow teachers from throughout the U.S. and Canada on a life-changing development project through the ME to WE charity program.

To say that we gained a fuller perspective on life and community is an understatement.

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The MPA Way: Service Day

Plenty of songs discuss the weather. Stormy Weather, Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain, Hurricane, and mixing similes, Rock You Like a Hurricane.

But what song was I thinking about on October 5th? No Rain.

derekitThis wasn’t just some meteorological curiosity to plan my wardrobe; this forecast was central to our school’s Service Day October 6th. A week of checking the weather and the forecast the night before concluded that it was only a 20% chance of rain.

Naturally then, it rained the whole day. We had twelve different locations that the Middle and Upper school students were to attend, see, and a third of them were outdoors.

If there’s one aspect of being the school’s Service Learning Coordinator I’ve learned is most valuable, it’s being flexible. Because something pops up – like when the rain comes again, there’s nothing we can do, except to let it rain.

The day went smoothly in spite of the random variables because of the trust I had in other faculty members and with the dedicated members of our Service Council.

A week before Service Day, for example, one of our locations cancelled on us. Why? Their warehouse was empty and they no longer had any work for us. Coupled with another snafu in scheduling, and another one with the rain that wouldn’t stop, we had to switch plans three separate times, and twice in the final week. The amount of texting, of calling, of others agreeing to help out at the last minute was remarkable.

Still, the logistics behind planning any event are probably better left unsaid. Suffice to say, our school did magnificently. Below are some of the highlights.

We went to Smith Village, spending time with the residents, making door decorations and playing Jeopardy.

We went to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, making lanterns (“thousands of them, several students claimed”).

We went to the Ronald McDonald House in Hyde Park and prepared a meal, and taught at least one student how to boil water.

service2016itWe went to The Courage Program and organized toys and clothing; The Forest Preserve to remove invasive species with loppers and bow saws; Arts of Life to paint; The Dog District to also paint and to walk dogs; Burr Oak Academy as teacher aids for the lower school; The Talking Farm to prepare for an upcoming fundraiser; The Franciscan Outreach to better organize and to learn about their organization; helped clean up and beautify our own campus, making cards and Halloween-themed decorations, and learning different methods of conservation.

It’s always reassuring when students give positive feedback about their respective locations, particularly when they express a desire to return. For, after all, it’s not intended for Service Day to be merely a day out of class, a day to be “filled up” and forgotten. It’s part of our mission for MPA to stay active in and around the community, and I hope students will take the initiative, to build sustainable relationships with organizations on their own.
In short, MPA at every age group had an opportunity to give back on our Fall Service Day. The rain might have dampened the ground, but not our collective spirits. There will always be a thousand variables when trying to organize any event, but with last Thursday’s rain, MPA might as well have been singing in it.

By Derek Smith

Mr. Smith teaches Upper School Social Studies and English. He also is MPA’s Service Learning Coordinator.

GLSEN’s Day of Silence: Working to End Bullying

GLSEN day of silence

By Claire Mordi ’15

Founded in 1996, GLSEN’s (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) Day of Silence is a day where students all over the world can band together to make a powerful impact within their schools on the topic of LGBT bullying. I am pleased to say that with a lot of planning and preparation, Morgan Park Academy’s Upper School and Middle School students were able to take part in this event to show that bullying is not acceptable anywhere, at anytime, no matter who you are.

Our student committee promoted the event by writing complimentary Post-it notes on each of our classmates’ lockers, selling T-shirts and bracelets, and organizing a huge bake sale — all leading up to the celebrated Day of Silence on April 24, when the students and faculty came dressed in black or in the Day of Silence T-shirts. Participating students remained silent during the school day outside of class participation.

But this year, not only did we on the committee want to call attention to bullying based on sexual orientation, we aimed to highlight all types of bullying, whether it’s about your sexual orientation, race or ethnic background, appearance, or your personality.

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Nepal Earthquake Relief – Thank You!

For a short while I called Nepal my home.

I joined the Peace Corps shortly after college and my 10 months in Nepal — a tenure cut regrettably short by the escalation of the country’s civil war — left an indelible mark as I moved on to Moldova to continue my service.

The terrain alone is unforgettable, but the hospitality and kindness of the Nepalese people is unrivaled, which is why I helped lead a Project Week trip to Nepal last year (pictured above) and why I have been so touched by the generosity of the Morgan Park Academy community in raising funds and supplies to help after Nepal’s devastating recent earthquake.

When I heard that some airlines were flying supplies stateside to Nepal for free, I reached out to several Nepalese who lived in the area. I coordinated with Cumin, a Nepali-owned restaurant in Wicker Park. Over the past 10 days, MPA students, parents, and faculty contributed more than I expected. Last Saturday I dropped off fifteen grocery bags filled with supplies — gloves, soap, water purification tablets, and, naturally, foodstuffs — and they were beyond grateful

Additionally, we raised more than $2,000. This will serve the Patan Hospital, which is providing most of the trauma care to the southern third of Kathmandu, as well as the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in the north and Bhir Hospital in the central third.

Thank you to the entire MPA community for your kindness and support!

By Derek Smith

Mr. Smith teaches English in the Upper School and is the department’s curriculum leader.

Service Learning: Why I Started a Tutoring Program

Morgan Park Academy and Burr Oak Elementary students during the January day of service.

By Tayler Malecki ’16

During our annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, Morgan Park Academy students leave campus to give back to our community. But I never knew I would also be receiving so much.

I was part of a group of MPA student volunteers that day who visited Burr Oak Elementary School, a public school in nearby Calumet Park. Assigned to work with a class of third-graders, I was really nervous at first. I wanted to be able to help them and be a role model. The kids were excited to see me, and though some were nervous too, I have never felt so much love. The kids gave me pictures, stickers, and all kinds of cute gifts.

Then it was time to go. I never expected that to be as hard as it was. The kids were sad and I was nearly crying when they asked if I was coming back the next day.

On the way back to school, I was thinking how much these kids inspired me and how I could continue to help them. When we got back, I had all these ideas in my head about how to go further.

I brought my ideas immediately to Mrs. Drown, one of the faculty leaders on our trip. I told her that our one-day service was a great start, but I wanted to do more for the kids. I asked her about doing a pen-pal system of sorts, and she helped me develop the idea into a larger online tutoring program.

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Service Through Action

Relay For Life 2013

What inspires you?

There are lots of things that inspire me: watching my children explore, enjoying the smell of lilacs in the spring, and seeing the underdog pull off a win, to name a few.

Here at Morgan Park Academy, I am inspired every day by the efforts our students and teachers put forth to make a positive difference in our world. Fostering that drive in students is a key part of our school mission and a fundamental part of life at MPA throughout its long history.

That’s why our theme for this school year is “Service Through Action.”

Service through action is how we relate to the world around us — locally, nationally, and globally. We want to make an impact, in our own little way, by how we use our time and talents in service to others, and we have created a purposeful framework, to that end, for our community’s service efforts.

We embrace the vision of service through action described by the National Youth Leadership Council, one that “combines classroom instruction with meaningful community service, emphasizing critical thinking and personal reflection while encouraging a heightened sense of community, civic engagement, and personal responsibility.”

Tomorrow’s Relay For Life event, for example, is our school-wide service activity for the fall semester. We are all looking forward to the fun and fellowship of this fourth annual event, but we have redoubled our focus on the core goals of education about cancer prevention and fundraising for the American Cancer Society.

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