Minus A Sleepover, SING 2021 Connects Freshmen With Each Other And Beltline Communities

Beza Kifle and Keya Nijhawan

Samuel Yang found that his advisory bonded the most at Hattie B’s, for dinner. “Although I would have preferred Waffle House,” he says.

Peoplestown is a part of Atlanta just like Buckhead is, but instead of having an abundance of shops, restaurants and grocery stores, it is a complete food desert. In Peoplestown, the closest thing to a grocery store within 5 miles is a run-down gas station. It was unlike any other Atlanta neighborhood we’d ever seen.

On SING back in September, Dr. Lamar’s advisory group visited Emmaus House, the heart of Peoplestown, where we learned about how much of a struggle it can be for people to pay rent, find a job, or put a nice meal on the table for their kids. Emmaus House is a place where many seek help. They have a food pantry that supplies healthy food options, and toiletries that can be very expensive. They offer help with paying bills and budgeting, and then even offer a place for kids to go and learn or have fun with friends after school. 

Emmaus House is one of many organizations freshmen visited during this year’s SING, or Service Initiation for Ninth Graders.  Each advisory was paired with different neighborhoods and parks on the Beltline, and each one had different community partners to work with, such as HouseProud, La Amistad, and Agape. 

SING has changed significantly over the years. When we chatted with Mrs. Morris-Long, Lovett’s Upper School Attendance and Office Manager, about SING, she told us that when SING first started, it used to be 3 days and 2 nights. Students would sleep in basements of churches, and it was more of a “student bonding experience.” Then it changed to two days and one night. 2019 was the last “traditional” SING due to COVID. This year, SING was only for 1 day and a half, without the sleepover component. As a result, there was less time for student bonding and more learning about the community and the neighborhoods. There were different service jobs that each of the advisories did, such as working with kids, sprucing up yards, and gardening.

COVID not only changed the sleepover aspect of SING, it changed other aspects, too. SING took place more outdoors, and of course we had to wear masks whenever we were inside. There were waivers that said that if we contracted COVID, that the organization wouldn’t be at fault. Ms. Turner, Lovett’s Director of Civic and Global Engagement also told me that unfortunately because of COVID, some of the organizations that Lovett usually partners with for SING were not able to this year, but luckily, Lovett was able to make connections with new organizations as well.

Because of these connections, students met many people they would not ordinarily talk to. Mr. Morris’s advisory went to Peoplestown, and they got the opportunity to help fix up a woman’s yard with HouseProud. There were weed whackers (that many were excited for), and students planted flowers and monkey grass. They fixed up the bushes and the white stones that lined her walkway. Her house looked very beautiful after their hard work, and the woman was very happy! 

According to Mrs. Morris-Long, the initial idea for SING came from the English department.  She said the teachers were wondering “‘How can we talk about community, and get kids out into the community to better understand Atlanta as a big city?'” Ms. Turner said that Lovett has a “commitment to being a part of the city.” This year the focus was on the Beltline. 

The Beltline is an important part of Atlanta. It is 22 miles long and many communities and neighborhoods are adjacent to it. The Atlanta Beltline works to bring together about 45 diverse neighborhoods. It provides a new way of transportation for many that does not include motorized vehicles. Ms.Turner told me that “one thing we learned was that Atlanta has neighborhoods with super-rich histories.” SING provides the opportunity for Lovett Freshmen to learn more about our city and the history that we may not be familiar with.

Advisories went to different neighborhoods along the Beltline. There was Peoplestown, Grove Park, Summerhill, Adair Pair, and many others. They all went on tours with either their advisor or a guide around their neighborhood to see the communities there. There were small buses that the advisors drove around, and many went on walks too. 

On the way to their destinations, our  Freshmen were “singing” on their way to SING as a way to keep themselves entertained, since many advisors did not want their students on their phones, so they could fulfill the SING experience and stay in the moment. It was interesting to note the pace of life in the different neighborhoods and to see how things were focused on hanging out outdoors and visiting small businesses. 

A trip to a Youth Center opened the eyes of students in Dr. Lamar’s advisory. The walls were covered in inspirational quotes. And as we walked around and read them, many seniors were outside in a painting class. As we watched them paint, many were giving us blessings and saying “Stay young while you can.” Many of us only pass by these places without a glance as we are too immersed in our own lives. 

Many students valued their SING experiences. Gisella Brok enjoyed going to Adair Park, where she bonded with her advisees. For community service, she went to a furniture bank and built furniture for people in need. Samuel Yang found that his advisory bonded the most at Hattie B’s, for dinner. “Although I would have preferred Waffle House,” he says. Virginia Brown enjoyed a scavenger hunt that her advisory went on that let her explore more of the town she went to. “It was so fun, and we got dessert after!” she said.

Alexis Dalton had some issues. Her advisory went to Grant Park, and she thought that the parts when they were not doing community service were not as fun. Because the community service did not last all day, they had loads of extra time and nothing to do with it. And her advisory did not bond together as a whole. “The boys bonded with the boys and girls with the girls,” she said.

As much as things have changed, some traditions continued, like eating dinner with their PALs. Each person had a $15 budget that included their meal, tax, and tip. Giving the students a budget helps them learn what it is like for many people who must think carefully about how they allocate their limited resources. Also, giving a tip is something that many skim over and do not acknowledge, and requiring students to figure out how much to tip is important to them realizing how crucial that money is for service workers. 

Although there were many parts of the “traditional” SING experience that the freshmen were not able to partake in, they still had a great experience learning about other communities. Many memories were made in places we would only drive by, and with people we would not ordinarily spend our free time with. Hopefully, we can keep contact with the organizations that we worked with, and continue to learn about our city!

The Lovett School is an independent, coeducational day school where children from Kindergarten through Grade 12 find the courage to explore and the drive to discover.

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