Jericsson Pichardo ’15 was recently awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award for his work in creating the Rochester River School to benefit the urban community of Rochester. The national award is the premier volunteer awards program, which encourages young people and adults to perform community service to take positive actions to shape the world.
Pichardo was honored with the award at a faculty lunch on Friday, Jan. 23, during which he and co-creator of Rochester River School and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Joel Helfrich presented their plan to faculty and staff members.
Assistant Director of the HWS Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning Jeremy Wattles presented Pichardo with the prestigious award, remarking, “In Jericsson’s case, this falls under the education category, for the many hours he has spent helping to organize the plans and funds for the Rochester River School. Jericsson is demonstrating civic leadership and engaged citizenship in action, and we want to honor that.”
The Volunteer Service Award is organized by the White House to honor volunteerism with presidential gratitude and national recognition. In particular, the recognition involves showing dedication to a particular cause or issue, such as education or the environment.
“Jericsson is the most impressive, creative, skilled student I’ve worked with. He is the true embodiment of the Golden Rule and living proof that service can be achieved in many ways. I can think of no one more deserving of this award,” said Helfrich.
Since the spring, Pichardo and Helfrich have worked on a project to help the Rochester City School District (RCSD) open a new public school, the Rochester River School. Its curriculum would draw from the Institute for Humane Education as well as the best practices of Pichardo’s alma mater, Urban Assembly New York Harbor School in New York City. Pichardo and Helfrich plan to utilize the natural environment of Rochester, particularly the Genesee River, to enhance opportunities for experiential learning and community engagement projects.
“We are trying to start something new for students to have the kind of opportunity that I had. Rochester is a place that needs this kind of resource, and this is a way of engaging students within the city,” said Pichardo.
“This is a solutions-driven curriculum with students doing informed actions, and the focus on the environment best informs students to be contributors to the larger society,” Helfrich added.
In working to establish the Rochester River School over the past several months, Pichardo and Helfrich have spoken and met with RCSD teachers, administrators, parents, committee members and people involved with charter schools in Rochester. They gained support from the Rochester Teachers Union, as well as a number of individuals and corporations in the area.
Pichardo and Helfrich anticipate the proposed Rochester River School could enroll its first class of fifth graders in the fall of 2016. The school would start as a fifth-grade only institution, then add a grade each subsequent year until it is fully enrolled through 12th grade.