Leadership and Compassion go Hand on Hand at Pacific Ridge School

Pacific Ridge School

How Service Learning Gives Children A New Perspective on Education


At Carlsbad's Pacific Ridge School, students in grades 7-12 engage actively with academic subjects while developing early the skills needed to succeed as adults. The school's mission focuses on academic excellence, ethical responsibility and global engagement in a program designed to graduate confident, curious and compassionate young people who are ready for college and are thoughtful about the life that comes afterward.

Pacific Ridge Private School


In direct support of the ethical responsibility tenet of its mission, Pacific Ridge runs a year-long Service Learning program wherein students come to understand that, even though they are young, they can have an impact on the world.


In an interview with FINE, Alison Behr, a member of the Pacific Ridge faculty and Director of Service Learning, shares the importance of students creating service-based projects. “This program helps students understand how to find and harness their passions and interests and to use those for the greater good. We give them a solid foundation and the skills needed to navigate their future, while showing them how to use those skills supporting the community.” Behr goes on to explain how the program helps students understand service as a partnership, not a charity. “We help them to see these service programs as a way of problem solving. We help them understand that problem solving is a two way street wherein everyone is rewarded by the experience”.

Building a Path to Service Leadership

The faculty-guided middle school program introduces students to a wide range of volunteerism, with time spent weekly at senior centers, animal shelters, environmental agencies and preschools such as Head Start. By exploring a variety of service organizations, students learn about the needs of the supported communities and find out how the organizations themselves function. Working directly and regularly with groups such as seniors and the disabled community helps students develop empathy and confidence in situations they may have never experienced before.

Private School makes leadersNinth graders go through a service incubator program to begin leadership training and explore social justice issues. Using design thinking as a problem-solving approach, they explore social problems and consider how someone their age could make a difference. Learning how to determine the particular needs as expressed by the target communities and developing solutions that meet those needs are important parts of the training. Students then start choosing which issues they personally would like to address and are encouraged to work on potential solutions. Behr calls this type of learning “entrepreneurial problem solving.”

In grades 10 -12, students practice leadership and entrepreneurship by initiating and running service groups that align with their passions.  

More than 40 student-led service groups are currently running in Pacific Ridge’s Upper School, including groups such as:

  • A Million Knots – Supporting girls’ education in India.

  • Sports Force – Organizing sporting events to benefit the disabled community

  • Lingo Online - Teaching English via Skype to students overseas

  • New Ocean Blue - Educating children about the dangers of plastics pollution

  • New Haven Night Shelter - Supporting a men’s shelter in South Africa

  • Notes of Hope - Using music to improve the lives of children and senior citizens

  • Educating Near & Far – Hosting STEM workshops in elementary schools

Pacific Ridge Private School

Service Learning is only required in grades 7 through 10, but Behr is pleased to share that grades 11 and 12  have a continued participation rate of 90%, showing that Service Learning is more than just a school project, but rather, becomes a passion. “We don’t assume that we know all the answers,” 'Behr says, “but we teach our students how to ask the right questions to better understand the world around them.”

Pacific Ridge prides itself on three main pillars: academic excellence, ethical responsibility, and global engagement. Service Learning encompasses all three of these values and allows students to grow and be challenged by working towards the greater good.

Learn more about Service Learning program and other dynamic programs Pacific Ridge offers, at an upcoming Open house on November 4th, starting at 1 pm. Visit pacificridge.org/visitus for more information. 



6269 El Fuerte
Carlsbad, CA 92009